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A Walk In The Woods

You’re walking through dark woodland, following the track before you. High trees stretch their branches across the sky, cutting out everything but the dappled sunlight. Either side, the ground is unknowable, dense with ferns and brambles. Looking side to side, you realise it will be hard to head off into that wild space, even if you wanted to - that way is dark, forbidding, full of creatures or characters you might not want to meet. So you stick to the path, one foot in front of the other, hoping that you’ll reach your destination.

But then something changes. No path can continue forever. Maybe you come to a crossroads - the way forward splits and you must choose, without a map or guide. Or maybe the change comes from within; you see something off to the side, in that darker unknown woodland, and you’re overtaken by an impulse to explore. Curiosity overcomes trepidation and you stride off into the bracken.

I write this on a grey Monday as autumn folds into winter, when most of us will not be striding through the woods, but following our more urban paths; on computer screens, in meeting rooms or sitting alongside colleagues and sharing ideas.

But we still have our paths. Perhaps we don’t see them so clearly - it’s hard to notice a path we’ve trodden for many years. But we often have more choices than we ever realise. We can follow the ways we know, like the well-walked forest path. Or we can take paths that feel different.

Our approach at is conceived to help individuals and teams explore their different paths, and take steps along them. We describe this as ‘agency’, and it’s at the core of the experience for our individual users and their whole organisations. An act of agency is the conscious choice to act differently than we might normally do. It’s the step off the beaten track.

Perhaps, in the workplace, your agency will show itself in the honest conversation you have with a colleague - something you’d often choose to avoid, but this time, you decide to bite the bullet. Perhaps, agency will show itself in your confidence in picking up the phone to a new client, or in choosing not to speak so much in the morning meeting and giving space to quieter colleagues.

Though these are, on the face of it, quotidian small changes, they all represent something as significant in their own way to take a different path in the woods. They all require fresh thought, personal insight, and the conscious choice of a different way. Acts of agency take courage and creativity. Psychologists have long recognised the importance of agency in underpinning a sense that we have control in our lives.

In the workplace, personal agency drives a sense of intrinsic motivation and autonomy and helps leaders feel resilient and strong for others in the face of constant change. This means that a groundswell of individuals, each acting with agency, creates the deep roots of authentic, innovative and dynamic teams - and organisations.

So, approach your workday as a walk in the woods. Choose your paths, even if they look unknown or scary. Find your courage, and see where your curiosity and intuition take you. And if you lead others, then help them find their paths through the bracken, and unleash their inner dynamism.

And, if you fancy an exercise to practice getting to know your sense of personal agency, get out to your local woods and see where your gut takes you.

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