Do you aim to be a problem-focused leader or an opportunity-focused leader? Many work environments place a premium on leaders with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. However, that premium often places too much emphasis on being critical and dealing with problems. In such workplaces, leaders can become downers, always harping on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. Such leaders often resort to stoking people’s fears to motivate them to get things done. But great leaders look at problems and create opportunities.
Focusing on opportunity instead of problems is not just a matter of semantics. The following are some specific impacts of making it a goal to create opportunities.
Leading by stoking people’s fears provokes anxiety and negative thoughts of impending painful consequences. Opportunities, on the other hand, are hopeful situations that evoke positive thoughts of pleasurable rewards. Leadership is most effective when it moves people toward a desired outcome, rather than getting them to run away from a bad outcome. Opportunity attracts; fear repels. Opportunity points in the right direction.
When you are talking about opportunities, you are talking about the conditions you want, instead of the conditions you want to prevent from happening. Because outcomes often follow the direction of our thoughts, it’s best to focus on what you want. Saying, “Our opportunity is to keep the ball in the air,” is better than “Whatever you do, don’t drop that ball!” Opportunity activates the imagination. We “take advantage of” or “capitalize on” opportunities. They are conditions that don’t yet exist and require people’s hard work and imagination to be fully exploited.
Opportunity Inspires Courage
Opportunities are not “sure things” and the positive outcome you hope to create is not guaranteed. Thus, opportunities come with potential risks. The risk is what infuses the pursuit of opportunities with excitement. Opportunity begets opportunity. Wouldn’t you rather have your employees coming to you with new ideas and opportunities they want you to support, instead of problems they want you to resolve? When you model opportunistic thinking, you increase the likelihood of building a self-sufficient, “can do” spirit among employees.
Opportunity is more powerful even than conquerors and prophets.
Fear and excitement prompt the same neurological responses. Think for a moment about what happens to you, physiologically, when you are really, really afraid. Your heart races, your palms sweat, your breath gets faster and shorter, and your stomach teems with butterflies. Fear and excitement are both high arousal states. Although there are almost no neurological or physiological differences, there is one critical distinction between the conditions of fear and excitement—you experience fear as displeasure and excitement as pleasure. Thus you move toward situations that provide pleasure and avoid situations that provoke displeasure. By viewing and explaining situations as opportunities, you create a field of excitement where employees are more apt to face challenges than shirk them.
A leader’s primary job is to actively create opportunities that bring about real and concrete benefits. A leader should leave us better off than they found us. Great leaders don’t sell hope. In fact, they don’t sell anything. They build. Experiment. Act. Create. By relentlessly focusing on creating opportunities for customers and employees, they open lots and lots of doors.
How will you change your perspective and look at problems as opportunities?
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