The Side Hustle

My side hustle is teaching a class each semester in the College of Business at Cal State San Marcos. I teach a course in organizational behavior for non-management majors. I do it because I love to teach. I do it because the energy of working with aspirational students is addictive and fulfilling. I do it because it makes me a better professional in my day job which in turn makes me a better teacher for my students, which in turn…well, you get the point.

For me, the side hustle has become an essential piece of my overall professional experience. It provides a perspective, an alternate point of view that allows me to see my work with fresh eyes.

The side hustle, I am learning, is much more common than I realized. As these diverse endeavors come up in conversation, I am struck by the shy smile that emerges as well as the actual twinkle in the eye. And while I know that many, many people have a side gig for the supplemental income, most of the people I talk to are doing it to satisfy a personal passion.

When I see that telltale expression of mischievous glee, I can’t help but ask: “what is it about your ‘9-to-5’ job that is not providing the opportunity to pursue that passion?” And then I wonder, what might happen, and I emphasize might, if that passion was known by the person’s team leader and the two of them talked openly and expansively about how their current job might be adapted to satisfy it?

What happens so often – why engagement at work persistently hovers around 30% – is that employees leave their passion at home because they either don’t associate “work” as a place where it belongs or their present employer fails to create an environment where passion, even seemingly unrelated passion, it is welcomed and cultivated.

I truly love that we live at a time when traditional ideas and modes of work have been upended. And I truly love and admire that special brand of person who will always have another iron in the fire, always driving to create and express outside the lines of typical employment.

The truth, however, is that most people continue to work within the circumstances and conditions we define as “normal.” They go to an office, put in their time and return home at the end of an 8-hour day. If this huge population of employees is not expected, much less encouraged, to explore and express their passions within those four walls, that organization will always go hungry for the creative energy that is just beyond its grasp.


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Whole People / Whole Lives

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


One of the gifts of a long relationship, in this case I am thinking of my 24 years of marriage but other, even longer friendships also come to mind, is that you learn how to stand with others in both the dark and the light.

As I think about this gift of learning to accept and be present to the fullness and wholeness of life – as opposed to just the summery, shimmery goodness of it – I think about my client organizations and all of the workplaces I have been privileged to be a part of through the years.

And I recognize that some places, some leaders, understand and embrace this wholeness much more truthfully and comfortably than others. That is to say, they acknowledge, accept and expect that whole people with whole lives walk through the front door every day. Those whole lives consist, of course, of pain and loss and fear and uncertainty just as much – and sometimes even more – than they consist of joy and openness and possibility and achievement.

This is obvious to us when we stop and think about it, obvious when the words are typed onto the page. But in the moment, in workplaces that are so often curated to be POSITIVE and CREATIVE and to achieve SUCCESS, it is too easy to forget. It is too easy to send the message – out of our own discomfort with other’s pain – that those less popular feelings of suffering and loss are to be left at home or in the parking lot. It is too easy to send the message that those feelings, the feelings of whole and full human lives, are not welcome under the bright lights of the workplace.

We might begin to counteract this by simply saying to ourselves, as we drive to work each day, or as we stride across the threshold: Whole people with whole lives are here today, including myself.


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Set Them Free

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

~ Hafiz


Today, will you build more cages or drop more keys?

The “small” leader needs to control because he feels out of control. He is small because he does not trust himself which means he cannot trust others. He is small because change frightens him, imagination freezes him, possibility unnerves him. He is small because what he cannot imagine for himself he must disallow for others.

The “sage” is a towering figure not because of stature but because of presence. His equanimity comes from learning to see control as an easy, costly fantasy. He trusts himself because he knows himself; he has done the work. And by doing the work he has developed the capacity to accept the unfinished in others. He is unfinished as well.

The sage welcomes change, because it is inevitable. Imagination is his wellspring of possibility, energizing both mind and heart. He knows that he is a catalyst for the emergence of these qualities in others.

Their rowdiness does not unsettle him; it’s what makes them beautiful. And he takes seriously his responsibility to unlock it because otherwise it will die.

