Be the Opportunist


Be the Opportunist

opportunist“He’s just an opportunist!” someone said after a meeting. We were discussing the aftermath in which one person seemed to get a cushy assignment while others seemed to get to carry the heavy load. The “opportunist” had quietly lobbied for the assignment before the meeting.

That’s when it occurred to me that the word “opportunist” gets a bad rap.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines opportunity as: 1) a favorable juncture of circumstances; and 2) a good chance for advancement or progress.

So, an opportunist really is someone who sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it. However, in the modern context, if you’re an opportunist, you’re seen as someone who is doing something unfair, unethical, immoral or even illegal.

However, that’s not what it means. An opportunist is someone who sees an opportunity and seizes it. The truth is that we are all opportunists. Every time you take an opportunity, you’re acting as an opportunist. In fact, if you’re not an opportunist, you’re leaving a lot of money and success on the table.

In this case, the opportunist talked with a couple of other people ahead of the meeting to ask for the assignment. He made a case for it, and they agreed. He didn’t do anything unethical, unfair or immoral. When he was alone with a supervisor, he managed to steer the conversation to the assignment. It was a quiet campaign.

The rest of the group thought the matter would be decided at the meeting and based on merit or a drawing of some type. The person making the decision probably should have been more transparent about how the decision would be made. On the other hand, perhaps they assumed that no one else wanted the assignment because no one else had mentioned it. In either case, the rest of the team failed to see the opportunity to lobby for the assignment.

But, we should always be opportunists, but honest opportunists. I don’t advocate doing anything that is unethical, unfair, immoral or illegal. One can be an opportunist without being a jerk.

Being an opportunist is more about your mindset. It is about being strategic, looking ahead and deciding which opportunities are worth taking. It involves being nimble and a lot of forward thinking. It requires balancing the pros and cons of an opportunity.

Not all opportunities are worth taking. In the case I started with, there was one person who did not want the assignment because it involved air travel, which they do not enjoy.

Being a successful opportunist also requires a wide perspective. Not all opportunities should be focused on work. Being an opportunist means focusing that mindset on all elements of your life: business, professional, family, community, church and personal development.

Apply your opportunist mindset to your personal life. How much better would your life be if you took more opportunities to spend time with your family? How much fuller would your life be if you took more opportunities to serve your community?

The other thing to consider is that opportunity requires balance. Opportunities, like creativity, benefit from cross-pollination. Taking advantage of opportunities in a different area can lead to new, previously unseen opportunities. Success in one area feeds success in other areas. Hyper-focused opportunism in one area creates a tunnel vision that becomes limiting.

So, be the opportunist. Alter your mindset. It’s the only way to succeed.

Arnoldo Mata heads Leadership Resource Group and has more than 30 years of experience in leadership training and development. Leadership Resource Group works with nonprofits, governments and private businesses on strategic planning projects that provide focus and direction for organizational growth. He also provides training and services in creativity and ideation.