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.

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.

Toxic Must Go

A study showed that replacing a toxic worker with an average one can be twice as profitable as upgrading an average one to a star.
{Adam Grant}


If you are willing to sacrifice your culture because of the discomfort of replacing someone who performs at a high level but whose attitude and actions make things worse for everyone else, you are paying too high a price.

No one is indispensable. And the damage to your organization of tolerating people who choose to operate outside the margins of your value system can take years to repair.

I’ve watched many teams suffer the consequences of a cultural outlier as leaders hemmed and hawed, taking action far too slowly and losing credibility in bunches.

The “superstar” mystique is precisely that. The sooner you remove the toxicity from the system, the sooner your “average” workers will have the space – and the oxygen – to breathe life into their own performance and into your results.


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.

 

Love is in the Air

IMG_5859Southwest Airlines wants me to doodle on my napkin. They invited me, along with 141 passengers, to express myself as I see fit. Because they “LUV” me, of course!

Why this consistent, persistent, transparent emphasis on love? Why do they choose the heart as both the visual and visionary centerpiece of their corporate ethos?

The idealist might say it’s because the customer is the heart of their business. Or that, because human beings – especially 142 of them sitting shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh in a flying canister – value nothing more than to be seen, heard and understood, it’s an obvious, human-centric decision.

The cynic might say that if you are only going to offer open seating, peanuts and a tepid cup of coffee you’d better offset it with something a bit warmer, sincere or otherwise.

To crudely borrow from Karl Marx, maybe at the core of Southwest’s operating plan is a belief that love, no matter how it’s offered, is the “opiate of the masses.”

On the first leg of this trip, I witnessed a Southwest flight attendant publicly recognize a colleague’s achievement of having been chosen as the “face of the company” on their WiFi login page. He was genuine about it. She was clearly appreciative.

The instances of flight attendant repartee and the ad-libbing of otherwise tedious FAA announcements, as grating as they can sometimes be, are evidence of a humanness at the center of the enterprise. There’s a recognition of the value of creating an environment that emphasizes a “we’re all in this together” vibe accompanied by a nudge to not take it all so seriously.

Isn’t that right at the heart of what it means to love and be loved? For my part I recognize that my most loving  or “in love” relationships are the ones that remind me of my basic humanness. In other words, they help me keep my feet on the ground while simultaneously equipping me to fly.

That’s something that only love can do. And it’s what Southwest exists to do; to safely take us from the ground in this place to the ground in that place, with a sojourn through the miracle of flight along the way.

I fly Southwest at least once a month these days. My experiential/anecdotal “data set” has me convinced that they mean it. And that they mean to stick with it.

Just like love in all its forms, they don’t get it right all the time. And just like love in our relationships, it has to start within. That is to say, I can’t “love my neighbor” until I love myself.

If Southwest keeps loving, they will keep flying. And I’m onboard with that.


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.

What do we expect from work?

Gimbel’s manager: “Why are you smiling like that?”

Buddy-the-Elf: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.”

Gimbel’s manager: “Make work your favorite. That’s your favorite, ok? Work is your new favorite.


I recently spoke with a student about her career plans. She’s feeling the tension between her growing sense of direction and purpose and her family’s expectations of transactional practicality. They want her to get a well-paying job. She wants that too, but in a way that allows her to do what she loves.

Her father’s never been happy with his work and he never expected to be. He believes that work is only meant to provide an income and that satisfaction in life comes from the quality of his personal experiences.

We are overwhelmed by dualistic thinking in our society. And when it comes to the workplace it’s sad…heartbreaking even…how willing so many people are to make this trade-off.

Trading time for money is a trap. It’s the legacy of the old corporate ethos that employees are commodities meant to be utilized and operationalized in the quest for even greater efficiency. In exchange for being treated like machines the corporation provided steady employment, medical benefits and a pension fund.

As that era of the long corporate experiment takes its final few breaths we are not left with a clean break from the past but rather a muddied set of interpretations about what the “new deal” should be, or if there should be one at all.

In the face of that unknown, the old pattern of thinking about what work means, what it should feel like and the role it should have in our lives remains largely intact. In the absence of a clearly defined “better,” the human condition is to stick with what we know.

While there are many companies working hard to set a new standard and many firms in existence to measure whether or not they really are, I remain dubious. In part, because the “best places to work” industry feels like the corporate replica of the much maligned college rankings. It’s a game of putting a shine on something that might not be so shiny, after all.

