Are you an opportunistic leader?

Your big opportunity may be right where you are now. – Napoleon Hill

In Bits & Pieces a number of years back the story is told of an energetic young man who began work as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of dollars’ worth of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers. The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try to sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents. The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital. The young man’s boss was not enthusiastic. “The plan will never work,” he said, “because you can’t find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime.”

The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth.

Years later his old boss lamented, “As near as I can figure it, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!”

When thinking of an opportunistic person what mental image comes to mind? For some it’s an image of a person seizing a moment in time to be unscrupulous or devious. But I’d like to frame it from a different perspective.

As a leader with influence you have many opportunities that come your way and not all of them have to do with what you gain. Often it’s about what you can give. Here are five characteristics of opportunistic leaders.

Opportunistic leaders take time to listen

This point might stand in contrast to the “leader” in the organization who is more accustomed to talking and being heard. But opportunistic leaders understand the value of listening to his or her people. The best leaders know that it’s not always about what you have to say that is important but in what you hear. Be an opportunistic leader and tune in to those around you. You might just learn something.

Opportunistic leaders look for ways to serve

Leaders who make their mark on the world do so by finding ways to serve others and causes greater than themselves. This can be done in so many ways and on so many different levels large and small. This opportunistic leader is less concerned about the limelight and simply finds joy in serving others and making their small corner of the world a better place to live. In what ways are you serving those around you?

Opportunistic leaders are always growing

Opportunistic leaders have a healthy appetite for personal growth and development. It’s understood therefore that it won’t happen by chance or without being intentional. What personal growth and development and leadership books are you reading? How about magazines like Success (my favorite) and other resources to help you sharpen your leadership skills? Opportunistic leaders are always striving to be better and make their personal growth and development a priority.

Opportunistic leaders build relationships

A good leader understands the value of relationships and will make building them a priority. An opportunistic leader knows that strong relationships are the foundation of his organization and it contributes to a healthy culture. As good of a benefit as that is; it’s even nicer for your people to know that you care about them as a person and that you see their worth not just for what they do but simply for whom they are.

Opportunistic leaders are willing to take risks

Some might argue that risk-taking is throwing caution to the wind, but I beg to differ. Opportunistic leaders realize that this brief moment in time spent on earth is but a vapor and every moment is a gift from God to make a difference. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” I believe it’s true.

Opportunistic leaders are not in it for themselves. They are looking for ways to leave their mark on the world and to add value to others along the way. Have you found your next opportunity?

©2016 Doug Dickerson

Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. To learn more visit or email him at:

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