I’ve heard Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology speak a couple of times recently about Agency, and it occurred to me that we all could use a little bit of an Agency hack about now. Disrupt the Agency Disruptor?
What is Agency?
Here, I am not talking about a digital tech firm but a psychological state of mind, that says I can make a positive difference in the world. It’s a belief that I can accomplish my goals.
Three Components to Agency
- Efficacy: The belief that I can accomplish my goal now, in the short-term.
- Optimism: Future mindedness: The belief that I can accomplish my goal far into the future.
- Imagination (& Prospection): The running of different scenarios: The belief that I can accomplish a range/number of different goals now and in the future.
What is the Agency Disruptor?
There are structures in society that limit one’s ability to act independently and believe they can accomplish their goals. For example, there is a national and global conversation currently taking place about structural racism as one barrier for people of color. I will talk about this disruptor at another time.
For this post, I am going to focus on the Pandemic. We all know it’s been a global trauma – a shock to every human system: medical, economic, educational, political, etc. The Pandemic has brought dangers (real and perceived) and left us with a lot of unknowns and questions about the virus and our future (ie., when will we reach a heard immunity? When will be able to open up our movement and economies?). Its wreaked havoc on our ability to plan and be sure of what we can actually do and accomplish and when. No new news. The question is, how do we keep getting better about visioning, staying productive and accomplishing something in this environment, even if it’s different than what we set out to do? How do we define progress in these times?
As Gorden Tredgold says, in his article: “11 Things Every CEO Must Know About Disruption,” “disruption is truly a natural cause of the times. If you’re comfortable in your business, you need to be thinking about who knows your [sic] comfortable and how they are planning to make you uncomfortable. There is a constant ebb and flow of disruption and being disrupted.” You are either the disruptor or the one being disrupted. When you are the former, you have a strong sense of Agency. When you are disrupted, you can lose your sense of Agency. It’s all in how you perceive the situation and how you respond to it.
Brain Short Circuits
Tredgold is largely referencing market disruption due to technological breakthroughs and stiff competition. We have many other disruptions including social unrest and climate change. The pandemic is one that changed our lives and livelihood literally overnight. Neuroscience tells us that when we experience a threat, our brain doesn’t know difference if it’s real or perceived. Either way, it goes into survival mode. When we are in survival mode, our anxiety is heightened. From a psychological perspective, this is a fear of the future. Consequently our brain no longer has access to a broad range of cognitive functioning particularly in the executive and creative functioning areas. Our vision goes narrow. This helps with a short-term agenda but not with a long-term view. Our sense of Agency, what we can accomplish and when, is hijacked temporarily, or in some cases, permanently.
Leading for the Longer-Term
In order to disrupt the disruptor – in this case the effect the Pandemic has on you and those you lead – it’s important to focus on where you have a sense of Agency. It’s vital to identify where you can take control, make decisions, make choices – even if it’s about small choices on a day-to-day basis that will move you one step closer to where you want to go.
- Ensure you and your team are in alignment with your goals and next moves toward them. When situations change frequently, alignment discussions need to be frequent. These can be short touchpoints to rejigger or reconfirm the plan.
- Stay big, broad and optimistic in your mindset, while taking immediate small steps toward your vision.
- Stay curious and in a learning, agile mode knowing that the answers on next steps today could change tomorrow or next week.
- Focus on movement forward, however small or iterative it is. Celebrate the small wins.
- Be willing to let go and pivot as needed – 2020 got even the most conservative of us well practiced with scraped/reconfigured plans.
- Take a few minutes every day to tackle one technical or technological challenge. It will strengthen your technofear muscle and keep you current. Many people didn’t learn zoom or webex until 2020 because they were forced to.
- Adopt an experimentation mindset. Remember when you were a kid and you played with experiments or projects, getting lost in it for hours? Tell your mind you are playing. It takes the pressure off your brain and frees up your hard drive, strengthening your creativity muscle.
- Identify yourself as being creative, even if you don’t normally. The fact that you are a human being you are creative, as living is an act of creativity. Each thought is a creative act. Note what you are creating moment by moment.
Change with Clarity
Life can change in the now when you have an eye toward the future and are clear about the direction you are heading in, even if it’s step at a time; even if the direction suddenly changes. Shift gears – go slower or faster – make a turn or change directions altogether. Just keep your eyes on the road, in this case your goal(s), and you will be fine. Your journey may look different, and you may end up actually somewhere else, but, given the context, it will be movement and progress forward – even if you have to redefine the word “progress”.
Pick one of the above tips, or add your own, and experiment this week with opening your mental aperture. Free your brain up to allow for a broader, looser vision as you move forward.
© Copyright 2021 Sage Leadership Strategies, LLC. All rights Reserved.
Suze Shaner is an executive coach and leadership & organization effectiveness consultant. She also teaches yoga and meditation – tools to keep one sane in uncertain times. She helps professionals step up to their fullest leadership, life, and growth potential. At times this means getting out of their own way in getting important stuff accomplished. www.sagelead.com.