Greetings again, loyal leaders! Capt. Fletch here with a toasty edition of the Leadership Toolbox as temperatures heat up here in sunny Las Vegas! Last month, we discussed the potential power of positivity on the sports field and the jobsite. This month, I want to return to the intriguing discussion of common words. This time: opportunity.

Much like the other common words we have examined, we often use “opportunity” without much thought. Opportunity describes the potential for something great. When used in relation to people, we often think about someone with a lot of potential and a bright future ahead of them. In business or in teams, opportunity represents chances for expansion and success. Think new equipment purchases, more personnel or expansion into new markets. Here, I focus on opportunity as it relates to personnel within our teams.

Leaders must often take risks, deciding when to give their people opportunities to prove themselves. In the military, whether enlisted or officer, we often faced these situations due to lack of personnel and a pressing need to accomplish the mission. However, when possible, avoid putting personnel in this sink-or-swim position because it places more stress and pressure on them. Instead, work to prepare your team to take on opportunities when they arise rather than simply throwing them into the deep end.

As a coach, I deal with this every day. I assess my players and their abilities to fit into the team strategy given the opponents coming up in our schedule. I watch the players in practice, provide feedback and observe how they respond to that feedback. Do they take it and work to improve? Do they have a positive attitude when receiving feedback? In essence, are they coachable? In baseball, you can only play nine at a time on the field. I always have players eagerly awaiting their opportunity to contribute and help the team succeed. How do I decide when the opportunity is right? Sometimes, admittedly, I rely on a gut feeling. However, I still based that decision on detailed observations of a player. Assess the game situation, determine what the successful strategy needs, and insert the player who has earned the opportunity.

Recently, as we approached the end of the regular season, we had a non-league game. Losing would not have affected our standing for playoffs, but we obviously want to compete and try to win every game. We also had one important league game remaining. I assessed our pitching rotation, pondering who to hand the ball to for the game. As I looked over the names on the list, I stopped at one young man in particular. He had not played much all year and had been an immense help on the bench with charts and game management. He had also played plenty of junior varsity games, working on his skills in live games. I ran through his year in my head and discussions we had about how to earn more opportunities. He had clearly done everything we asked of him and it was time to see what he could do. I penned his name on the lineup card and informed him he would be starting. Long story short, he pitched a complete game and held the opposing team to two runs, allowing our team to find a way to rally and win the game 6-2.

I could have easily chosen a more veteran pitcher from our rotation, but it was time to give an opportunity and it paid off. So often, as leaders, we never truly learn the potential of our people unless we give them opportunities to show who they are and what they can do. In the military, I employed this methodology often in our drilling program. I gave my young NCOs opportunities to make decisions, and help develop our training program and revise our standard operating procedures.

You have to also be prepared with plans to ensure success if the individual starts to falter in this new opportunity.

Leaders can sometimes hesitate or be fearful to give opportunities to personnel. To combat this, pay those personnel attention, give them feedback and search actively for opportunities where you feel they can excel. You have to also be prepared with plans to ensure success if the individual starts to falter in this new opportunity. In the case of my pitcher, I obviously had others I could turn to in an emergency. On a drilling crew, this translates to having the right personnel on site to step in and ensure things stay on track and (most importantly) safe.

I have learned a lot over the years about giving members of my team opportunities. It used to, at times, be a cause for anxiety. However, it became a source of joy in many cases to watch other people grow and thrive. I admit opportunity can sometimes be used to prove a point that someone is not ready — not often, but it is a very effective method to teach humility when a person gets in over their head. As you look at your teams and assess who might be ready for a new opportunity, approach it confidently and with good information about your people. You just might find someone is ready for a lights-out performance!

Until next time, Capt. Fletch over and out.