The Story Continues

A week ago I had the privilege of introducing “Storytelling for Career Success” to a group of young professionals who were generous enough to say “yes” to an invitation to test drive my new workshop. By their energetic participation they taught me what worked, what needed help and, most importantly, that what I shared with them is both practical and valuable.

This past Saturday was Round 2 and again I was inspired by a group of open and dynamic participants, each one willing to step into the unknown and share their story. It was an outstanding day, one I am smarter and better equipped for having led.

What I know beyond a doubt is that when we connect through story we break into a new world of possibility. It’s a world where we become known for more than the 12 point font of a resume, where we live into David Whyte’s affirmation that, “we shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” (Working Together)

One participant put it this way: “The highlight for me was figuring out how to tell an emotional, vibrant story with structure and organization. I was amazed to find that past experiences I never thought applicable in an interview can be used in an amazing, powerful way.” 

Another said this: “Before this experience, I was pretty confident in my story. What I realized throughout the experience is that I haven’t been telling it in the most effective, powerful way. This experience took my story from a little, shaky tale, to an intense, powerful testimony. Not only do I feel more confident about going into an interview, I feel more confident in myself.”

With humility and gratitude – and a powerful sense of purpose – I am committed to author, and be authored by, the unfolding of this new story.


Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

When is it due?

Have you ever had “Just get it to me whenever you can” turn into “Why haven’t you finished that yet!?!”?

Both the requestor and the producer are complicit in this failure of agreement.

The former needs to provide a clear deadline, even if it’s a best guess, and the producer needs to request one before agreeing to the work.

The deceptively simple give and take of our daily interactions hinge on the clarity of our expectations, those guidelines within which we can plan for our mutual success.

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.

Hiding in Plain Sight

“What is obscure we will eventually see;
what is obvious usually takes a little longer.”
{Edward R. Murrow}

Your team is hiding in plain sight. They are there, you can see them, they are working…all true.

But they are hiding, just the same.

What they are hiding is the depth of their creativity, their energy and their initiative because they do not (well, most of them, statistically speaking do not) feel engaged enough to do so.

In other words, most leaders of most workplaces haven’t earned the right to preserve, protect and defend the most important qualities of the human condition, those qualities that demonstrate who each of us is at our most open, and most vulnerable.

Knowing this as they do, they do not bring those best parts of themselves into the office. They leave them elsewhere for safe keeping…in the car, at home, online.

And the organization is impoverished for the lack of access to their best selves. Complex problems remain unsolved, possibilities remain unexplored, “craziness” remains unexpressed.

This is, technically speaking, a huge bummer.

But there is hope, here on a Tuesday, in the shape of you and your willingness to start a new kind of conversation in a brand new way. It goes like this:

“I would like to earn the right to get to know you at your most creative, energized and engaged. What would need to be true around here for that to happen?”

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.

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.