This month I’d like to talk about opportunity sharing. It sounds simple, right? But it’s more than mere delegation. Let’s break it down a bit.
First, some background. As a young naval officer, I learned about the Navy and grew both personally and professionally as a result of opportunity sharing. For example, during my first tour (which was on shore), occasionally a need would arise for legal services on board a small ship that did not have its own lawyer on board. The ship would get in touch with the main legal office in the area and request to have a military attorney, or JAG, temporarily assigned to it (i.e., sent to live on board the ship at sea) for perhaps a week. That request would get passed down the chain of command to the appropriate department head, who was then responsible for recommending a course of action to fill it.
Despite the fact that the Navy is a sea-going service, serving on board a ship at sea is actually a rarity for a JAG. Most assignments for lawyers are on shore, and only a lucky and select few will ever be permanently assigned to a ship–so an opportunity like the one I’ve described is a rare chance to experience Navy operations and at-sea living conditions first-hand. It's an opportunity that is highly sought, and frankly, it’s also quite cool. All of that means that the temptation is great for that department head to volunteer himself or herself for the assignment rather than sending an eager young JAG out to get much-needed seasoning, as it were. Not one of my department heads ever did that. Instead, they advertised the request to the entire department and asked for volunteers, because they knew the value of this opportunity to the training and development of their personnel.
Having been on the other side of the equation as a more senior officer, I also have some insight into how one lucky JAG is chosen from among what was always a large group of volunteers. At my command, leadership reviewed the skills and experiences of those who had “raised their hand” to fill the assignment. Once we had narrowed down the list to those officers who had the required skill level to provide the services requested, we looked at which of those officers had already had similar opportunities and which ones had never previously been selected for such an assignment. Typically we tried to recommend to the Commanding Officer that he send someone who hadn’t yet been given such an assignment, because like the department head seeking volunteers, we knew the value of this experience to the training and development of our people.
That’s a long explanation for a seemingly simple concept! And it’s only one example–many different types of special assignments came up over the years. What I’m trying to get at, though, is that we shouldn’t answer requests or respond to invitations by rote. Stop and consider them for a moment. Yes, if you are receiving a request or invitation, you most likely are qualified to handle the task or attend the event, and potentially could do so more efficiently than someone who is less experienced. But is that the right thing to do? Or could someone with less or different experience derive a greater benefit from that assignment than you would, even if it takes a little more time and effort to get to the end result?
The point is to look beyond the surface of things that arrive in your inbox (digital or physical). Listen more deeply to apparently passing mentions about conferences or presentations. Think about how you got started and the benefits conferred upon you by others in your field, and look for the opportunity to serve others in that same way.
This is not to say that you should pass along every opportunity that arises and stop learning and growing yourself. That is not at all what I’m suggesting; personally I believe we should all be learning continually–and when it comes to passing along an opportunity to others, I personally like to have some experience with that or a similar opportunity myself, so I can describe and answer questions about what I’m asking someone to undertake. But the leaders I have and have had, both military and civilian, have shown me that opportunity sharing is an effective way to help others grow and develop, and in fact helps the leaders themselves to grow and develop. And that’s a win for everyone.
Elizabeth Rosso is an environmental lawyer, Navy veteran, and advocate of organic interaction. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 598-7070.
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