exercising agency and influence

Learning to be a leader is one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do. Besides high school sports, my first leadership position was running a college newspaper organization, and I ran it into the ground. It no longer exists.

Later on in college, I more successfully ran the OSU entrepreneurship organization, where I learned the important of succession planning.

At CrossChx, I faced the entirely new challenge of leading salaried professionals that I didn’t hire and who I did not necessarily have direct, hierarchical authority over.

Not only did I learn the different facets of things to consider with leadership (Are my people happy? Are they growing? Are they properly trained? Are they motivated? Am I setting up the team for future success?) I also learned how much of a role I can play in creating good (or bad) outcomes.

Growing up, even through college, I sort of got by on showing that I was “trying my best” and relying on the goodwill of others. If I wanted something, and I was doing my part to be morally and ethically “good,” I could expect to get the thing I wanted — probably due to adults’ general desire to positively reinforce good behavior in children.

But in the real world, you don’t get what you want just because you do your part and you ask for it. Rarely will people make personal sacrifice to give you what you want to positively reinforce your behavior.

Instead, people act out of self interest.

It really wasn’t until the last 18 months that I started really getting a sense, though, that I could understand that reality and still operate within it to achieve my own goals.

The first time it clicked was at CrossChx when I was trying to negotiate a purchase of some sales data from an organization. Their price was way too high, and I wasn’t going to get clearance to make that level of purchase. I had already tried the “ask” version of negotiation of, “Could I pay you this amount for these things?” and was told flatly, “no.”

But we were hitting a time constraint, and I knew I needed that information for us to follow the sales strategy we were putting in place.

I looked at the calendar, and realized we were close to the end of the quarter. Then I also remembered that no fewer than four individuals from my company had flirted with making this purchase, before ultimately deciding it was too expensive.  Bottom line — their guy wanted to sell us, and he was also nearing his deadline for his quarterly sales quota.

I got clearance from my boss on total budget, and called him out of the blue.

“OK, here’s the deal. I can get you a signed order this afternoon if you give me these things at this price.”

He called me back shortly after, and we had a deal. We quickly passed everything through.

I think back to that quote from Steve Jobs back in 1995.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is everything around you that you call “life” was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use!

And the minute that you understand you can poke life…you can change it, you can mold it…

That’s maybe the most important thing. To shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it. Versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it…

And however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

When things aren’t going your way, you can think about why. You can think in terms of other people who have influence and are stakeholders in the situation, and understand how they are exercising their own influence and agency.

You have the power to ability to change how you operate, to make the decisions and take the steps to try and change the course of the situation. Is your organization underperforming? Instead of operating at the status quo and hoping things get better, you can proactively meet with members of that team.

You can try to better understand them, have difficult conversations, and create real change. But those changes in course are not likely to happen by happenstance — it requires you identifying the course and exercising agency and influence to make it so.


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