Before Asking Others to Change

How will you change first? How must you change first?

It’s a radical question because it puts the responsibility back on you. And few people, few leaders are willing to take that kind of responsibility.

Or ask it this way, from The Art of Possibility , “Who am I being that my player’s (my colleague’s, teammate’s, direct report’s) eyes are not shining?”

“Who am I being?” is not just a call to self-awareness but to a humility that opens you to another way of being.

And those “shining eyes”? If they are “windows to the soul” they confirm that those we are privileged to have on our team are fully with us. Even more than that, from our sincere commitment to learn those eyes shine with the anticipation of their own learning.

It is in our very nature to grow, to learn and to make more meaning.

Effective leaders make that possible because they go first.

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 are you?”

Here it comes…

“Fine, thanks.”


End of conversation.


“How are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“That’s good to hear, because I’ve noticed that you haven’t quite been yourself lately. You seem a little down.”

“Oh, was it noticeable? It’s just that…”

The conversation – the real conversation – continues. Or at least has a chance to.

And why is that? Because as a leader you are always paying attention. And when someone is not who you know them to be you check it out.

You get curious.

You get interested.

And you stick with it until you’ve done all you can to help them work through it.

Not for the sake of productivity. Not for the sake of efficiency. Not because of the big project deadline.

Because you’re a human being.

And that’s what we’re here to 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.

Unsaid and Undone

IMG_4307It matters to me to be good at things. Appearing competent is a hallmark of how I present myself to the world. And I am competent, very much so, in a lot of ways. And I’m not, really not, in a lot more ways.

Competence matters so much to me that I have a frustrating track record of not trying or starting things I don’t know I can be good at.

And then I deepen the dilemma by not asking for help. Because then I’d be admitting that I don’t know how to do it and, well, no thank you.

That said, I’m a lot better than I used to be. I’m not saying that asking for help is strength but I’ve come a long way. Still, there are times when the going feels particularly slow.

A recent sailing experience makes the point very well. After I had released a sail from the mast, as instructed by the captain, I left the slack of rope lying loosely on the deck. (I didn’t know what to do with it so instead of asking I just left it there. Great example so far, yes?) When the captain saw this he explained the importance of keeping the deck clear and showed me how to gather the rope, wrap it, tie it and hook it back on the mast.

Later on, working with that same piece of rope, I found myself in the same situation. With the rope lying at my feet I could not remember how to tie and wrap it so, you guessed it, I just left it there! What the hell was wrong with me???

A few minutes later, our captain saw this and asked me a much kinder version of “What the hell is wrong with you?” And, because I value competence SO MUCH I was ashamed of myself.

The captain, an enlightened and thoughtful leader, took some time to talk over what had happened between us and how it could have been prevented. We agreed that what I needed after his first demonstration of how to manage the rope was a chance to practice. We also agreed that I needed to take responsibility for asking for that, as in: “let me give that a try to be sure I’ve got it.” But since both of us were caught up in the pressure of the moment – high winds and a choppy sea – we neglected to take the next step. He didn’t make sure I had it, and I gave him no indication that he needed to! We were the perfect partners in crime.

Let me say that another way: we colluded to allow the conditions of our experience dictate more urgent behavior than was actually necessary. He didn’t know me well enough to understand my reluctance to ask for help and I was too deferential to his authority to ask for what I needed. If the boat was heading for the rocks, a loose rope on the deck wasn’t going to make much difference. No, this was a different brand of urgency, the kind that traps us into thinking we have to go faster than we really need to. As a result, we make small mistakes that eventually lead to much bigger problems.

Everything is not an emergency. You have more time than you think.

If you’re the captain, check for understanding.

If you’re on the crew, ask for help.

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.

Leadership Lessons of the Long Leaf Pine

Image 1

Really good stuff leaders can learn from a tree called the Long Leaf Pine:

1. The LLP develops a deep and robust root system before it is ever more than a foot off the ground. Because it survives and thrives within a fire-dependent ecosystem (read “constant change”) it has to develop a nutrient rich underground source of strength and sustainability to ready itself for rapid growth. This process can take up to 12 years.

Leaders, what this means for you is that you better know the ground you stand on – who you are (values, strengths, limitations), why you are (your life and leadership purpose), and where you’re going (aspirations and the pursuit of meaning) – if you want others to follow you with their hearts through the realities of constant change.

2. The LLP grows in a low-density ecosystem. Because of that impressive root system, the trees have the capacity to stand apart from one another across the landscape while still being connected to a common cause; creating a forest. If they grew too close together frequent fires would destroy rather than replenish the system. Being separate but connected means each one must be both prepared to stand alone while being dependent on the others.

