Providing opportunity: the oft missing ingredient to effecting change
Updated: Sep 22
One of the biggest questions most leaders may ask themselves, for example, is – How do I get my teams to be passionate beyond their job description? How do I get them to learn through their experience in order to grow themselves, not necessarily for the “reward” or promotion or a positive appraisal? How do I encourage innovation – especially at a time of crisis such as the 2020 Pandemic when with a lack of precedent, all ideas stand equal…?
I propose the “crime triangle” as an effective starting point for the answer. Like the “fire triangle” (Oxygen, Heat, Fuel) – the Crime triangle suggests that the instigation of a (criminal) event requires all three elements. I would humbly suggest, so too does progression to success. The “crime triangle” premise is that for most crimes to occur all three elements need to be fulfilled. Remove one, and it can be prevented. Add whichever element is missing rather than simply pushing what is already there and you get your result.
Motivation to action is motivation to action, whatever the field (crime or otherwise), so how about considering what is present for your teams, and what you may need to add:
- How easy is it for your team to focus on the enjoyment (desire) of the project rather than results?
- Do you, or other potential mentors have time to train or offer support (ability) which takes time rather than offer immediate solutions?
- Is there a need for targets (sales, financial, satisfied customers) to be made – if not by you, by the organisational culture? (Where is the Opportunity?)
Most staff members bring their own desire (motivation) and ability, but often the focus within the organisation rests specific targets and training (ability) towards them rather than the opportunity to shine. The more “mundane” the tasks get, while teams may become adept at them, the opportunity to initiate is absent and the desire is likely to wane.
How would you be able to give your teams the opportunity to indulge in their passion (without focusing on targets, reward, or outcome…simply enjoying the ability to do it)?
The same is also true of personal growth.
Consider instead, this model:
These are the three components needed to grow and it will not occur when any are missing:
1. Awareness – One needs to be aware that the current or habitual practice is ineffective. This conclusion may be reached through “going round in circles” or an astute observation within coaching, training or appraisal. It may also come through a careless remark, or perhaps a conflict.
2. Development Techniques – One must be given the tools to make a change should they wish. You cannot shout at someone for “doing it wrong” and expect them to learn the “correct method” without showing them. The wise coach, or leader assumes that people do not deliberately choose to “misbehave” but rather that they may not know what is expected…the first chance – the opportunity to learn is always offered.
3. Opportunity to change – This includes time and a safe space. One will struggle breaking the “habits of a lifetime”, and slip ups may occur. Support to continue on a positive route is essential. Behaviours that make the person growing feel ashamed, awkward or defensive are of no help – you cannot make fun of someone and then ask them why they stopped doing what they had started.
As it is with crime, so it is with teams taking initiative – it is opportunity that is often the most difficult to provide as it requires the greatest amount of work – and patience. Yet, also as with crime, it is the one we have the most control over.
When it comes to committing a crime, you have little power over the desire nor the ability of the perpetrator, but you can do a series of things that will ensure you do NOT provide opportunity eg:
- Avoid wearing headphones so you cannot hear if you are being followed
- Park under street lamps and have keys ready
- Do not leave valuables in sight
- Install security devices
…and so on.
Yet, we may often overlook the very things we had under our control until it is too late.
When it comes to teams taking initiative, again the desire comes from the employee, the ability is often embedded within training, but the opportunity must be created. Similarly in personal growth – when people are aware they know they have a choice, options and solutions are easily offered by coaches, mentors and leaders – but the opportunity to grow needs to be created.
Note also that a lack of opportunity can diminish desire.
Taking the subject of crime - remove the opportunity and the "victim" is less desirable, the same can be said for the motivation of your staff members. Remove opportunity and motivation is adversely affected. If your teams are sent on future forward courses (ability) with no opportunity to practice their skills, not only will they begin to feel the course was a waste of time (which can then extend to "training" in general), but unpractised, the skills will wane so should the need arise, they may be rusty. Further, if someone is extremely motivated (desire) when they join a company and find no opportunity to develop, their desire wanes, and they may seek new opportunity elsewhere.
Creating opportunity 1: Provide a healthy learning environment
Think back to when you were a baby learning to walk. The environment was full of support and time. You weren’t rushed, you weren’t trying to master a skill to meet a deadline, and it didn’t matter if you fell down. That is the most appropriate environment for training. Is this present for your team?
- What sort of training do you offer?
If most of it is “Hard skills” based then while you will certainly have a well equipped and able team, this will do little for igniting the flame of passion.
- If you do offer soft-skills training, how do you offer it?
- Can teams take time out to train or are they spending training sessions looking at work back at the office?
- Also – consider the ability to practice the training. Often, when you take a moment to reflect on training, how much of it, as inspirational as it might have been was a series of models and theories which, if you were lucky, you might have had the chance to practice? Training (or even one-to-one meetings or team briefings) affords you time – how can you best optimise it to create an environment with an emphasis on learning rather than teaching?
Creating opportunity 2: Empower rather than solve
Don’t give the solution.
When you have embedded the ability to learn, with the awareness that it is experience which is the most effective teacher (although intellectualisation and practical support is always helpful), your role becomes one of guidance. You become “Plan B” while encouraging “Plan A”!
All this means is, when your teams do ask you for input – which they are likely do so simply because you are their leader – state what you have done or might do, but be clear that this is only one possible way.
You are no longer “nudging” them to your solution, but have instead given them the process through which they can identify their own and feed it back to you.
What the experienced leader can offer their team or mentee (without supressing them) is the teaching of the thought process rather than the possible solutions.
Rather than even suggesting possible ways of solving the matter raised, tell them how you might approach the problem.
This way the person asking may devise or find their own methods, but your experience gives them a jump start on the way in which to approach the task.
Leaders who provide OPPORTUNITY will yield greatest results
People are intrinsically motivated to do what they desire. Many can learn the skills with ease, but they need to be given the chance.
Provide opportunity and it is likely a crime will occur – the same is true of teams and personal growth - provide opportunity and people may flourish.
Resilience, like many elements of leadership, is not a “hard skill” (like riding a bike) that you can just learn and move on from. It is knowing that you can approach problems that don’t yet have solutions, and do so with confidence. It is the ability to know that you have the strength and ability to bounce back (and sometimes bounce higher) from whatever you are in. It is faith that you will achieve if you put in the effort. It is being aware of who to ask and actually asking. It is being innovative, or path carving – even when there is no map. It is saving your strength for the battles worth fighting – not getting caught up in petty squabbles that use up your valuable energy. Finally it is being grateful for what you have just because you have it.
Resilience is about knowing you can – and will – find a way.
Those skills are harnessed and inspired – through providing the opportunity for them to shine.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching masterclasses on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it. Follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt