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.

Learning to Ask For Help

Among the most important – and most difficult – realizations I had to contend with on my path to becoming a person is that of learning to ask for help. My life is littered with instances of persisting in a state of futility when engaging with someone else, sometimes something else, would have made the difficult thing an easier thing.

The roots of it have to do with perfectionism/fear of failure and a persistent voice in the head asking questions like, “What if they find out you are not as good as you think? What then?”

I have stood on a lakeshore for over an hour, fruitlessly trying to catch fish while everyone around me was having success.

I have gotten lost on a forested trail three days in a row because of my stubborn unwillingness to slow down and notice the actual signs that marked the way.

I have avoided sharing my written work with talented writers and editors whose thoughtful and helpful criticism might just sting too much.

And the list goes on. Or it went on until I turned a corner and began to practice, albeit imperfectly and sometimes haltingly, some alternative ways of engaging with the sources of help that surround me.

Most recently, I took up the piano. After years of avoiding a hard thing that would make me feel all the painful feelings of being a beginner, I decided it was time to get over it and get on with it. My daughter, an accomplished player at age 13, has been exceedingly helpful to me. My piano teacher, with whom I just recently had my first lesson, is genuinely interested in my success. I am saying “yes” to their quite visible forms of help.

I also spend time with two different peer groups on a monthly basis. These are people in similar fields and with similar aspirations for learning, growth and impact. Our conversations consist of inquiry, revelation and support and just being present with and for one another is a form of deeply important help.

My daily writing on this blog is another way I am seeking and finding a helping hand. Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” Though I sometimes doubt the value of sending yet another post into the dark void of the internet, I am reminded that the practice of doing so is less about where it lands and more about helping myself stay attuned to my own thinking and my own voice. It is a practice in self-help, I suppose.

One final example of saying yes to help: A few weeks ago as I was scrambling to get my things together and get out the door on time for my full day of teaching and office hours at the university, I asked my wife Theresa if she would make a lunch for me to take along. My campus schedule doesn’t allow me the time to get something between classes and on this particular day I didn’t have time to prepare ahead of time. She said yes, of course, and has done the same for me on each Thursday since.

It’s a simple and loving kind of help, the kind that can be taken for granted. But I don’t because it reminds me that I have someone in my corner who is ready and willing to help me as long as I let her know how. And that’s what makes it such an important example, that she – someone who implicitly wants to help me – can’t do so if she doesn’t know how. Which means I have to ask and risk the vulnerability of doing so.

These examples, large and small, remind me that in spite of a deeply rutted pattern of assuming that people will be judgmental or unkind or bothered – a clear projection of my vulnerability – there is another assumption, by far a more accurate one, to be made: that most people, most of the time, want to help.

The unknown variable in the equation, as it turns out, is me.

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.



You have 30 seconds. Go!

Who are you?

What do you want to do?

Why should I care about that?

These questions are the backbone of any good “elevator pitch,” a brief statement of purposeful introduction that helps one person understand another person’s intentions.

I teach a Business Professional Development course for undergraduate students and this week in class I had the students form two circles in the center of the classroom – one facing in and one facing out – and stand face to face with one peer after another to practice their elevator pitches.

Including brief feedback comments after each round, each person had four chances to practice their pitch in just under twenty minutes. When we got to the final round I asked the students to put their notes away and simply share their pitch with their final partner as best they could. I wanted them to feel the anxiety and, as it turns out, the freedom of simply talking to someone else, off script, about what they want to do.

They ended up surprising themselves, reporting significant increases in confidence and composure from round one to round four. Most importantly, they learned that those first few practice rounds equipped them to leap without a net in the final round…and land safely on their feet.

Since we had an uneven number in our class that day, I joined the circle and took a few turns of my own. It was a fun and helpful challenge to make my pitch, to remind myself what I am here to do, why I want to do it and, most importantly, to ask for what I want. Until that happens, we can’t expect others to know how to help us!

Here’s what I said:

Hi, my name is David Berry. Six years ago I started a leadership coaching and consulting firm called RULE13 Learning. My mission is to equip leaders to be more effective, more confident and more human in the face of complexity and change. I am seeking speaking opportunities with organizations who are committed to continuous learning and whose leaders are hungry for both the encouragement and the tools they need to be successful. Does that sound like your company?

