Soften the Edges

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No one goes through life without a few weeds.

When one of my more insistent ones – impatience, doubt, smallness – attempts to reach maturity, daring to put my imperfections on full display, I am quick to uproot it.

The resulting facade is appealingly neat and tidy. It is also cold and unnatural. In that state, my appearance of “having it all together” not only doesn’t work in my favor, it makes me unapproachable.

Who wants to associate with someone they can’t relate to? When we know about our own weeds, we are on the lookout for other’s because that’s how we know they’re human, too.

The alternative is not to let the weeds overrun the garden, of course, but rather to help them coexist in a manner appropriate to their importance. A natural or organic garden is one in which a wide variety of species are permitted to grow, the less desirable ones never fully eliminated but always held in check by the quality of the conditions and the thoughtful attention of the gardener.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

What is your “more”?

You’ve got more to learn, more room to grow. We all do.

What does that mean for you? Do you know how to define and describe it? Are you willing to?

Yes? That’s outstanding.

Now, a harder question:

Do you know the patterns you have artfully created and that you dutifully follow to keep you from getting after it?

Of course you do, it’s just that naming it as a pattern – admitting that you have been seduced by the status quo – creates the discomfort that precedes all pattern interruptions.

All living systems are learning systems. If you keep learning, growing, developing you get to keep living. Not surviving but living.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

What they want

“They” are your team. You are their leader. This is what they want:

Meaning. Also known as “purpose” and “vision.” When they say, “I want to be part of something larger than myself!” this is what they’re talking about.

Trust. I once heard a leader say, “They have to earn my trust.” The only acceptable response to that statement is, no.

You recruit them and then hire them because you believe they have what it takes to make you and the team better, to help you fulfill your purpose and vision. And then they show up and have to earn your trust?

Your job is to earn their trust, every day. The trust that comes when you care for them, when you provide them the resources they need to be successful, when you care for them, when you clear roadblocks for them, when you surround them with great people, when you care for them…you get the idea.

Freedom. They are smart (because you hire smart people) so let them work. Make job expectations clear, the parameters of the project explicit, and work hours flexible. Give them space within a defined context and then get out of the way. And stop having so many meetings. Meetings are killing your culture, reducing feelings of freedom and corroding trust.

Development. Everyone has a development plan, a roadmap to their future, their definition of “more.” You coach them with feedback, powerful questions and accountability for progress. You give them resources, study groups, speakers, coaches, whatever is needed to cultivate and catalyze the learning. This is about creatively answering the most important question in front of you: How do we equip ourselves for change? Yes, it’s expensive but not nearly as expensive as filling all of the open positions that will exist when they leave to find these things someplace else.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

How > What

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
{David Whyte}


If you are engaged in a conversation about your development – the arc of your life and where it is leading – you might be tempted to ask something like:

What do I want to be when I grow up?”

This question is too small. Its narrow focus is on the external realities of position, role and title, none of which is large enough to contain a person.

A better, bigger question is this:

How do I want to be when I grow up?”

This is an especially relevant development question since it gets to the quality of your internal reality.

I imagine that you will hold and play many roles in your life and I hope that each one represents a next step in the evolution of your learning.

What is far more satisfying to imagine, however, is that how you decide to live your life fills you with the pride of knowing that you made the strength of your humanity your most important goal.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Best of Both

I have a client whose expectation of his team is that they will do their jobs with exceptional skill while constantly striving to be even better human beings.

There is no trade-off, no convenient acceptance of sub-par performance for a “really great guy” and no acceptance of toxic, or even stagnant behavior for someone who is “just too good at their job for us to do without.”

Learning is the driver, about the work itself and about the even greater responsibility to be a person of deep integrity and generous character.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Routine Maintenance

Oil changes.
Pulling weeds.
Brushing teeth.

Important but not much fun.
Valuable but not exciting.
Essential but not transparently so.

At work: regular, open conversations with team members. About how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, what they’re hoping for. About how you’re doing, what you’re feeling, what you’re hoping for.

Important. Valuable. Essential.

No satisfaction of solving a “real” problem. Just the good work of insuring that when it gets rough – and it will get rough – you’ve built a routine that will see you through.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Will this be on the test?

Every day, like the invisible oxygen that gives you life, the fear that holds you back from pursuing, attempting, realizing, challenging, seeking, risking, stepping, leaping, initiating, asserting, organizing, collaborating, questioning or any other word you can think of for getting after what you really want to do and who you really want to be – every day that fear is the one and only question on your test.

Every day – every long and exhausting day of living with the shadow of that fear – you will take that test.

Every day, that is, until you wake up to the truth that there is no test.

There never was one.

There was only a decision.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

A Great Battle

“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

{Attributed to Plato but it’s more likely Ian MacLaren}

I have always loved this quote and the way it challenges and evokes our empathy, our appreciation of the truth that most of the time someone else has it tougher than we do. I would not have imagined it could be improved upon until I stumbled across this “amended” version in a Portland card shop:

“They say that everyone’s fighting a hard battle.
But not a cool battle like with swords,
The kind that’s in your brain and you’re afraid of everything.”

Besides being great for a laugh it gets to the heart of things more directly and more explicitly. Wouldn’t you like to pull out a long sword and take your biggest fear down with a single blow? That would be pretty cool.

But we don’t get to do that. We can’t dominate our fear physically, we can’t dominate it cognitively, we can only face it – if we are willing to face it – with a disarmed awareness that is cultivated by the vulnerable act of naming it. By naming it we make it small, or at least bring it down to size, and that smaller size is something we can work with.

Eventually, not so scary after all.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

Disproportionate Influence

If you are a leader, you have influence that is disproportionate to that of the people you lead. By definition, you have the responsibility to see and do that which is necessary to help your team members be successful.

You are tasked with establishing a vision, providing resources, negotiating roadblocks, offering guidance, recognizing accomplishments and setting both a behavioral and emotional standard from which all others take their cue.

It’s absurd to think that this kind of influence – this level of responsibility – can be achieved and maintained without an equally disproportionate commitment to continuous learning.

A leader of any merit knows this and acts accordingly. There is no more valuable currency than that of continuous learning.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.