Did I make the right choice? This question was running on repeat in the back of my mind just minutes into my 260-kilometer journey through a third-world country in which I was a first-time visitor. Opportunity was knocking, and I was adamant that we would answer the call. My company has seen so much success looking through the opportunity lens, taking calculated risks and empowering our people to serve our customers; I was sure this would be another successful endeavor. I decided to make the trip specifically to meet a customer critical to our international future. This choice reflected a meaningful partnership among skills many of us have become intimately familiar with over the past 20 months during this global pandemic: uncovering opportunity, taking calculated risks, trusting our people and leading courageously. I traveled into the country to do just that. Arriving initially with trusted advisors, I was now making the leg of this trip independently.
Looking out the window, I realized how far out of my comfort zone I was. Always cautious when traveling unaccompanied as a woman, I had made the proper precautions in selecting a driver, verifying their identity and sharing my live location with loved ones. I was in a foreign country, unable to speak the language, being transported by a stranger who was navigating road conditions that were poor at best. I was uncomfortable, and I knew it was good for me.
I thought for a moment about the ways stepping out of my comfort zone and taking calculated risk has allowed the enterprises I’ve had the opportunity to lead, thrive. In our current business, as an example, this year, we are currently operating at four times our normal customer demand and revenues are increasing daily with no end in sight. This success comes after an incredibly difficult period for the business, which makes it all the sweeter.
I believe our recent success can be attributed to three simple but profound shifts we’ve made as a team, and your company can also learn from these shifts.
First, look at everything through the opportunity lens. When I say everything, I mean everything. I’ve always been a believer in this, but as you can imagine, this past year, my faith was put to the test. In Q4 of 2020, we lost nearly 40% of our revenue overnight when just under forty of our employees’ projects were canceled, postponed or reassigned internally. I know many companies faced these types of challenges during the pandemic, and I know we all shared the temporary terror and defeat. I hope we all share now in the enduring resilience we’ve rediscovered as well.
The trip I was recently on, as we would have it, turned out to be the greatest opportunity of the year. My team looked at something that could have put us out of business and saw it as an opportunity. We used our opportunity lens. We realized we had the opportunity to bring fully credentialed and trained staff in-house and launched a new division. We identified workers who had been displaced from our competitors and for those we had worked for, invited them to join our team. Last, and maybe most meaningfully, the displaced employees we could not offer new positions to received free career counseling, resume writing and interview preparation services. By seeing this through the opportunity lens, we improved our market share and made strides to living our company’s north star mission.
Next, when considering the opportunity lens, you must take a calculated risk. Whether you are a current leader, future leader or trusted individual contributor, your ability to make sound, influential decisions to solve the problems your customers and stakeholders face is a coveted and developed skill. This goes beyond the standard risk equals probability multiplied by the loss equation. On our team, we start by identifying a market need, creating a decision matrix, identifying both short- and long-term customer benefits and weighing company investment against future profit earning opportunities. By looking at what problems you can solve for your customers, you can provide better solutions and make better business decisions with their long-term outcomes in mind.
Last, and arguably most important, invite your people to look through the opportunity lens. Ask them what they see that you do not, and you won’t believe the results! A dear friend once told me he considers himself the “chief energy officer” as the CEO. I loved this and couldn’t agree more. As leaders, we bring excitement, innovation and energy to the organization, but it takes others to amplify that energy through the organization. There’s so much power in cultivating the vision for a company, new initiative or pathway forward alongside your team. By inviting your team to look through the opportunity lens, empowering them to take calculated risks, you evoke their energy, talent and belief — opening yourself and the business to a world of possibility you could have missed.
Bring your team with you as you courageously adventure the new terrain of business, whether that be in your new home office or 260 kilometers into a beautiful coastal village you never knew existed.