Why some situations look like crises — and how to turn them into opportunities

The story of the Taoist farmer shows that we can never know whether a situation will turn out to be a crisis or an opportunity. Opportunities and threats do not exist in themselves but are formed from the choices we make about how to respond to events. This means that, if we look at it in the right way, any situation can become an opportunity.

To understand this, let’s first understand how some situations can seem like a crisis. Let’s imagine a worst case scenario: a situation where someone is facing some sort of extreme crisis that is making her or him experience inner emotional churning.

Now let’s centre and ground ourselves. Then let’s use our tools for making clearer sense of the situation to take away the judgement word ‘crisis’ and replace it with the longer but more accurately descriptive words, “situation that is taking the leader outside their ability to handle it as routine, and is affecting them emotionally.”

As we now know, the reason the situation is upsetting the person’s emotional balance is because it is resonating with their inner world: either with who they think they are or who they want to become. More specifically, remembering Freud and Schutz, the event will create an emotional response when the leader thinks it means something about their competence, significance, or their likeability.

  • People who interpret a situation as meaning that they or their team will be seen as less capable, less important, or less popular will call it a problem or crisis. Situations where businesses fail, make less profit, or lose market share are often seen as crises.
  • Conversely, situations that show a leader or their team as more competent, more important, or more popular we call opportunities. Scenarios where we can increase profits, grow market share, or show our service is better than competitors’ are often seen as opportunities.
  • And a situation that doesn’t imply anything either way is a non-event, business as usual, neither a crisis nor an opportunity.

This shows us the root cause of why we see some situations as crises or threats and others as opportunities. As we said in Chapters 2 and 3 it has nothing to do with the situation. It’s all about the interpretation we make about what the situation means for our identity.

But the story of the Taoist farmer shows that we can never know whether a situation will turn out to be a crisis or an opportunity. And opportunities don’t exist in themselves but are formed out of the choices we make about how to respond to events. Both Pearl Harbor and Dunkirk were crises that became opportunities because of the way people chose to respond to them.

So if the person we imagined facing the ‘extreme crisis’ wants to turn their ‘crisis’ into an opportunity, what they need to do is centre and ground, let go of the churning they are creating for themselves, and understand the situation more clearly. Then they need to identify the ten types of opportunity that exist alongside any threat and then choose what is the best way forward for them.

Chapter 1 of Inner Leadership contains tools that help us centre and ground. Chapter 2 contains tools that help us make better sense of the situation. Chapter 3 contains tools that help us find the ten types of opportunity that always exist. And Chapter 4 contains tools that help us choose the best way forward for us.


Adapted from Inner Leadership.


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