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.

1 or 120?

The answer is “1.”

Why? Because human beings are bad with big numbers. (See Paul Slovic’s work here.)

I have a class of 120 students this semester. It’s a sea of faces, thoughtful and present in the aggregate but difficult to appreciate in a more personal way. To address this challenge I assigned a questionnaire at the beginning of the semester to help me get to know who’s in the room; course of study, employment, family, personal challenges, learning preferences, favorite books and movies.

From their responses I select 25 or so and invite them to meet with me during office hours. This is a game changer.

To look into the eyes of these individuals, to learn more about them, to get a brief education on their particular form of humanness, this changes everything about the large class experience. Now, as I take in the full class assembly I see individuals first. They have become names and stories and aspirations, not just another number on a printout.

I will not get to know them all. I will not remember that many of their names. And those who I do meet and connect with will continuously serve to remind me that each of them deserves to be known and remembered, regardless of my inability to do so.


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.

 

 

 

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


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 to Win the Game

I like Scrabble because its an excellent model for a fulfilling life.

The board has both clear boundaries and directions but remains open to whatever you can create with the resources you have.

Those resources are randomized and limited and your ability to make something valuable out of them depends on two critically important variables:

First, your own creative and experiential know-how. You have to use your head.

Second, how you apply that know-how in a connected and generative way. You have to use your heart. 

In Scrabble as in life, the greatest satisfaction comes from combining resources to create something otherwise unattainable.

Yes, it’s competitive. And, healthy, positive competition among trusted colleagues challenges us to rise to our potential, to test our limits and to grow. In other words, it can give us safe and meaningful ways to bring head and heart together in service of something larger than ourselves.

That is and always will be a winning combination.

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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.

There’s Room at the Table

In 1936 Dale Carnegie proposed that there are “six ways to get people to like you.”

Here’s his list:

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember people’s names.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Talk in terms of other’s interests.
  6. Make people feel important and do it sincerely.

– from How to Win Friends and Influence People

Not on the list?

  1. Share your accomplishments.
  2. Demonstrate your worthiness.
  3. Take yourself seriously.
  4. Describe your competence in detail.
  5. Act self-important.
  6. Tell an anecdote that makes you sound interesting.

Is this all self-evident? Is it obvious that humility and curiosity are the benchmarks of likability and therefore the cornerstones of connection? Most people would say so but I still see behaviors – and even notice impulses in myself – that contradict that sentiment.

The need to prove our worthiness seems to me the single greatest impediment to the establishment of mutually generative relationships. The drive to make sure “they know what I’ve done and what I can do” disallows the flowering of our natural interest in others because it keeps us bound by the disabling trio of comparison, competition and scarcity.

When we seek to connect, to build trust, to establish meaningful relationships we do not have to prove our merits or establish our bona fides. We simply have to remember three things:

  1. Each of us has an offering to make.
  2. Each of us has a ‘best’ way to make it.
  3. There is plenty of room at the table.

I have learned to trust that the better I get – the more focused, the more thoughtful – at making that true for others, the more others will make it true for 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.

Again, and again, and again

It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but because you know it already.
– 1 John 2:21

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.
– 
Samuel Johnson


I am not writing this piece for you, I am writing it for me.

I am not trying – though it often sounds that way, I’m sure – to convince you of anything, to make you change anything, to swing your vote to my side.

It is through writing that I remember what I care about, why I care about it and what I need to do every day to live out those beliefs.

I care about self-knowledge and personal accountability for acting on that self-knowledge as consistently as possible.

I care about building relationships that are based on love more than fear, respect more than intimidation, and open-hearted vulnerability.

I care about learning, the relentless exploration of the frontiers to which each of us is called.

Every time I write I am inviting myself back to those three themes, checking on my integrity, exploring my commitment. Every day I bake a new cake of those beliefs, combining the ingredients once more to find out if I have them in the right proportion, to see again if I am living out what I so easily espouse.

If what I put down moves or shifts your point of view in any way, that’s the frosting, but I am not concerned with that.

I am concerned with the cake. If it’s not right, nothing else matters.


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.

Tourist or Explorer?

I took a risk with a client the other day and did not stick the landing. It got a little messy because I was unclear, following a hunch in the moment and sowing confusion from a place of good intention.

The saving grace is that my client is gracious and understanding, willing to stay with me as I hobbled through an effort to take the work to a new place. Our ensuing conversations brought forth a new level of candor which resulted in a new level of understanding and learning. I’m thankful for the way it worked out. I’m glad I followed my hunch and I will be better for it the next time I am inclined to take that risk.

There are times I’ve been a tourist in my work, painting each interaction by number and “meeting expectations” as so many performance review forms blithely state.

There are also times when I’ve been an explorer, attempting to reach unknown places with no map, a hunch and a flashlight.

I will keep pushing myself to explore because every time I do, no matter how dark or stormy or uncertain, something better comes of it. And because good people are always there to help me find my way back home.


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.

A Week of Thanks: Day 6

I am thankful for friendship.

I have more than my fair share.

I tell people all the time that we are lucky in life to have just a few “closest” friends – the kind you can count on one hand – but I humbly realize that I have more than that, two hands full at least.

They are diverse and extraordinary. Some from childhood, some more recently formed. I’ve learned that true friendship is determined by the ability to have a real conversation with another person, and then to be able to see that person again within a few days or weeks and only feel more affection and appreciation. And then to add another real conversation, the quality of which becomes another band in the strengthening fibers of connection.

Great friendship is also light and fun, of course, but the best ones always circle back to meaning. Lightness and fun serve as vehicles to get back to what matters most. True friendship helps me live in that meaningful space in a way that is both sincere and playful, strong and vulnerable.

A couple of recent friendship highlights: three of us meet once a month by video conference. We take about 30 minutes each to share the highs and lows of personal and professional life and then provide some form of coaching and advising to support that person in thinking through their current circumstances. It is deeply trustworthy and encouraging and I am fortunate to benefit from their open hearts and wise counsel.

Another friend has recently invited a small group of men to a “Pints & Podcasts” meeting which he describes as “…a book club with a shorter time investment. And beer.” He appreciates, as I do, that strong male relationships are essential to our well-being and is looking for a way to satisfy that need. I am grateful for his initiative and looking forward to getting started.

As a longtime married person with children still at home, friendship is a tricky thing. It is easy to take a pass, to disconnect, to focus only on who is “here and now.” Sometimes it is a legitimate question of bandwidth, sometimes it is the lazy preference to stay close to home. As grateful as I am to be able to call my spouse my dearest of all friends, I recognize that it is only within the friendships of those outside my immediate circle that I stretch out far enough to be able to come back to the center with the equanimity and  perspective that benefits my family.

To my friends who continue to invite me into deeper and more challenging exploration I offer my deepest thanks.

I will strive to offer the same to you.

I am thankful for friendship.


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.

My Developmental Pathway

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


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.