Throughout my years in the military, I’ve learned that deep reflection on past events and situations in our lives is a healthy way to grow as a person and to tackle future endeavors. I reflect often because when I started my adult life, I never would have thought that 14 years later I’d be responsible for four kids, seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, been through all the military schools that I’ve done, and have the opportunity to mentor Soldiers as an Infantry leader and a Drill Sergeant, been an instructor, been a church speaker, and many other occasions that I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of and to get me to where I am today. One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is a word I used in the last sentence…Opportunity!
Opportunity is a major part of the successes I’ve had and is an infinite concept in our lives. Opportunity is all around us. Opportunity comes as often as we fight to create it. I’ve learned that any successful leader should deal with opportunities two ways:
- Create opportunities for yourself.
- Create opportunities for your Soldiers, employees, subordinates.
I’ve assessed that creating opportunities for yourself and others is more vital and more of a discussion point than taking the opportunity itself. That’s simply because not every opportunity should be taken. I’m sure we all can look back in our lives and see opportunities that we passed on and they were the correct choice. They were correct choices because we planned ahead for them. We knew the direction we wanted to go. We saw they were not in our best interests. We didn’t hesitate to move on and seek other opportunities.
I took the opportunity as a young Soldier to foolishly raise my hand to volunteer to be a Stryker driver at my first unit (mainly because as a Private you volunteer for everything if you don’t want your NCOs to crush you). That opportunity gave me the skills and knowledge to understand numerous communication platforms and how to operate and maneuver the vehicle. This played a role almost 12 years later when I returned to the same unit five ranks higher and already had the extensive knowledge of this platform that allowed me to be successful in this assignment.
I took the opportunity to reenlist to be assigned to the 101st Airborne Division knowing it’s a high operational tempo unit. At the time of reenlistment, I was a Sergeant E-5 and had spent my three years in PSD (personal security detail) and was behind my peers as far as Infantry knowledge. The opportunity of just being in that unit earned me extensive training in Infantry skills that brought me up to speed with my peers. Add to that Air Assault School, promotion to Staff Sergeant, and a deployment to Afghanistan that made me grow extensively as a person and a leader.
I got orders while in Afghanistan to be assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana. At the time, I had no idea what unit I was going to. My friend Chris, who I mentioned in my thank you post and is a regular contributor, was already stationed there. He put in a good word in for me to his boss to come work as an Observer/Controller Trainer (basically an instructor/evaluator for civilian terminology). Again, I felt like I was not qualified for this position but took the opportunity anyway. At the end of the three years there, I had begun college, finished all my NCO schooling, completed Pathfinder School and earned my EIB (Expert Infantrymen’s Badge which is a must do as an infantryman if you want to progress in your career). I had a solid performance my first year and was asked to come fill in the slot of a Battalion Reconnaissance observer controller over roughly 40 other Soldiers. Here is where I also found Christ and turned my life around personally. None of which would have happened if I didn’t seek the opportunity with Chris and if he didn’t offer it to me.
These are just a few examples. Leaders need to make connections. Leaders need to net-work. And no, I do not mean kiss the bosses butt to get in good to make opportunities. You get in good by other means that we’ll talk about in the future.
Creating opportunities requires looking ahead. Developing the skill to think and plan one, two, three steps ahead of your current situation. This is something I pride myself in and really honed that skill while I was a Drill Sergeant. The ability to discern how an action or decision we choose and take will not only affect the immediate response, but multiple avenues, multiple courses of actions and how we will respond and attack which ever path we’re confronted with.
When opportunity presents itself, and you want to take it, DO NOT HESITATE! Hesitation will absolutely kill/destroy you. From the moment of the event of a DREADFUL thing to the first moment when you initiate action on that event, everything in between is like a horrible dream. Like a nightmare. Everything in between those two events is when the hesitation is at its strongest. That is when it has its tightest grip on you in which you are stuck dead in your tracks with fear. That is when we must take that step into the unknown. The unknown, therefore, most often causes the fear in which will ultimately cause our defeat. Hesitation is your enemy and it allows the opportunity to pass. Hesitation turns into cowardice and reveals your own lack of preparation. It stops you from being the point man of your team or family and puts everyone under you into jeopardy. To overcome the hesitation, all you must do is overcome the “waiting.” The simplest way to overcome the hesitation is to GO. MOVE. Assault the hesitation and take or bypass the opportunity. Prepare and be able to predict what happens when opportunity presents itself so you are ready. Prepare your team and family on what the possible outcomes would be depending on your decision of any opportunity you choose to take or dismiss. I feel that once you have learned the skill of creating opportunities for yourself and others, you have significantly improved a large portion of your “bubble” of influence. Your “team” sees that you care enough to work hard to create the opportunities for them and will respect what you have done for them and will be grateful. You allow them to work on not hesitating and to have to start planning for when these opportunities arise. You teach them the consequences of their actions when you can create situations and opportunities in which they need to make a decision. I do this constantly as a parent.
For example, if my son needs to take a bath at night, I may say “you can take a bath tonight and wake up at 0700 OR you can take a bath tomorrow morning and I’ll wake you up at 0600.” I created an opportunity for him to see the consequences of his actions. I know 9/10 times he will choose to take a bath in the morning. For kids they are concerned with instant gratification. Then when he is ticked off in the morning that he is up before anyone else, I can take that moment to mentor him in the choice he made and how he can choose more wisely next time. That now leads into time management lessons simply by giving him the opportunity to choose his bath time. You can be the example of how you work to create your own opportunities and to attack them. Your “team” is watching you.