Sense of Agency Makes Things Happen

In exploring leaders’ actions to build resiliency among members of their workgroups, a defining quality is a bias towards action. Without action, hope for the future remains a comforting idea. With action, leaders can transform hope into a structured plan for bringing about welcomed change.

At some point a person moves from thinking that someone should do something about a problem to deciding that he or she is the one who should do something about it. This shift of perspective adds a lot of momentum towards taking action.

A sense of agency reflects confidence that one can make things happen. It defines where one fits within a world view of what causes what within the world in general and worklife in particular. People vary a lot on the extent to which they perceive themselves to be a force that initiates action. Experiencing oneself as a cause leads to much more initiative than experiencing oneself as an effect.

A sense of agency has three foundations:

    • Personality. Psychology has given a lot of support to the idea of an internal locus of control as a core element of personality. People with this quality are confident that they contribute to making things happen. They refer to their thoughts and feelings as valid information. In contrast, an external locus of control awaits direction from others.

    • Roles. A formal leadership role does not in itself create leadership behavior, but it does nudge incumbents towards action. When holding a leadership role, people come more quickly to the conclusion that they are the ones who need to do something about a given situation.

    • Experience. The most compelling force towards action is a person’s experience in making things happens. The most relevant experience occurs when people have taken an active leadership role with a group, inspiring others to take charge of a situation. But a wide variety of life experiences on one’s own, in sports, in musical groups, or with workgroups confirmed that one can make things happen.

A sense of agency, whatever its source, leans towards action. A workgroup is more likely to thrive and to build its capacity to thrive in future situations with a bias towards action.

What’s your experience with being the one who makes things happen?

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