Providing people with meaningful, skill-stretching opportunities is a leader’s most important job. That’s not an overstatement. Providing people with enriching opportunities is so important that Albert Einstein said, “All that is valuable in human society depends on the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
Einstein knew that opportunity has always been life’s most powerful motivator. People will move mountains for a leader as long as moving the mountain provides them with enriching opportunities. It’s in the pursuit of opportunities that people can try themselves, test themselves, better themselves, and even find themselves. A big part of a leader’s job is to provide people with opportunities to grow, progress, and evolve. Leaders have to be opportunity-creators.
Think of a leader who has made a positive impact on your own career or life. Pick someone you actually worked for, not someone on the world stage. There’s a good chance the leader was someone who gave you an opportunity to prove yourself to yourself. The leader likely included you on opportunities that were exciting to pursue and helped you sharpen your skills in the process of pursuing them. Finally, the leader likely stayed involved by guiding, coaching, and supporting you too.
Leading through opportunity requires matching the opportunity to the person and then helping him or her exploit the opportunity for all it’s worth. Doing that means attending to these four factors:
- Know Your Employees: Be knowledgeable about the backgrounds, needs, and desires of your employees. Ask them directly about their career goals and aspirations. What do they want to get out of this job?
- Match Suitedness: Draw connections between the opportunity and the developmental needs of your employees. When opportunities are identified, ask, “Whose growth and development would pursuing this opportunity most advance?”
- Envision the Desired Results: Have a clear picture of the desired benefits that given opportunities present for the employee and the organization. Do some “future-casting” with your employee, thinking through the potential benefits that could be gained if the opportunity is successful. Also identify the actions that will maximize the probability of success.
- Provide Ongoing Support: Genuinely want, and support, your employee’s success. Stay involved by periodically asking what support they need from you, removing barriers that might block their progress. Offer encouragement and guidance when they meet roadblocks and bottlenecks.
When you really know the aims of your employees, when you’ve assigned them to juicy opportunities that are ripe for their skills, and when you’ve worked with them to develop a clear picture of a successful outcome, you can’t help but take a strong interest in their success. And when your people are successful, you’re not just an effective leader, you’re an opportunity leader!