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Mentor Leadership Part 5: O for Opportunity

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: March 2013

If you have been following along in previous articles, I have been using MENTOR as an acronym and applying each letter to an element important to the success of the mentor/protégée relationship. This month I want to share the letter O and if you want to look back at the previous four letter please follow the link:

In my experience, mentoring others has not only been about Managing, Engaging, Negotiating, and finding Talented people to fill leadership roles. It is also about finding as many Opportunities as possible to encourage others to trust their instincts, take time to think and feel the environment in the moment, and to take a risk or two when looking for positive opportunities. In other words, be there every moment for yourself and others to ask questions, encourage and manage processes, and invite participation of ideas.

Ralph's been writing articles about continuous vitality. For me this means seizing opportunities to vitalize and revitalize your work and personal life. This concept of seizing opportunities can be very hard to get our heads around. It takes thinking about what's possible and not dwelling on what's not working.

Look for the opportunity. Too often when things go wrong or when we make mistakes, we tend to look at what we did wrong or think to ourselves, "If only I had made a better decision", when we really should be looking at what happened in the process and find opportunities to tweak, improve, and, most of all, ask for help or ideas on how to make a positive outcome. Making mistakes help us to find opportunities and positive outcomes. If we looked at mistakes as great opportunities, we'd be so much better off, both personally and culturally in the workplace.

Opportunities are out there and they are not always obvious. Getting our minds to work on looking at opportunities is something we may not have a natural inclination to do and we can miss out on so much. Being aware of how we behave during stressful situations or how we face adversity needs to be at the front of our minds so we can think opportunity, rather than disaster.

So, when we mentor others, how should we approach looking for opportunities for the people who count on us to lead them?  In my experience, it’s about listening, asking questions, and encouraging ideas with more follow up questions.

Here's an example I'd like to share:
A couple years ago, I met with a long-time friend who was struggling with her debts and was complaining and blaming everyone but herself for getting in that position. She had bill collectors calling at all hours and she avoided the calls and was in a constant bad mood, cursing a lot, and making everyone's life a misery for weeks. There was a good reason why she got into debt. She lost her job and had trouble finding another. She made it worse by not facing the issue and not asking for help. Too much time went by and she found herself in serious debt trouble. Finally, she called me and asked if I could help her get to a good place again. Knowing how serious she was about wanting the help, I proceeded to help her to solve her problem.

I started out by asking a series of questions (that I researched and planned in advance, because I'm not really good at improvising) about how much the debt was and what's she'd done so far to fix the problem. Nothing had been done and she was at a loss as to how to move forward. However, she was ready to do something and we had to start from scratch. I had lots of ideas on how to help her, but had to help her to problem solve from within herself, as I knew she had it in her. She needed to relieve her stress and let things go first (from her assumptions and beliefs, which I helped her to do by asking more questions) and think of new ways or opportunities that might help. She eventually came up with some great ideas that she could live with and that slowly helped her out of her debt doldrums. Today, she is almost in the black and keeps me posted (without my prompting) to let me know how she's doing. She's forever grateful and has mentioned more than once how much thinking about opportunities is so much better than wallowing in a grief-like state. She has even paid this process forward by helping one of her friends to seize a couple opportunities and I'm very proud of her!

In my own working and personal world, I sometimes struggle with looking for opportunities when things go wrong, or when things happen that are out of my control. I have a wonderful mentor/coach whom I can count on to ask me those crucial questions that will help me think of those opportunities.

It always begins with the right question. Here are some questions that I ask myself that can help my mind to look for opportunities:

  • Have I faced the reality of what’s really going on or making too much out of it? If too much, then how can I seize an opportunity to make it right?
  • Why was I surprised or upset about what just happened and does it really have something to do with me or is it something going on with the other person? If the other person, how can I help this person look at other ways to solve the problem?
  • If I take an opportunity or risk helping someone, will it be received or denied? If denied, what other opportunities can be looked at that may help in another way?
  • What are the positives that can come out of this situation? Who can help me figure that out or who can I brainstorm with?
  • What is getting in my way to finding an answer or opportunity to make this situation work?

These questions actually help me to "get real" about what's really happening and to think outwardly, which broadens my thinking process. You may have another set of questions to ask that fits your personality better and I say, "Go for it!" I think it's healthy to have questions to ask ourselves, if only to broaden our horizons.

Anyone can look at the dark side. Leaders turn setbacks into learning events. As leaders, we need to show others that we can look for opportunities as much as possible. Would you agree? We'd love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think or feel about this article.

Thanks for reading!

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly