Being the optimist that I am, I like to focus on the positive vs. the “pain” or “crisis” of the moment. And while sensationalism “sells” I always felt a pit in my stomach when having to market my capabilities to the crisis that leaders are feeling. What if we elevated the Opportunistic Leaders who embrace every challenge they are faced with as an opportunity to stand out and make a difference in their businesses and in the people they lead? I love partnering with these leaders and these are their stories:  

Invest when others are retreating

A leader needs to see the opportunity to invest in the business, invest in your brand messaging and invest in people development. This CEO that I know (and I might add myself as well) has invested heavily in having the right people in their business. They know that when others are retreating and cutting back their budgets, these leaders see the writing on the wall and choose to spend money to secure a front position when the economy opens up. They call these leaders “crazy” or “poor business leaders,” however, by not investing consistently, they will actually spend more money in the long run. 

The same philosophy goes for career advancement; the best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one. Same for business loans; when cash flow is good, this is the best time to secure loans. No one wants to lend you money when you don’t have it. So I ask you, do you follow the pack and retract or invest in the opportunity?

Focus on your core competencies and outsource the rest

Outsourcing can look very different for every organization, but fractional leadership and professional services that compliment your core competencies are always the most effective. Mid-size companies try to do without a resource for as long as possible before they’re in crisis and then have to pay more to get back on track. Gone are the days of trying to do it yourself or having internal resources for every functional area. Why not have highly experienced fractional leadership when you need it and at the rate you need it? 

For example, you may not need a full time Quality Leader, but when there is a need to grow the capability in that area, bring in someone for the time you need them. It may look like a large short term expense, but a savvy leader sees the cost benefit of not having a full time resource year round. One such client only brought me in when they needed several 3 month projects. They saved a significant amount of money, but received high value results in return. It was only when the business grew significantly did they finally evolve the role into a full-time position. 

When supplies are scarce and money is tight, invest in people development

People development may seem counterintuitive when the business is stressed and people are working long hours. But investing shows the team that leadership still care enough to allocate time for development. These are the times where people need to be agile, learn new skills in order to manage the complexity. Think about the capability of your people once you come out of challenging times if they manage difficult situations and you’ve developed their competencies at the same time. Investing sets your business up to thrive during the challenges. Your people will serve you better because you invested in them.

One such leader I worked with saw an opportunity to invest in the problem-solving capability of their people. They realized that time is their most precious commodity and if they could help their people solve problems more effectively, they’d get time back to do the work needed to expand the business. When the training was done, the capability was realized and also the teams came together as one; the greater outcome of investing in their development. 

Do you have the courage to be the Opportunist in your organization? 

One of the hardest things for a leader to do is to have the courage to do something that may be unpopular. What I find is that we’ve not given them the framework to influence others. I’ve shared this framework many times, as it’s my best tool to help you get what you need to invest in the future:

  • Describe the current state and the gap
  • Show how the trend is increasing or decreasing
  • Make the proposal for the change needed to close the gap
  • Describe the opportunity of making the change or the risk of doing nothing
  • Show the result or impact it will have on the organization

When we practice these skills, you become the leader others will follow by seeing the opportunity and influencing the change needed for long term success.

If you need more convincing that this is a better approach to being an Opportunistic Leader, Harvard Business Review discusses the Tactics of Strategic Opportunism which you may find interesting (originally written in 1987.) My recent blog post about What Peanut Butter Can Tell You About Your Business also shares about pressure testing systems to avoid a crisis. 

My wish is for every C-Suite Leader of today and tomorrow to navigate their careers with confidence. If this insight was helpful, share this article with others. If you have a unique challenge and wish to have a complementary conversation, please reach out to me

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