Your greatest challenge is also your greatest opportunity

A surfer prepares to surf a large wave

Finding more opportunities to move forward puts us back in control and makes us more likely to find the inspiration that matters so much during times of change.

As well as the five types of outcome we can choose to create, there are also five different ways that we can choose to learn and grow from our experiences: expanding our ability to lead ourselves and others.

Ten years ago the challenges you face today would probably would not have arisen for you: you were likely in a different role and probably didn’t have the skills or experience to do what you can do today. In the same way, situations you found challenging then are probably routine for you now.

The abilities you have today are a direct result of the challenges you faced in the past. This means that the challenges you face today are opportunities to develop into the kind of person you want to become.

So the five options you have for how much you choose to learn from a situation are:

  1. Ignore the situation
    Even though you could apply your existing leadership skills, you choose to ignore or live with the situation. You do this either because it is not a priority for you or so that others can learn and develop their skills and competencies. The ‘crisis’ becomes an opportunity for you to develop your abilities to prioritise, delegate, or develop your team.
  2. Remove your leadership skills to somewhere else
    Here you choose to use the event as a trigger to take your leadership skills into a different role: perhaps one that has more meaning for you, that better matches your needs, or that will develop or reward you better. The crisis now becomes an opportunity for you to take a better decision and become better at knowing when to quit.
  3. Apply / Maintain your existing leadership skills
    Under this option you choose to apply your existing leadership skills to address the situation: to fix, improve, ignore, exit, or transform it. The crisis becomes  an opportunity to reapply what you already do well.
  4. Develop / Improve the way you lead yourself and others
    Here you use the situation as an opportunity to develop your abilities: perhaps by developing a new skill or by applying your existing abilities to a situation that is larger or more complex than you have faced before.
  5. Transform your leadership
    This is the ultimate opportunity: by learning the skills that could have prevented the crisis from happening in the first place you learn to do what it takes to stop it from happening again. As Sun Tzu once said, “The greatest general is the one who defeats an enemy without fighting.”

Listing the options under each of these five headings will help you find the opportunities in a crisis. It will put you back in control of the choice you make between whatever options are available. And by thinking about the situation not as a ‘problem’ but as an ‘opportunity’ you also increase the likelihood that you and your team will find the inspiration that is so essential in a time of change.

What seems like your greatest crisis will then become your greatest opportunity to learn.

Think of a problem or crisis you faced, either now or in the past. How many alternatives can you come up with under each of the five headings? Which one inspires you the most? Is that the option you chose?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Mike Sutherland via

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