We see him emblazoned like a superhero on the glossy covers of popular business comic books. The Homeric photo tells the story inside – hands on the hips, powerful stance and clear thinking eyes fixated straight ahead as if he were seeing the future first. This is Outstanding Man – independent, free thinking and self-determining and if we can quickly change in a phone both into our fancy tights and matching cape we too can leap tall buildings and perilous corporate barriers in a single bound. All we really need is the right costume. Much of self-help pulp fiction is predicated on our deep desire to have a secret identity that gives us powers extraordinaire – vision, courage and ingenuity. We long to be mythologized or at least distinguished by anything that gets us beyond the reach of common middle management mortals. While there is wisdom in discovering our deepest strengths and enrolling them in the service of our growth they do not move the world as much as they are moved by it.
Social psychologists warn us that we routinely deceive ourselves by accrediting our successes to our unique personality, behaviors and skills. They call this misconceptionFundamental Attribution Error. Conversely, we ascribe our failures to the situation and not our actions. In other words, we miscalculate and misdiagnose the data to produce elaborate fallacies that allow us to own our wins and distance our losses. Ironically most of us are neither as good nor bad as we imagine ourselves to be.
What really generates stupendous power is our ability to be the right person in the right place at the right time. Leave the stupefying heroics to Captain America and Wonder Woman and learn to skip Double Dutch, two long jump ropes turning in opposites directions simultaneously, with the other kids on the playground. While visualization and intuition are essential for previewing performance it’s our attention to the soundtrack that allows us to find our rhythm – “Down in the valley where the green grass grows…” Knowing when to get in and out of the fast moving game is dependent on gauging the development cycles correctly – not vanquishing them. Creating a cadence that works is harder than it sounds. The challenge is to become Self perpetuating where the energies of each part are multiplied collectively but return individually as momentum.
Given our vision, goals and resources, we need to assess what else is required for us to move forward. Consider how our aspirations fit with current opportunities as they emerge and become accessible to us: A new venture at work may serve as a proving grounds for a pet project, a person we know from school may have the special skills required to help us make a career transition or access to a tech tool or network my connect us to a cure. This requires that we sync our aspirations and abilities to the individuals and initiatives around us. Timing and tempo are essential for we are pacing our efforts to the powerful and resourceful.
For most of us the level of our ambitions is greater than our means to reach them. So, we have to manage those who have authority and influence and find ways to augment it to the benefit of all parties involved. While our most lauded aspiration may be communal in nature, the true law of the jungle is that people will protect their own interests first. Though we may eschew politics and their dynamics they confound our reality and so we must constructively confront them. This means that we must locate sponsors and advocates who stand to gain or lose from any initiative we hope to undertake whether we were involved or not. This way they will support and protect us because it is in their own interest.
The good news is that everyone wants something. The bad news is that they all want something different: Satisfaction, security, money, prestige, convenience or even unsavory favors. The key is to determine what is the likelihood and transactional value of linking our fortunes:
- Who has the means to advance our aspirations and initiatives?
- How do we get to know them better?
- What do they stand to gain or lose by working with us?
- How can these gains be showcased or losses remedied?
- How can we conjoin or embed our initiatives?
The power of no is only eclipsed by that of yes. Empowerment can never be ordained. Rather it is in our refusal to relinquish our personal agency that we are enabled to purposefully act.
Finessing others may feel calculating and even devious but those of us who lack super human abilities are either relegated to obscurity or called to master the softer arts. Power and influence are neither good nor bad but they are compelling forces in reality. The same cannot be said for people who wield them as tools or weapons. Whether Machiavelli or Roosevelt, making things happen in this world requires a bit of pulling strings and jumping ropes.