If you are reading this blog, there’s a good chance you are an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur (within a company). With that often comes a desire for adventure. You probably embrace change, take more risks than the average person, and leap into action without having full certainty on the destination. And that’s a strength because leaders typically have more regrets about missed opportunities than failed enterprises. You know at your core that moving from good to great is never done. You are only as great as your next action. And, building a business or team requires near-constant progress.
As you think about leadership, you might experience a little feeling of overwhelm if you think about all things that need to be on your radar to be a great leader. You can’t work on everything at once, and it’s most important to ground yourself and business on the core capabilities that lead to success before adding in thoughts about cool things you might try. One strategist says that a good ratio for how a leader focuses his/her time is 70% on the Core, 20% on what’s Next, and 10% on the New. So, when you start to “squirrel” for too long on what could be, give that a time limit and be sure to assure quality on managing current priorities first.
But please…allow yourself time to dream and explore new opportunities! There’s a good chance you have some visionary blood in you, and you have the knack for rising above the day-to-day and reading between the lines, seeing what everyone else doesn’t see. By doing that on a regular basis, you just may position yourself to seize opportunities when they become available, while others hesitate.
In fact, to blast away at complacency, sometimes you may just need to shake things up. Great leaders don’t make their product better; they innovate the factory. Intentionally disrupt the status quo (“business as usual”) to awaken new possibilities that lead to new doors opening. Turn over rocks, crack open oysters, break off padlocks. Don’t allow your team to get in such a rut that it becomes the new normal. They get a little off-balance in the yellow zone (green being smooth-sailing, and red being shutdown), but new ideas may present themselves in that position of uncertainty, and everyone gets a shot of adrenaline for the heightened awareness to the new strategy. Ursula Burns defines it as fearlessness: “Seeing an opportunity, even though things are not broken.”
Where do new opportunities present themselves? Often, it’s in your own community. When you participate in local chambers of commerce or networking groups, or when you decide to volunteer for a cause by yourself or with your whole staff, you will meet people who might invite you to the table where some infant idea could be springing to life—and you will be on the front lines of it. Stay curious. When you network, seek to be interested not interesting. The more effectively that people collaborate with each other, the more tangible impacts on innovation outcomes.
Another place to see around the corner is at industry conferences and trade magazines. Pay attention to the edges of what other leaders are attempting, with marginal success, and transfer it to your situation and how you could adapt that idea to your business. Join (or form) a Mastermind group of industry professionals who are always taking their business to the next level. They will push you to think bigger and take first steps that you wouldn’t take alone. Share a solution to a need that you are getting passionate about exploring with them and allow them to peer-coach you to mold the idea into something workable. Leaders that just stay in their offices miss out on opportunities. Social interaction where colleagues meet and learn about each other’s work issues and challenges is a necessary prerequisite to creating innovation.
If nothing else, sit down weekly and brainstorm a top ten list about how to make one area of your business 1% better. Don’t edit your thoughts; just write them down. Re-read them. Which one gets your juices flowing? Which one presents an opportunity to quickly grow that area of your business? Now activate the idea! Don’t make the mistake of going it alone. Throw it in front of your core team to flesh out how to make it a reality. When they lean into the idea, listen for implementation wisdom.
Another fun way to develop your opportunity mindset is to work on the leadership skill of contextual thinking, which is how well you link specific events/tasks/actions into a wider perspective/pattern. I got an Idea Pad from the Accidental Creative organization, and you start using it by putting an opportunity in the middle. On each side, you put one word that relates to it. Then you start combining every possible pair of those four words, mashing them together (no matter how weird) until a new idea forms. This type of “forced connections” is a common way that interesting ideas get sparked. One company posts pictures of people, machinery, food, and nature to see what comes together.
As you process an opportunity, reflect on this quote from Napoleon Hill “Hidden within every disadvantage or obstacle lies an equally powerful opportunity” and take the advice of the Cambridge Leadership Group, who say to ask seven questions to identify opportunities worthy of people’s attention:
- If this issue were resolved, would the problem stay solved in the long run?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- Who can I bounce ideas off?
- What the risks or stakes?
- What are the directly observable data versus our assumptions and interpretations?
- How am I reasoning through this?
- What are the biggest questions here?
“Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed thinking.” –William Arthur Ward
You inspire people by going for what’s possible. Then you look beyond that for what still might be possible! Effective leaders are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to expand their limits and their influence.
Listen to my interviews with local CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and non-profit executives by subscribing to my podcast The Tri-Cities Influencer, available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. Like the TCI Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TCInfluencer/