A pessimist found an optimist doing some yard work and started a conversation with his good-natured friend.
“Last year was awful,” he said. “What do you think 2017 will bring?”
“I think it will bring flowers,” said the smiling optimist.
“Really,” said the pessimist. “What makes you think that?”
“Because I’m planting flowers,” the optimist said.
There are plenty of boo-hoo’ers and naysayers in the world, but leaders can’t afford an attitude that doesn’t include hope. And as 2017 gets underway, you’re no doubt moving forward with high expectations. You believe this will be the year when it all comes together.
But, as the saying goes, hope is not a strategy. If you want the blooms of success, you’d better get to work sowing and cultivating the seeds of opportunity.
So cling tightly to your hope, and consider these three steps for proactively creating your next big opportunity:
1. Clean Your Glasses
An organization has to know where it’s headed so it can figure out how it can get there–each and every day. You know, the “vision thing.”
The same is true for individuals. We need a clear picture of the opportunities we’re seeking or else we’ll end up spending most days throwing trendy ideas against a wall to see if anything sticks.
Instead of starting the year with the vague feeling of the kinds of things you’d like to accomplish, get very clear on one particular opportunity you’d like to create.
Is it a new client? A new round of funding for your business? An important business contact you want to meet? Pick one, and set your sights on it.
If it’s big and grandiose, great. But make sure it’s actionable, measurable, and, most of all, aligned with the passions of your heart.
When Henry Ford famously predicted that “the horse will disappear from the highway,” he had a clear vision of the opportunity in mass producing affordable automobiles. Make sure you’re just as clear about the opportunities you plan to create for yourself this year.
2. Muscle Up
Let’s say your opportunity comes to pass. You get the promotion or the meeting with the client or wrestle that big account away from the competition.
What now? When opportunity knocks, will you actually have the capabilities, skills, and talents to turn the knob, open the door, and deal with whatever comes rushing in?
Once you have clarity about your opportunity, make sure you are prepared to take full advantage of it. Assume it’s going to happen, and line up your resources, skills, and training accordingly.
Hone your chops. Study what you need to study. And be as mentally prepared as you can to take advantage of your opportunity when, not if, it comes.
Think about the teams vying for the Super Bowl. Each player on every remaining team has an opportunity to contribute. It’s up to them to do the film study, put in the reps at practice, spend the time in the weight room, eat and drink the right things, and put themselves in the best position possible to make plays that will determine the outcome of the game.
Someone will win and someone will lose, but no one wants to walk away saying, “We could have won if I’d only been better prepared.”
3. Ask for Help
Your opportunity is yours to create, but that doesn’t mean you’re in it alone. In fact, there are very few things you can accomplish by your little lonesome. So, figure out who can help and ask them for it.
Make sure you’ve done steps one and two before you start asking influential people to lend you a hand. But if you have a clear vision and you’re prepared, you’ll be surprised by how many folks are not only willing but eager to come to your aid.
When I decided to expand my business, I knew I needed the right partners to help in several aspects of the endeavor: company structure, sales and marketing, instructional design, and access to investment capital.
So I made a list of ten people in my Extreme Leadership community who shared my passion for this work, but who had specific talents that I lack. Then I invited them to San Diego to brainstorm with me for a few days.
Much to my surprise, every single one of them showed up. And, as expected, they helped create something extraordinary.
Put your ego aside and ask people for help. One is not only a lonely number–it’s also the number of people it takes to watch opportunity pass by unrealized.
[This post was originally published on my weekly column at Inc.com]