• Tom Beaumont

Strategic or Opportunistic

I’m going to step outside of the box here when I say that in our efforts to be strategic leaders, we embrace a healthy dose of opportunism. In other words, we look to be opportunistic leaders not just strategic ones. There, I said it. Now let me try and explain.

I have 35 folders in my computer at my desk. I know that because I just counted them. Most of those folders have folders in them (some of those folders have folders) and if you dig down deep enough you will find files. I didn’t count the files but I suspect there are as many there as the sand on the seashore. All of that to say, my biggest folder (by far) is entitled “Strategic Documents”. And that’s a good thing, right?

If you are a director, manager, CEO or otherwise important person you’d better be able to speak fluent “strategic”. You need to make sure your goals line up with your mission; your mission reflects your purpose and they all are directed towards your compelling vision for the future. Let’s see, you’ll need a framework for making decisions and a plan for achieving success. You must determine the right actions to achieve your goal(s) and then mobilize the resources necessary to execute those actions. Along the way you must identify the key indicators needed to measure your key result areas or you’ll never get to where it is you are headed because you won’t know how far you have gone. It’s all very simple and, well, so… linear.

I can’t imagine how many books are written on this subject and if you were to google “strategic” be prepared for the onslaught. But now, let’s say you were to google “opportunistic” or, if you want, “opportunism”. Well, you would find a fraction of the data and, frankly, what you did find would not be very compelling. Here is a sample: “Opportunism is exploiting chances offered by immediate circumstances without reference to a general plan or moral principle”. Ouch! A person who is deemed opportunistic, you would read, is one who uses a situation to get power or an advantage and is guided primarily by self-interested motives. In other words, if “opportunistic” was a descriptor applied to the guy dating your daughter you’d go looking for where you strategically placed your shotgun.

But that’s really not fair. Opportunistic has clearly gotten a bad rap! For instance - entrepreneurs might well be considered opportunistic in what they do and so would investors. A good salesperson is always on the hunt for leads and the opportunity to sell you something and even a social worker will be on the lookout for people in need outside of their regular schedule. Being opportunistic, in fact, helps us to look beyond our plans and to be sensitive to what is around us, not just what is ahead of us. Both programs and projects can just as easily rise up out of unexpected opportunity as they can strategy.

The problem with ‘strategy alone’ in our leadership practice is that it tends to leave little room for that kind of opportunity. Opportunities that can be extremely compelling. And I truly expect that God desires our antenna to be out in whatever course we set for ourselves as we listen for His lead. We don’t want to be found so busy focusing on doing what we prepared to do beforehand that we miss what actually is at hand. So, with that in mind, “opportunistic” needs to be in our vocabulary as leaders and in the description of a good leader. And, though, it will never compete with “strategic” it is a very critical component, I believe, of every leadership endeavor.

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