If only for a renewed sense of clarity about your particular mission and purpose, take some time to consider your pitch. It may awaken a dormant intention or spark a creative insight. It may remind you what you most want to do and give you the boost you need to go ahead and ask for it.

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 Leadership Compass

I’ve told the story many times of my getting lost in the woods while hiking in a forest on Whidbey Island, WA. Three days in a row I headed out in the early morning darkness on a well-marked trail and three days in a row I got lost.

Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was dark. But three days in a row? There has to be more to the story. And there is: I’m an impatient, fast-acting, things-will-work-out-fine-if-I-just-get-started kind of person. By refusing to slow down, much less stop, I repeatedly failed to see and read the signs – literally and otherwise – that would have kept me on the right path.

On the Leadership Compass that behavior puts me squarely in the North. The compass is a tool I use with both clients and students to help them see their operating preferences accurately and to develop empathy for the operating preferences of others. Just as there is no wrong direction on a compass, there is no wrong leadership personality. Understanding these preferences is key to understanding the persistent and challenging conflicts that take place in organizational settings every day.

After asking a group to sort themselves into one of the following categories, I ask them to discuss the questions that follow:

  • NORTH: Acting – Likes to get going, try things, plunge in.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been considered and voices have been heard before acting.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
  1. What are the strengths of your style?
  2. What are the limitations of your style?
  3. Which style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from the other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?
  5. What do you value about the other three styles?

I am comfortable asserting that if I had been accompanied on that forest trail by someone from the WEST, SOUTH or EAST I would not have gotten lost. Besides the additional set of eyes and ears, their different sensibility would have tempered my natural inclination to go too fast.

But since there are times we must act alone, keeping our knowledge of the different Compass elements front of mind, and reminding ourselves that we have the ability if not the preferential comfort to practice them, allows us to avoid being servants to our first impulse.

The dynamics of change will frequently require us to walk in the dark. That does not mean we have to get lost.

Personality Compass – Turner & Greco, 1998
Leadership Compass Self Assessment – Be the Change Consulting, 2010

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.

Reverse Jenga

In the game of Jenga, it’s not if the tower is going to fall down, it’s when. Players take turns removing blocks, trying not to be the one to cause the tumble while also using the removed blocks to make the tower higher.

The game came to mind today when I was thinking about the toxic build up we so often allow to take place in our most important relationships; the small hurts, the sleights, the passive aggressiveness, the stubborn refusal to apologize, the feelings of victimization.

At home, at work, wherever we are emotionally invested, these little moments which we can so easily write off as “water under the bridge” don’t just wash away; they accumulate and they calcify. Like a hardened artery, they make us perfect candidates for a very painful reconciliation.

We need to learn how to “reverse Jenga” this process. We have to be vigilant in knocking the bricks down, one by one, so that the tower grows smaller and smaller. I’d like to suggest that we can eliminate it altogether but my reality checking self understands that it’s hard to be human, and that it can be especially hard to be human in relationship with other humans. We are going to mess up and hurt each other.

The question is, are we willing and able to knock down the hurts as fast we can? To apologize as fast as we can? To express our needs as fast as we can? To listen as fast as we can? To own what we alone can own as fast as we can?

It’s rare that pile of rubble is considered a good thing, but sometimes you have to knock down something old to build something new.

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 Saltine Cracker Problem

I’m reading a book right now that’s got me thinking a lot about my thinking. It’s called, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He’s a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics and is credited with helping to launch the now very popular field of behavioral economics. (It was his recent interview with Krista Tippett that got me to finally get the book off the shelf!)

The book, at its heart, is about the relationship between what the author calls System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 is fast. It’s the part of our thinking that sees “2 + 2” and doesn’t have to think about it. It just knows. System 2 is slow. It’s the part of our thinking that goes to work when System 1 doesn’t know what to do with “24 x 17.”

System 1 is always feeding System 2 impressions and conclusions about the meaning and importance of things, sometimes correctly and often not. System 2 is responsible for determining if System 1 is to be trusted and, if not, to seek more information. The dilemma, Kahneman points out, is that System 2 is lazy. It really doesn’t want to do the slower work but will do it if absolutely necessary. It’s very happy to act on System 1’s impulsive reactions.

