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Restore and Reclaim Your Agency

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“Skydiving changed my mindset. I went home and told our children they could do anything and do it well.”

Bonnie Ross-Parker, Author Y.O.U. Set A High Standard for Being Human

A mentor and teacher early in my professional life said something one day that, in the moment, really challenged me, ok, really, it pissed me off. Time and my life didn’t stop. What she said was and continues to be quite profound in my life. “Suffering is a choice and once you realize the truth of this you are no longer a victim to your circumstances.” At the time I heard this I was most certainly suffering; flat broke, sleeping on a friend’s couch, emotionally drained from a divorce just fourteen months after getting married and without much resolve toward anything meaningful, personally and professionally. Her message ultimately was, “You’ve got this.” My refusal to accept responsibility for my choices was perpetuating my feelings of despair and being a victim to my circumstances. I was caught in the grip of suffering. Sigh. I took a deep breath, and then another one. Since my choices contributed to the situation that meant new choices could generate at least a new perspective if not an entirely new situation. Even that one thought made a difference in my outlook and mindset. I began to perceive the opportunity in change and eventually, I realized that inside of me were answers for something other than suffering within the status quo. I could choose to pursue something else on purpose, and with intention.

Continuing to live within the status quo is a downward spiral in your experience. When you are skydiving, the expansive view from the plane before you jump is rapidly replaced with the certainty of gravity, collapsing your perspective until you realize you are wearing a parachute and you pull the cord. Suddenly your head is pulled up again and you have influence over your descent, your direction and your perspective as you transition toward something new. Perhaps this metaphor helps you to perceive the circumstance of the pandemic and all of the ripple effect of the pandemic in a new way. Many leaders I work with around the globe are beginning to loosen their grip a little bit, releasing the pre-pandemic status quo for how work gets done. These leaders are witnessing ingenuity, innovation, creativity and scrappy grit that has met the assumed impossible challenge with resolve and surprising solutions. Rather than only seeing a downward spiral, leaders are beginning to breathe into a new way of managing, leading and generating a climate with improved balance between attending to connection and belonging while also producing business results. When consistency, predictability and control no longer work as a managing philosophy, such as occurred for many in the movement toward a virtual workplace and workforce, suffering occurred for many leaders. Fortunately for many suffering leaders, the core motivational factors for work – to use your competency, to exercise your autonomy and to contribute meaningfully in a way that is recognized as belonging – met the moment. At every level of the workforce, sustaining the status quo was not an option; only change was and much of that was imposed. Yet, many companies flourished and others managed to survive because the workforce perceived opportunities they pursued with purpose and intention.

Replacing suffering with agency is a choice. It is a sovereign choice, meaning that no one outside of you may tell you to do this. Reclaiming that you have agency and choosing to act through that agency is unique and internal. This occurs because the environment and the company you keep invite and nurture you to restore your mindset to live and engage as a whole, resourceful, capable and creative human being. Sometimes language complicates what is actually quite simple. Many people say they are afraid of change. Yet the fear arises from uncertainty about the effect of the change once it has occurred. When that uncertainty is perpetuated and focused upon, stress increases and many people experience the paralyzing effect of trauma, continuously scanning for danger. That is not a ripe condition for successful change and carries the risk of compromising both physical and mental well-being. Do five minutes of social listening on the Internet and you see the evidence of these conditions. You not only want to be successful with change, navigating change is an imperative for you both personally and professionally. Perceiving your opportunities is more than listening and seeing. Perceiving is about being alert and awake to see beyond what is familiar and comfortable, looking past your habitual filters to be in a state of wonder that continually asks the question, “what else is here to incorporate and build upon?”

For most of you, the shock of managing a virtual team has begun to wear off. Granting permission for the workforce to fully exercise their authority and competence has generated some surprising and positive outcomes. Acknowledge and nurture those choices being made and notice that this is your choice being made as well. Imagine your favorite team members. Allow yourself to wonder about who they’ve become this past year. Tune into those team members you consider less frequently. Look carefully to see who is flourishing in this new environment. Allow your joy to be shared with all of your team, noticing and recognizing the courageous choices to replace suffering with sovereignty. Prioritize your attention toward sharing the new relationship to “workspace” as the source of creativity and agency that is working. With anything not working the way you want, invite others to see what changes are working as the opportunity to stimulate new imagination. Living and working sovereign is to embody the quality and authority for being at choice about the relationship you want with the conditions of your life. Be ambassadors of optimism and orchestrators of mood by restoring and reclaiming your agency and that of your workforce.

Janet M. Harvey, MCC

Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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