It’s the anecdotal evidence of people like my student’s father that make me take pause. If so many companies are creating meaningful, human centered workplaces, why are so many people still so disenchanted with their work? I think it’s because they expect to be burned, because our faith in institutions remains at a historic low, and that it’s much easier to say “it’s just a job” than to invest that job with any level of personal meaning that, if compromised, would be devastating. Could this explain why, after all of the studies of employee engagement and all of the dollars spent to increase it, the numbers just won’t budge?

I don’t know and I’m not sure we’ll ever know. What I do know is this: it’s possible that “smiling is my favorite” and “work is my favorite” can coexist. It’s possible that our workplaces can foster and facilitate a more human-centered experience while also achieving extraordinary results. It’s possible that we can find employment that feeds our bank account as well as our emotional reserves. It’s all possible.

Will we expect it? Will we work 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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

 

It’s four letters and it starts with “L”

I attended a wedding on Monday afternoon.

Monday afternoon is not a typical “wedding day.” Monday afternoon is the time when most of us are at work, the time when we have shaken off the weekend and placed our noses firmly, if not reluctantly back to the grindstone. But there we were, on a Monday afternoon, in a church, at a wedding.

And it was peaceful and intimate. It was sincere and lovely. In fact, it was the expression and experience of love itself.

In that church on Monday afternoon, feeling displaced by the difference between a “typical” Monday and this particular Monday I started to wonder why we work so hard to separate feelings and experiences that are more powerful when joined together.

Why do we work so hard to separate love and work? Our workplaces can and often do facilitate deep and extraordinary relationships between people gathered together in common cause. These are relationships of trust and dependence, of mutual respect and concern, of help and collaboration. We should be celebrating this for what it is (LOVE) rather than euphemistically calling it “teamwork” or “partnership” or, and it pains me to write it, “synergy.”

But that’s what we do because it’s “appropriate” and “conventional” and allows us to forego the hard work of expanding our definition of “love” beyond our present and limited understanding. (The Ancient Greek’s had six words for love – it’s a good place to start!)

And as I continued my reflection I realized that we have begun to wrestle with this question in contemporary terms. I remembered Tim Sander’s 2003 book, Love is the Killer App. I remembered Herb Kelleher, the visionary founder of Southwest Airlines saying, “A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.” And I remembered this piece from Virgin.com, Does love have a place in business?

And I thought, there should be more Monday weddings! And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday weddings as well. We need more reminders that a workplace – and a church – that is filled with love is vibrant, alive and full of possibility. And one that is not is just another building.


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 Body Count

Othello doesn’t kill Desdemona because she has betrayed him. He kills her because he believes she has betrayed him.

Some basic investigation and direct communication would have resolved the matter quickly. Instead, the bodies pile up.

There will always be an Iago, sowing doubt and fear out of his own inadequacy. Paranoia is not the answer and neither is ignorance. Be watchful, be direct and do not play the fool.

Shakespeare was not writing for 16th century England but for the modern day corporation.


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.

Human. Resources.

“Human”

Merriam-Webster definition #3-b:  representative of or susceptible to the sympathies and frailties of human nature (human kindness; human weakness).

“Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1-c a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life; and #1-e a source of information or expertise.

“Human Resources”

Merriam-Webster definition #1: personnel.

What? Personnel?

How did we get from words like “sympathies” and “frailties” (read tenderness, vulnerability, transparency…as in the real human experience) and “phenomenon,” “quality of life” and “sources of information and expertise” to personnel, a scraped from the bottom of the barrel word that fails in every way to describe who we are and what we’re made of?

It is, regrettably, an accurate characterization of the state of the “modern,” and so often dehumanizing, organization.

Let’s do better than that. Here’s a new definition for your consideration:

Human Resources (plural noun): (1) those living, breathing, dynamic and creative persons who cherish nothing more than to come together in support of a cause worth fighting for; (2) Any number of individual persons who collaborate with dignity, respect, safety and in a spirit of service to breathe life into an enterprise that is worthy of their presence. 


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.

First, Turn the Soil

Soil HealthEveryone wants to talk about harvesting. A few want to talk about planting. Even fewer want to talk about preparing the soil.

