Win Some, Lose Some

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling like a great organizer to a terrible organizer in the space of a few hours. I’m trying to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that part of taking risks is also erring and failing and then taking time to reflect on the lessons you learned. So this is me trying to reflect instead of wallow.

In the organization I work with, we do this practice called agitation. It’s a way of creating tension to help someone make a decision to change an attitude or behavior that gets in the way of their building power. It can be a very effective tool in the context of relational leadership development; I’ve experienced significant transformation through agitational training.

But “context” and “relational” are key words here. Agitation is something you plan to do as part of an ongoing public relationship you establish to build power together. You have to understand someone’s self-interest and have clarity around what they need to be agitated on and why. Even in an agitational training, trainers review the reflection forms of trainees and think about where they may need to be agitated in relation to the content.

The point is, you don’t do these things ad hoc, like I did today.

I appreciate agitation because of the movement I’ve seen it create in my life and the lives of others. I value being challenged so that I can change attitudes and behaviors that prevent me from living into the fullness of who I am. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that’s not the only reason I am attracted to agitation. The downside is that it taps into my love of “calling people on their shit,” arguing, and being right.

Let’s be 100% clear: none of those things are agitation. They generally fall under the heading of “irritation,” which does not foster relationship building or leadership development – it just pisses people off. When I’m in my head making “arguments” instead of connecting with someone as a real person, I’m not doing a good agitation.

And when I haven’t taken the time to reflect on the self-interest of the person I’m agitating, when I’m not clear what my self-interest is in their leadership development, and when I haven’t planned out what I need to say and how, I’m also not doing good agitation. That was what happened today. The person I was talking to totally needed an agitation – but they needed it from someone who had invested much more seriously in developing a relationship with them.

I’m annoyed with myself because I knew I should have stopped. I’m annoyed with myself because this happened in part because I wasn’t clear on my purpose in meeting with this person: was I doing a second one-to-one? A proposition? A check-in? Whatever my goal may have been, I wasn’t prepared to agitate this person, so I shouldn’t have.

I don’t want this to scare me off doing properly planned agitations. I don’t want to avoid creating tension when it’s necessary to help develop leaders I’m investing in. But, in my uniquely backwards way, I think I avoid planning agitations and only do these off-the-cuff ones because I have issues creating tension and developing deep relationships. I can agitate someone in a training with whom I don’t have an ongoing relationship because it’s less risky: I’m not concerned with whether that person will like me afterwards. But in my deeper, ongoing relationships, I’m worried about losing them if I create too much tension. I don’t want to make the effort to invest in someone – because choosing to agitate, choosing to raise that tension despite the fear, is a real investment – only to have them reject me afterwards.

And that’s the same reason I don’t form deep relationships in the first place. I feel like I’ve made that effort to invest so many times, only to have people break my heart. I’ve had so many people decide that who I am wasn’t worth their time. It’s possible that now, I dive in direct and super-deep without any preamble because I’m trying to just get to that point where they reject me, so I can get it over with faster. That’s worth reflecting on some more, because if that’s true, it’s a very unhelpful pattern.

I had some good wins today around organizing people and organizing money to achieve an important goal of mine. I’m definitely growing as an organizer. This final meeting of the day reminded me of where my growth edge lies. I certainly wasn’t at my best – but some of my best learning comes out of my screw-ups.

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