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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Posted on the bulletin board above my desk are three poems I intend to memorize. The first among them follows here. Do yourself a favor and read it aloud. Once, at the dinner table with the family, I did exactly that and my young daughter broke into tears. The language is that precise and that beautiful; the invitation to chase after what you love, that intoxicating.


The Song of Wandering Aengus
{William Butler Yeats}

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

The Wisdom of Simplicity

“Is he a good hang?”
{Cal Harrah}


One of my professional mentors, and one of the finer human beings I’ve met in my life, is also one of the smartest.

And so, when it came to making a hiring decision for my team I was confident that Cal would provide me with the kind of thoughtful and well-reasoned commentary necessary for such an important choice.

In other words, I assumed he would have a lot to say.

He did not.

Instead he asked a very simple question: “Is he a good hang?”

As in, is he the kind of person that you want to be with, that makes you better, makes life a little more interesting, a little more fun, that helps you learn at least a little – maybe a lot – more?

If we are, as is often said, the sum total of the five people we spend the most time with (and some have suggested that it’s an even larger group than that) it’s worth taking that group – and how we add to it – much more seriously.

Work is full of enough challenges to stress our days and invade our nights. The least we can do is make sure that we surround ourselves with people who help us keep our perspective and who help us smile once in a while at the craziness of it 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.

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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue


There’s a moment early in the film, “The Way” in which Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is driving his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) to the airport. Daniel is setting off to see the world after dropping out of grad school and Tom is having none of it. Daniel suggests that his dad join him in the adventure but Tom can only offer a lecture in return:

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

Daniel’s longing to be surprised by the unfolding of his life is perfectly and painfully contradicted by his dad’s singular vision for how that life should unfold.

Tom has forgotten what it feels like to flow like a river and Daniel is fighting hard against his own potential for the same forgetting. The life he pursues, the living he chooses, becomes the source of his father’s redemption.

None of us has wandered too far from the river. The trail back is well-marked and there is still plenty of daylight.


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.

Things I know nothing about

I won’t bore you but the list is long.

I used to think I had to be perceived as knowing things even when I didn’t. That facade was grueling to maintain and so easily pierced.

Today, I enjoy saying, “I don’t know” or “That’s cool, tell me more about that” or “Beats me, what do you think?”

It’s so much easier, so much more conducive to meaningful connection and I also end up learning a lot. Maybe that’s maturity and a little bit of the hard-earned wisdom that comes with it. I also think it has to do with being clear and confident about what I do know and being invested in helping that to grow in new ways.

The byproduct of clarity and purpose is a sense of ease and composure. In that space it’s easy to acknowledge what I don’t know because I am so energized by what I 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.