A personal example to make the point: yesterday, on the way home from a client meeting I received a common spousal text: “Will you please stop at the store and pick up a gallon of milk?” I replied with a “thumbs up.”

As I entered the store it dawned on me that there’s always something else we need so I send another quick text: “Just milk?” As I arrived at the front of the checkout line I received this reply: “Did you use all the celery yesterday? If so, we need some for soup.” And then this, immediately following: “And saltines!”

I remembered that we still had some celery, so I asked the cashier to set my milk aside while I went to fetch the Saltines.

Later that evening, as soup was being labeled into bowls, I noticed the still unopened box of crackers on the counter so I asked, “Would you like me to open these?” I was told, “No, we’re having bread.”

Incredulous, I said, “Then why did I leave the front of the line at the grocery store to go back for Saltines?!?”

“Because the girls asked if we could get some,” she said, growing impatient with my tone.

And that’s when the relationships between System 1 and System 2 made sense to me. My System 1 took the well-worn shortcut from “soup” to “Saltines” and my System 2 didn’t even think to question it. But, of course, “soup” isn’t the only possible reason to buy Saltines, it’s just the easiest one. My lazy System 2 wasn’t interested in exerting any extra effort to consider a different possibility.

I took a breath and apologized for my over-reaction. And then I got to thinking about the far more serious and consequential implications of Kahneman’s work and my personal experience of it. If it were just soup and crackers, no problem, but it’s so much more than that. Every day, we are receiving impressions of people and issues and conflicts and every day we are shortcutting our potential for deeper examination and more comprehensive understanding in favor of answers that match our existing models of “normal.”

Once you see what’s going on, you can’t un-see it. We have to do better.

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 Conversation You’re Not Having

The conversation you’re not having is the most important one you can have. It’s high stakes: deeply personal, risky, scary…an extraordinary testament to the terrifying power of the unknown.

It creeps into your mind, inhabits your heart and stays in the middle of both for as long as you allow it. It is formed and reformed by your imaginative telling, listening, responding, re-telling, listening and responding. Around and around it goes, a whirling dervish of pretend, always in motion but not going anywhere, at least not yet.

When you learn, decide, determine to have that conversation, you will be forever changed. And you know that, which is why you haven’t had it yet!

But do it anyway, and do it soon. And then proudly stand in the minority, among the willing few who have overcome their resistance and decided that it is finally time to own, be and do that which is yours to own, be and do.

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.

Come Back to the Pack

I can get pretty enthusiastic about a new idea, approach or strategy. I feel the surge of positive energy that comes with knowing that “this” is for sure a better way and I can’t wait to get it in place as fast as I can.

And then I run into a harsh reality: other people, the ones who will help me implement the new idea or who will be responsible for owning and implementing it themselves, don’t share my enthusiasm. In fact, they don’t have any enthusiasm about it because they have no idea what I’m talking about!

I expect them to be right there with me, to somehow see inside my head and heart and magically transfer my passionate understanding of this great new concept to those locations in their own bodies.

And I remember that I have to take a few steps back to explain myself, to make my case and to remain open, somehow open, to their ideas about my new idea. I have to remain open to the likelihood that they will want to change, tweak, adjust or build on this thing that is already so perfectly formed! Alas, they might even reject it out of hand.

Maturity as a leader or a team member requires us to embrace our energetic enthusiasm for what’s possible while holding it just lightly enough so that it may be made even better by the wisdom of those we are privileged to call colleagues and friends.

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.

On Solid Ground

My friend and thought partner, Molly Davis, published a great piece on Monday in which she talks about the earth beneath our feet as the best source material we could ask for to live lives of hopeful expectation. She writes:

“That sense of the solid ground upon which to stand is the place from which we can dare to hope. And we can dare to hope because it isn’t our feet firmly planted that hold us up, but the holy ground upon which we stand.”

The imagery conjured up by her writing took me back to a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to keynote a gathering of undergraduate students who were assembled for an academic competition and convocation.

