John Maxwell on Leadership

Seeing Opportunities and Making Them Stick


A man and his dog returned home from a walk through the woods covered in cockleburs. The tiny burs had clung to the man’s pants and the dog’s fur, and it took a long while to disentangle them all. The man, Swiss engineer George de Mestral, was impressed by how easily the burs had latched on to the two travelers.

Later that day, he examined the burs under a microscope, and he noted the numerous, miniscule hooks enabling the burs to grasp hair or clothing. He was struck with an idea: what if he could manufacture one material covered in tiny hooks, like the burs, and attach it to another material composed of small loops, like the woven fabric of his trousers? The two strips of synthetic material would then serve as a fastener, sort of like a zipper.

De Mestral felt the idea had merit, and he took initiative to create a prototype in the hopes of patenting it. Friends warned him the project was foolhardy and would lead nowhere, but he pressed on, undaunted by their skepticism. To turn his idea into a commercial success, however, De Mestral had to figure out a way to inexpensively manufacture the materials for his fastener. His initial attempts at mass-production failed, but he remained committed to the achievability of his idea. After much trial-and-error, De Mestral finally found the right materials. More than seven years after his walk through the woods, he received the patent for his invention: Velcro®.

De Mestral’s story helps us understand how successful leaders see and seize opportunities.

1) Right attitudes precede right opportunities.

Oftentimes, problems contain opportunities. Many people miss the possibilities they hold because they approach problems as nuisances. A leader who sees opportunities looks at the world expectantly, with an attitude of hopeful confidence. A leader who overlooks opportunities views the world as a minefield full of danger and has an attitude of fearful worry.

2) Initiative activates opportunities.

The expression “window of opportunity” carries the truth that opportunities sometimes only stay open for a few, brief moments. Hesitate, procrastinate, and the window closes shut. Leaders who seize opportunities take action—grabbing hold of an opportunity before it’s gone.

3) Opportunities are a result of pluck, not luck.

As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” Mediocre leaders wait for opportunities to land in their laps. Successful leaders hunt them down, courageously making sacrifices to find them.

4) Opportunity without commitment will be lost. 


Harry A. Overstreet observed that, “while the immature mind hops from one thing to another, the mature mind seeks to follow through.” Dreaming and scheming cost nothing, but you must pay the price of commitment in order to deliver results. Dedication allows us to take hold of opportunities before they slip through our fingers.

Thought to Ponder

Over the course of your career, when have you benefited from latching on to an opportunity? What enabled you to make the most of the opportunity? I invite you to post a comment with your insights.


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