COVID-19 is the simplest example of the inefficiency of traditional planning. Did your business plan include a global pandemic? Does anyone have? Of course not! But we all faced it, quickly made adjustments and even found ways to drastically improve our “business as usual” – even if dramatic changes across the world weren’t included in a five-year plan. sole entrepreneur.
When the virus hit, every long-term plan was thrown away, and we all became stronger leaders because we couldn’t rely on a predetermined plan to deal with this challenge. Instead, this “crisis opportunity” compelled us to provide courageous leadership through it. And above all, we have all become more dependent on our main mission for the future rather than relying on our carefully laid plans.
The jarring and rapid adjustments we’ve made during COVID-19 have been a forced push toward what I’ve defined as opportunity leadership. It is a model of leadership that for me as a Christian begins and ends with total trust in God for direction. It allows future destinations to be ordained by the hand of God and loosens our iron grip on the wheel of control. When we adopt it, we no longer need to manipulate our efforts and circumstances to design results that force us to reach predetermined destinations.
Opportunity leadership is grounded in the expectation of development opportunities that mesh seamlessly with our mission, gifts, and abilities, propelling us to meaningful destinations. As a result, we become leaders who hone the traits that allow us to create an organizational culture that responds to new opportunities with speed, skill, and energy.
The metaphor of a motorboat versus a sailboat paints a picture illuminating the dramatic difference between traditional long-range planning and opportunity leadership. As leaders, we have a fundamental choice to make – and while the answer is easy, the implementation is difficult:
Would we rather try to achieve an ambitious set of goals by accelerating the engines of our organizational powerboats to create the best programs, structures, benchmarks and future that our well-informed collective thinking can imagine?
Would we rather find our destination in sailboats, prepared and equipped to catch God’s wind to go only where it might take us?
While the second choice is clearly our desire, too often we plan, work, and lead as if our direction is totally dependent on how much power we can generate and on the best path we can envision. We can be proud when our motorboats are big, well-built, and polished, but even a poorly designed, worn-out little sailboat will outrun a motorboat every time, because only the sailboat can catch God’s wind.
In the spring of 2020, when your business assumptions and long-term plan were scuttled, you started innovating, moving fast, adjusting on the fly. In doing so, you trusted God more than ever for the future and saw opportunities and solutions unfold that you never imagined.
As horrifying as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has been, it has pushed us to a new level of speed and freed us from many assumptions that have restricted our thinking about new opportunities. Yes, retail stores and restaurants can serve customers while keeping their doors closed, churches don’t need to have in-person services to help people, and classrooms can indeed meet virtually.
Uber and Airbnb weren’t technological breakthroughs. They were the brainchild of those who looked beyond assumptions and envisioned providing the same service in ways that were free from compliance limitations. They believed that some people would be willing to drive a stranger around in their own car or let them stay in the guest room of their house.
New opportunities are not missed due to a lack of abilities, strengths or skills. They are wasted because most organizations are simply too slow to make decisions and take action. I am convinced that most would rather live in mediocrity than struggle with a speed of change that pushes them into uncertainty.
Opportunities are moving targets. You can’t freeze everything until you have all your ducks in a row to make your best call. If this is your approach, by the time you are ready, the opportunity will have passed and your slow pace will have made the decision for you.
Some leaders are inclined to shy away from opportunities that require speed, because we assume that small, under-resourced organizations can’t do what larger brand operations are tackling. We surmise that all it takes to function with speed is something we don’t have.
I would support the opposite position. Yes, larger entities have market presence and deeper pockets, but smaller companies are much more nimble and can move at a speed that larger operations cannot generate.
Small does not make us inferior. We have a lean race team with fewer segmented experts and more collaborative generalists.
Underfunding does not make us incapable. We have a bank account guided by prudent choices instead of surpluses.
The unknown does not make us ineffective. We have a deep level of service replaced by a high profile.
Convinced that we will never have their resources or reach, we envy market leaders while cowering at the speed required to seize opportunities. But don’t focus on your neighbor’s opportunities – trust that God will bring you suitable opportunities specially designed for you.
If leading without a plan got you through the worst crisis in modern history, imagine how abandoning long-term planning could boost your innovation and service when we return to normal? Your future will be the story of an overwhelming challenge turned into a surprising opportunity you never planned for.