During the Q&A that followed I was asked about my preparation for a talk like the one I had just given. These students were going to stand in front of a room of judges the following day to deliver their prepared findings so effective presentation-making was very much on their minds.

I suggested to them that once the rituals of preparation and planning are complete; once you have done your research and your homework, collaborated with your partners on a design and gone through as many rehearsals and critiques as you can stand, that once all of that is done the final and most important thing you can do is to get out of your head and back into your body.

To have cognitive awareness of what you will present is the starting point, but to have somatic awareness is the place from which you can truly deliver the goods. Until you feel it in your body, what you present will just be a collection of words coming from your head.

I suggested a few things to help them get into this more robust kind of physical presence. First, that it is important ahead of time to spend some time in the space where you will be speaking. I told them that the reason I was already in the room when they arrived was because I was getting a feel for the space. It was not a room largely different from those I have presented in before but I had not presented in that particular room and wanted to build up my awareness of what it felt like. (Incidentally, I noticed a strong and very pleasing floral aroma in the room, as if the janitorial staff had used the greatest cleaning products ever made! This contributed to my sense of positive affect and energy. It was a perfect support system for my physical awareness.) 

Second, I suggested that it is important to just feel your feet on the floor, on the ground, on the earth. This kind of intentional inhabiting of space creates in me a grounded and humble confidence. It reminds me that “I am right here.” It reminds me that “I am supposed to be right here, right now with these two feet on this ground in this room.” It reminds me that “There are no mistakes or coincidences but only the truth that I am here and ready to share readily and generously with those kind enough to listen.”

Third, I suggested that it is important to feel your body. Amy Cuddy advocates for the “power stance,” hands boldly on the hips or raised high in victory formation. Others recommend scrunching the shoulders up to the ears and holding them there before a big, vigorous release and shake down of your entire bodily form. All of this physical effort is designed to join your head to your body, your head to your heart, more importantly. It’s a physical way to trick yourself into a “ready” position, a place the rest of us will experience as presence.

Finally, to bring it all the way back round to Molly’s contribution today, this work of physical readiness for real presence is the only stance from which it is possible to be the ideas, the possibilities, the hopefulness you are trying to convey. You want us to believe you, to believe in you. We want to believe you, to believe in you. You’ll get us part way there with your thoughtful preparation and articulate delivery. You’ll bring us all the way home when you convey the power that can only be made real when you start with two feet on solid ground.

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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

The Reliable Reciprocity of Disclosure

“Well, I guess if you’re going to share something personal I will start there, too.”
– recently overheard in a meeting

If I share something personal with you, you are likely going to share something personal in return. It’s just how it works. It’s how relationships are built, one layer of connective tissue at a time.

Early in my work with teams I introduce them to a thought experiment I learned when I facilitated a leadership workshop called Leading Out Loud, based on a book of the same name by Terry Pearce.

It goes something like this: think of all the words you can to describe a leader you would willingly follow? (If you’re so inclined, perhaps pause here and make a list of your own before continuing. I’m curious if you get the same results I get with my clients.)

I then ask them to determine which of the words they have chosen represent a leader’s “competence,” as in the “hard skills” required to do the job, and which represent a leader’s “connection,” as in those having to do with building relationship.

I have used this question and analysis method hundreds of times and without fail the results are the same. One third of the words used to respond to the question can be put in the bucket of competence/hard skills and two thirds of the words go into the bucket of connection/relationship skills. This is determined by affirmation of the participants. Every time.

It seems we want to follow leaders who consistently demonstrate trust, integrity, listening, empathy and so on. We may comply with leaders who excel in “competence” but we commit to leaders who excel in “connection.”

I encourage the leaders with whom I work to build their capacity for connection. And doing so starts with making oneself vulnerable enough to be known at a human, rather than at a positional level. What happens at a human level is the revelation of personal information that reminds us that no matter what position we hold, our work is happening in the context of our common humanity.

When asked to check in at a meeting, kick off a learning event, or introduce a new colleague, the leaders I most admire – and the ones whose authority is most respected – are the ones who use that as an opportunity to be known in a more authentic way. In so doing, others respond by making themselves known, also. And a virtuous circle of connection is born.

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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.