The sage is the very best of who we can be.


rusted grey padlock in selective focus photography

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Is it still the best?

Everyone says it’s the best restaurant in town but when you finally go, you have an “ok” meal. Or, you have decent service but not the stellar dining experience everyone has described.

Is it still the best restaurant in town?

Everyone says it’s the best company to work for. They are reputed to pay well, to have a fun and energizing culture and to invest heavily in training and development. When you finally get a job there, you find that your manager isn’t quite the “culture leader” he claimed to be and is, in fact, solely focused on his own advancement. Or you find that he allows his team to underperform and give the unfinished work to the new employee.

Is it still the best company to work for?

In general, it may still be a great restaurant and it may still be a great company. But none of us lives in the “general” or the “objective.”

We live in the specific and the subjective and what matters there is what counts.


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Truth bomb? Not so much.

In a recent Inc.com article, Mark Cuban “drops a major truth bomb.” He says, “Now the onus is on employers to keep their best employees happy.”

He is right, of course. Employers need to take great care of their best employees. But that’s not much of a “truth bomb.” It’s just common sense.

What’s not common sense is how to do it. 

I don’t think employers should be so anxious in a competitive job market that it leads them to make rash decisions or design special interventions to “insure” the long tenure of their top talent. There is no such thing as a healthy relationship that is not based on mutual accountability. My experience tells me that employees who are paid fairly and treated respectfully, who co-create challenging and achievable goals and are given the resources to achieve them, and who are engaged in regular, meaningful conversations about performance are simply not a flight risk.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that great performers want to be held accountable. They thrive on it. 

That said, top performers will leave your company. They will leave because they are aspirational and competitive and because your company will not always have the “next level” job available when they are ready for it. This is just what happens in a healthy and dynamic environment. The turnover is beneficial to the company because it forces leadership to never stop cultivating the next generation of high performers. The trap is to get too comfortable with high performers and then be surprised that one day they decide to go off and try something new.

I would rather my company be known as one that breeds top talent than one who takes unrealistic measures to keep people “happy.” 

For another perspective on this, you might check out this short video by Patty McCord, formerly of Netflix. It’s a breath of fresh air.


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Elements of Systemic Health

An organization is a living system. Within that system exists the dynamics that live within each individual as well as the dynamics that exist when each individual interacts with the other individuals, in whatever number of combinations is possible. It’s a lot, probably too much to keep track of. It’s definitely too much to “manage” (part of why management as a concept is dated and ineffective).

Instead of attempting to manage this swirl of human dynamics, effective leaders establish guardrails – boundaries – within which the team can govern themselves. These boundary markers include the primary elements of culture: why we exist (mission), what we hope to achieve (vision), how we choose to behave (values) and how we talk about our progress and our challenges (accountability).

Well-established and well understood, these markers create an environment of self-governance, where individuals do not wait to be managed but act instead on their own initiative, from their resources of competence and confidence. This means, of course, that effective recruitment and hiring are sacred responsibilities, so essential is it to bring the right people into such an environment.

The right people in the right system understand themselves not as component parts of a larger, mysterious whole but as intersecting agents of change charged with the responsibility to help the system move from where it is to where it needs to be. These intersecting lines can, from a certain perspective, look like fractures that threaten to break up the whole. In reality, they are points of flexion, providing the system with the ability to adjust and adapt to that which it cannot predict but that is, of course, inevitable.


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Is this still right for us?

Is what you have created still appropriate for the conditions you face?

It makes sense, at least periodically, to take a step back and ask, is this still right for us? Does this still allow us to be our very best and do our very best? Are we working against our environment or is environment working for us?

When we forget to do this – when we leave it for another day – we can find ourselves isolated and confused, quietly asking why didn’t somebody say something?


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Land’s End – San Francisco

Camping Coffee (or how to build a culture)

I woke up this morning in a campground that has been carefully tucked into a grove of coastal redwoods along the Big Sur coastline.

In this beautiful setting just after 6:00 a.m. I had the chance to engage in one of my favorite camping rituals, perking a pot of coffee.

