Cultivation of Agency

“He cared about people deeply. He served his country and humanity nobly. He loved his family and his God unswervingly. As Jesus says in the New Testament, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” These are the words Presiding Bishop Michael Curry used to describe Colin Powell on the occasion of his recent death.

High and appropriate praise for an individual whose own response to his well deserved accolades was, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” If you know anything about Colin Powell’s story, you are aware of the adversities he faced. Yet you also learn of an individual who fairly early on embraced his own agency.

• the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices
• one’s independent capability or ability to act on one’s will, action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect
• our sense of our own power to make a difference (Wikipedia / Oxford Dictionary)

No one wakes up deciding to own their agency. In fact, there are many who never fully embrace their agency, the agency that resides in each of us. It is in the DNA of being a uniquely created, uniquely gifted child of God. Yet without cultivation, like a plant unattended, we will not fully live into our agency. And as such, we will not grow into the full potential of who we are called to be.

In my experience cultivation of agency happens in two primary ways. First, it is manifested through encouragement and affirmation from others to embrace our capacity.  And second, as Colin Powell suggests, “…preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” It is our willingness to lean in and trust that we have gifts that are formed, shaped and meant to be fully utilized.

Colin Powell wrote in his memoir It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, 13 principles of leadership that clearly demonstrate cultivation of capacity.

  1. It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done.
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

1 thought on “Cultivation of Agency”

  1. Jill Moore Ponti

    Brian – I love reading your blog posts. This one was an inspiring one. Thank you for your insight. Jill Moore Ponti

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