5 ways to help leaders hone their opportunistic skills and create value for their business, their people and their customers
We face new challenges every day, in every area of our lives, including our professional career. There is polarity in the way we see these challenges: we can choose to focus on the obstacle, or to look for and leverage the opportunity within it. Being opportunistic is an essential trait of leadership. It is what pushes entrepreneurial leaders to answer their customers’ problems more efficiently, to generate energy and motivation amongst their employees, and to create value for their organisation.
So how can great leaders harness this skill and spot exciting opportunities when others only see roadblocks? The great news is that this leadership trait isn’t an innate one. It can be developed by intentionally adopting a more entrepreneurial mindset, which speaks to innovation, creativity and resilience.
Here are a few practical tips and techniques you can use to reframe your thinking, to find new ways to overcome challenges and to follow through once you’ve unearthed a great opportunity.
Why is it important for leaders to look for opportunities in challenges?
It’s not just about spotting new and exciting opportunities. It’s also about making them happen. Entrepreneurial leaders come up with new ways of doing things, but they also take charge and put these new ideas into action. They are accountable for the implementation of their vision, a trait at the very heart of leadership.
Embracing your opportunistic side offers many advantages. The main one? It allows leaders to start thinking more creatively around problem-solving. As we know, innovation is essential for businesses to survive and thrive. It can present itself every day, in an incremental and internal way, when leaders optimise the way things are done and create efficiencies. Being open to the possibilities around you and finding different ways to look at things directly creates value for your business, for its customers, and for your people.
For example, opportunistic leaders may find new ways to generate revenue when faced with unforeseen external events, or to reduce costs, to find efficiencies and even to improve employee motivation. They may spot an issue, see beyond what others see and think of new solutions to fix a customer pain point or to answer their problem, driving up customer satisfaction.
Leaders who already have an approach in place and are used to actively seeking opportunities can get straight to solving the issue at hand whenever a new challenge presents itself. This leaves them with plenty of energy left over, and energetic leaders in turn uplift, enthuse and motivate those around them in a positively contagious way.
By showing others how they navigate challenges, entrepreneurial leaders not only create value for their business, but also take their people on that journey with them.
In addition, finding opportunities can often apply to others. Great leaders and managers use their skills to seek new ways for their people to learn, grow and develop, improving motivation, job satisfaction and overall performance at the same time.
1. Ask yourself: “How might we…”
Uncovering new opportunities requires keeping an open mind and being receptive to new possibilities. In practice, this could mean taking a moment to ask yourself different questions, such as “How might we make this work?” Doing so will turn your challenge framing into a question that can ultimately be solved.
2. Put on your (6) thinking hats.
Spotting new opportunities starts with being open, of course, but it also helps to seek different perspectives or additional input. While it’s important to listen to our gut as leaders, bias may creep in. Try the 6 thinking hats exercise and explore various points of view.
3. Stay curious.
Opportunistic leaders are able to find that tiny grain of sand in a vast sea of information. They challenge themselves to think outside the box and connect the dots using the knowledge they have gathered as they find out everything they can about their industry and market.
How can you achieve this? “Stay curious”, advises Claire Koryczan, Founder at Imagine Beyond. “Have conversations with different stakeholders, from customers to employees, and make sure you actively listen. Things are constantly changing around us, and the only way to navigate this is to keep learning.”
Read the article on how curiosity can make you a better leader on the Imagine Beyond blog.
4. Don’t give up when the going gets tough
As the book says, we’re usually only three feet from gold, so don’t stop digging! Don’t just take things on face value, and challenge your usual frame of reference. Being resilient and able to weather difficulties is an essential part of entrepreneurial leadership. “The treasure is within the obstacle” adds Claire.
5. Act quickly
In the words of William Blake: “In the universe, there are knowns and there are unknowns, and in between there are doors.” Sure, many opportunistic people can spot the right door, but opening it and walking through it requires true leadership.
Follow-through isn’t always easy and requires a lot of courage. Read our previous article on courage as an entrepreneurial trait.
Spotting exciting opportunities ahead
Uncovering new and exciting opportunities doesn’t just happen by magic. But while it does require intentionally shifting your mindset, it doesn’t mean your entire leadership style has to change. As Claire often says: “It’s just about leaning into your opportunistic side a bit more. Ask yourself: ‘How might this work?” Request feedback. Seek other perspectives. And above all else, don’t give up when the going gets tough. Trust your gut as, in the words of Marie Forleo, everything is figureoutable.
Things around us are constantly changing, and creativity and imagination are becoming increasingly important in a world dominated by technology. Stand out from the crowd by harnessing your imagination and thinking of new ways to solve problems, and to discover exciting opportunities ahead.
Watch out for our next article in this series, where we’ll explore the role of innovation as an entrepreneurial leadership trait.