A percolator works by the force of gravity. Heated water makes its way up a central tube, allowing the water to spill over the coffee grounds and then drip back into the main reservoir.

The water darkens as it continuously cycles through this process – essentially making itself – until it gets to the color and strength of your preference. This means that you have to pay attention.

Maybe it’s the beauty of the setting or the simplicity of the process itself but I think perking makes a great cup of coffee.

I also think it’s a helpful way to consider building a solid and sustainable company culture.

If you start with great people a sort of human gravity will take over. Great people want to work with other great people to do great things. They just need the right conditions – a reliable heat source, for example – to make possible what they are already inclined to do.

As your great people move around and among one another within the conditions you’ve established – values, direction, clarity – they are the ones who end up making the culture by the way they wash over those ingredients and bring them to life. Great people, given time and support, will make a sustainable culture themselves.

But this doesn’t mean you can ignore what’s happening. You still have to pay attention.

An inconsistent heat source, the lack of essential conditions (clear values, etc.) and the segregation of teams into silos of responsibility will prevent the washing over effect and leave you with a weak culture.

Too much heat, along with conditions that, because too rigid leave no room for interpretation or expression, will over-saturate your people. With too much expected and extracted from them as culture warriors (“one of us…one of us”) they will lose their agency, the belief that through their own efforts they can impact the organization for the better.

Building a culture, like making a great pot of camping coffee, requires a thoughtful blend of art and science. By setting the right conditions and giving it thoughtful attention, it will surprise you by seeming to make itself.


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.

How to Practice / How to Lead

I asked my piano teacher to help me create a practice plan. I have noticed that each day when I sit at the piano, after a few warm-up exercises, I find myself uncertain how to make the most of the time. I bounce around from this exercise to that song, from this chord pattern to that one, inevitably feeling a mix of satisfaction for having spent the time and uncertainty as to its greater value to my education.

She practically beamed at the question. It was one of those “when the student is ready” moments that is just the right approach for this adult learner.

Her recommendation, regardless of how much time I have to practice, is to break it down as follows:

  • 25% – Warm-up
  • 50% – Focus on songs I have chosen to learn
  • 25% – Something new, something fun

As soon as she mapped this simple structure for me I relaxed with the knowledge that comes with a coherent game plan. She gave me a container, a way to structure myself that allows me to proceed with more purposeful and directed action.

On the drive home I concluded that this would also be an excellent approach for the daily practice of leading others.

What if, each day, you “warmed up” by briefly checking in with each member of the team? You could ask how the previous day finished up for them, how their evening was and how they’re feeling about the day ahead. Just a few moments with each person to greet them into this new day and remind them that you are there, also, attentive and engaged in their success.

What if you then focused on your  most important projects and initiatives? This includes your desk work, responding to requests, organizing information, planning for and attending the necessary (and unnecessary?) meetings in which you establish and sustain the forward motion of the work itself. What would or could be different about this core part of your day if you begin each day with the “warm up” described above?

What if then, no matter how busy the day becomes and how aggressively it threatens to get away from you, you took the time to do something fun and/or something new? This could include that reading you’ve been putting off, some quiet reflection about a difficult question or situation, a walk outside with a colleague, a celebration of a team member’s or project team’s accomplishment, a team building activity to break up the mid-afternoon slump, or simply a “warm down,” checking in with your team members at the close of the day.

Perhaps you’ve already done the math on this idea and found that in a 9 or 10 hour day that’s over four hours of “stuff” that is very much not you sitting at a desk and doing the work itself. And with that realization you may dismiss this out of hand as pie-in-the-sky thinking that is out of touch with your reality.

I would gently remind you of two things: first, your job as a leader is to help the team be successful which means that you have to be with them an awful lot. And second, you have more freedom in the design of your day than you may choose to admit. When you recommit to your team’s success and reclaim your calendar you will find as I am discovering with the piano, that a thoughtfully applied “practice” plan allows you to relax into the work in both unexpected and rewarding ways.


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.