Leaders, what this means for you is that your people need you to become an expert at BOTH standing out and fitting in. Leaders who stand out well define a vision (the parameters of performance), supply the resources and knock down barriers. Leaders who fit in well make space for others to do what they do best. They support autonomy, ownership and connection. They say things like: “You decide” and “I don’t know, what do you think?”  

3. The LLP grows fast and tall, up to 80, even 100 feet. It relies on full sun, full exposure, and can live for 300 years. It’s a beautiful specimen, truly impressive. It is also home to over 30 endangered and threatened animal species. It uses it’s strength to sustain others.

Yes, leaders, a lot of leadership is about being fast and about standing proudly in the full exposure of opportunity and accomplishment. The only time that kind of leadership is meaningful, however, is when it’s practiced for the benefit, the protection, the advancement and the development of others and a cause worth fighting for. 





“Rules for Art” Repurposed


I attended my daughter’s 3rd grade Open House tonight. I learned about the “Rules for Art.” It seems to be a pretty good list for leaders as well:

1. See that no one is perfect. Deal with that. Find their strengths and creatively put them to work in service of the clear and compelling cause your organization stands for. If they don’t fit there, help them out the door in a graceful, respectful way.

2. Be positive. There are plenty of reasons to get down and to assume the worst. Don’t do it. Being positive doesn’t mean you are unrealistic. It means you take your leadership responsibility seriously to set the tone for how WE are going to deal with this challenge.

3. Mistakes are a good thing. On the journey from the known (safety) to the unknown (risk, uncertainty, growth and change) you are going to make plenty of mistakes. If you don’t you are not actually on the journey. And, if you’re not on the journey you’re going to get passed by.

4. We will use materials properly. By doing so we recognize that we are not on an island; that our efforts to create are part of a larger system of creation that is counting on us to be mindful of the whole.

5. Respect everyone. Because everyone is trying to create something and, in doing so, to connect to something larger than themselves. Some are more sophisticated and polished, others are rough and unrefined. What if we assumed best intent and provided more space for them to grow into something even larger than they can currently imagine?

As I turn to leave the classroom I see this on the opposite wall; the learning characteristic of the week:


To lead by these “rules” is to stand for something that is both obvious and obviously unrealized. Doing so requires the brave articulation of something worth fighting for and the independence of spirit necessary to feel alone in pursuit of it.

To do so requires the very best kind of leadership.

Who Am I Being?

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, asks an extraordinary question of himself when he does not see his players fully engaged…when he does not see them “awake with possibility.”

He asks: “Who am I being?” He does not ask: “Why don’t they get it?” Or, “What’s their problem?” He turns the question first on himself. “Who am I being that I am not seeing the effort, the passion and the possibility that I know is in every one of them?”

His humble and massively vulnerable awareness is that his followers are always a perfect reflection of his energy, his optimism and his belief.

Is there an organization today that isn’t facing the need to transform in the face of a radically changing world? I would bet on those whose leaders start the conversation with this profound and simple question:

“Who am I being?”

So Simple, Even a 3rd Grader Can Do It

One of the particular joys of fatherhood at this time in my life is having a 9-year-old son who plays Little League baseball. While there’s all kinds of ways for dads and sons to connect and build a strong and lasting relationship, baseball holds a special place for me and my son. I didn’t even play much as a kid but I certainly remember those all too rare occasions when my dad and I would “have a catch.” Sure, I romanticize it plenty, but something about this time together provides an opportunity for interaction and conversation that just doesn’t happen as easily anywhere else.

So there we are last week, having a catch in the late afternoon when my son offers up with some pride that he was recently selected as a “Team Captain” in his 3rd grade classroom. He was chosen to lead the “Gold” team in an academic competition that will play out in the coming months. Not only is he the captain of the Gold team, he shares, but his squad has already taken a commanding lead over the languishing “Blue” team.

“How did that happen?,” I ask. And he tells me that he was very careful about how he selected his team. So now I realize I’m at one of those moments where I’m going to learn something of real value from my child and he’s more than ready to share a recipe that has become painfully obvious to him. Here’s his selection criteria (with my interpretation in parentheses):

  1. people who don’t get “pink slips” (3rd grade language for people who stay focused on the task at hand)
  2. people who are good at things I’m not good at (shoring up my weaknesses with other people’s strengths)
  3. people who treat others with respect (no interpretation necessary)

To say I am proud of him is to say too little. What blew me away was how easy it was for him to recognize what so many of us have such a hard time getting right. Jim Collins told us in “Good to Great” to “get the right people on the bus” and yet we let it get so complicated. Can they do the work? Do they complement my skill set? Do they care about others and demonstrate it?

Oh, and the last thing that was obvious to him: “I chose as many girls as possible.”