How big is your margin?

Create margin for opportunities that you can’t predict. ~Craig Groeschel

A margin for opportunity. I moved 18 months ago. This gave me the opportunity to purge, reorganize, and rethink all of my “stuff.” I recall sharing with a friend how I had organized a closet and there was still open space. She replied with, “so you have space to put more things”? My response was, “no, so I can always have open space. Seeing open space is freeing.”

The context of Groeschel’s quote was in reference to the uncertainty of the past 18 months. He said that “a good leader plans for unforeseen challenges. A great leader plans for unexpected opportunities.” The idea of creating margin for opportunity is harder than it sounds.

Margin: think guide, not a contract.

I work with a number of clients on strategic planning who treat their plan as if it was a contract as opposed to a guide. A contract allows for little, or even no, margin. That’s likely an indication of a good contract. Strategic planning, however, should clarify an end point and provide a direction. Unforeseen challenges will occur and if you can’t keep your “contract,” you create a sense of failure and loss in direction. But if that same strategic planning is a “guide,” you now have a little elbow room for unexpected opportunities.

We cram everything full with very little room to maneuver. From our strategic plans, to business models, to personal calendars, daily routines, and yes, even our closets. We’ve left very little room for the all-important margin.

How to create margin for unexpected opportunities?

Use the power of 3.

At the beginning of each week, identify the 3 most important things you need to accomplish. Put those 3 things on your calendar in all caps. Then leave space/margin for the unexpected.

At the beginning of every day, determine 3 things you will accomplish that day, and make them realistic. For example, instead of “complete X report,” maybe a more realistic item might be “create the outline for X report.” Allow yourself to leave a little margin every day.

In the big picture (whether that’s your organization’s strategic plan, or your personal goals), sum it up into 3 bullet points? The 4 Disciplines of Execution references identifying the wildly important. And yes, they say that what is wildly important should be no more 3. Decide what’s wildly important and then leave yourself a little margin. Creating margin means intentionally leaving space for the unknown.

Making the mental shift from unforeseen challenges (i.e., a pandemic) to unexpected opportunities (i.e., a whole new way to work), is another example of being adaptive and leading with bold grace.

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