One of the themes I've heard from clients I train at companies like GE and Pfizer, is the importance of turning obstacles into opportunity. According to Accenture (2010), 71% of senior executives say it is the trait they are looking for in making retention and promotion choices. Business owners who can do this well keep their business afloat in difficult times.
To help you think about turning the obstacles in your life into opportunities, try turning the obstacle on its head and seeing it as the gateway to your breakthrough success. Here are two illustrative stories:
- In an outdated by illustrative story from Benjamin Zander's delightful book, The Art of Possibility, two shoe salesmen are sent to Africa. After checking out the territory, one writes back by telegram, "No one in Africa wears shoes. I'm coming home." The other salesman writes back by telegram, "No one in Africa wears shoes. Send the whole sales team!" The former salesman saw the obstacle, the latter saw the opportunity.
- Any obstacle you face can be turned into a goal in which you build the solution - and thus take yourself to the next level.
I had a front-row seat to watch this agility in action as I've coached the fearless CEO of the non-profit Foundation for Social Change, Louise Guido. Despite a partnership with the United Nations and early successes in creating path-changing outcomes for children, the Foundation could not find funding for its education programs.
As the CEO was on the brink of discontinuing the Foundation, we looked at the lack of funding as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. She decided to start a "for-benefit enterprise" that would fund and sustain the non-profit, i.e. "we'll fund it ourselves". Within six months, they developed a mobile application version of its curriculum. The CEO flew around the world and inked partnership deals with eight telephone handset operators on four continents to distribute mobile phones pre-loaded with their curriculum to girls and women entrepreneurs.
Revenue is now generated by sponsorships from companies wanting to reach this "bottom of the pyramid" demographic, and by micro-payments made by the mobile users themselves each time they download the apps. These micro payments may be pennies on the dollar, but when you have 200+ million users it adds up! Now the Foundation is funded, millions of people around the world receive beneficial education and large companies "do well by doing good." Can you think of a better example of turning obstacle into opportunity?!
What is an obstacle you face in your life?
How can you re-frame it as an opportunity?
Sharon Melnick, Ph.D. is an executive coach and trainer who works with high potential and senior executives to rapidly remove any blocks to their leadership effectiveness. She combines ‘best practices’ executive coaching approaches with behavior change methods she developed over 10 years as a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.