I came across an article yesterday called What Amazing Bosses Do Differently. Like so many books and articles out there right now it says all the right things. None of it is new. Here’s the last paragraph:

The common denominator is attentiveness. Pay close attention to your employees as individuals. Take that extra bit of time to build their confidence and articulate a vision; to provide constant, ongoing, high quality feedback; and to listen to their ideas. And ensure that your own messages are consistent.  Is it hard work? Yes. But it’s worth it.

Attentiveness? Check. Vision? Check. Feedback? Check. Consistency? Check.

Hard work? Check. Just not the right kind.

Do we really think another researched-based study that comes to the same conclusion as the last one is going to get our leaders to change their behaviors? That will only happen when organizations realize they don’t get to have it both ways.

Telling our leaders what they already know without getting them ready to apply it is a recipe for cynicism. It promises to deepen the resistance to change that is fed by corporate pronouncements about “employee engagement” that fail to come with any substantive cultural change to support them. Our leaders continue to default to fear-based, controlling behaviors for two reasons:

  1. It’s what their organizations are compensating them to do.
  2. It’s the easiest way to ensure performance in the short term.

The best way to appreciate the danger of the reality we’ve created – yes, we are all complicit – is to go back to the farm.

If you’ve worked on a farm of any size or even carefully tended a garden you know that planting and harvesting can be good, hard work. You also know that those activities are nothing compared to what it takes to properly prepare the soil. Turning just a few spades of dirt, especially in compacted and root-bound soil, is enough to remind you what physical labor really is. And it is our willingness to stick with it – to turn it, amend it and smooth it out – that makes the difference in the quality of what it will produce.

One of the first principles of planting crops of any kind – assuming you want to avoid chemically “enhancing” the soil – is that from one year to the next you rotate them into different sections of the field. (This applies to small garden planters as well.) Since different varieties absorb different nutrients from the soil this prevents any one crop from taking more than it’s share.

The corporate bias, in a thoroughly unimaginative response to the speed of complexity and change, is to simply take all it can while it can. This failure to tend their own soil makes them slaves to the present instead of caretakers of the future. In the same way that crop yields diminish in depleted soil so too do organizational results wither from the lack of attention to the first principles of long term growth.

 

Defining “Hard Work” 

What we need to talk about – what so few want to talk about – is the kind of “hard work” that our organizations and our leaders must engage in if we are to see real change. In my experience, a person who is both willing and able to do the “hard work” of practicing great leadership behaviors does so because first – first – they have tended their own soil.

Organizations must create the conditions where this is not only possible but also expected. To be a “leader” must come with clearly articulated, high expectations of self-knowledge that precedes behavioral training. Advancement to leadership positions must be contingent upon an individual’s ability to display a detailed understanding of their values, strengths, aspirations and limitations. They must be able to define themselves both at their best and at their worst, demonstrating an awareness of the conditions in which they thrive and those most likely to send them off the rails.

My bias would be to send a prospective leader to therapy or counseling for a year before he or she took the role. Since I live in the real world I will relinquish that fantasy in favor of developmental initiatives that allow for a deep understanding of each individual’s “soil composition” and just what is needed to amend it for them to grow – and support others growth – as well as they can. These programs already exist. We just need organizations to have the courage to put them into play.

We must also stop confusing positional competence with leadership capability. It’s a shortcut, knowingly taken far too often, that utterly fails to serve men and women who would otherwise thrive with the influence of a qualified leader. Organizations will further impoverish themselves if they continue to teach new skills to people who have not addressed their own compacted and root-bound soil.

The articles about “brilliant bosses” and the lists of “best leadership behaviors” are sure to keep coming. They will be dressed up differently but made of the same stuff. We need to do better than this.

We need to collectively reject the temptation to plant in poor soil, the bias for short term thinking that limits the quality and quantity of our yield.

We need to get our hands in the dirt, face up to the reality of what we find there and make it ready to support the growth for which those we lead are so hungrily waiting.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.

Redefining the “C” Suite

What if we replaced “Chief” with a new set of “C” words? What would happen to our organizations if excellence in these domains was the price of admission to the board room?

CHARACTER – key words: self-awareness, trial, values, openness, courage

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” – General Norman Schwarzkopf

 “My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.” – Nelson Mandela

 “If you must live an unexamined life, please inflict it on somebody else.” – Parker Palmer

COMPETENCE – key words: expertise, skill, standards, learning, teaching

“I am, as I’ve said, merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.” – Billy Joel

“If the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

CONNECTION – key words: trust, relationship, vulnerability, consistency

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” – William James

 “Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship and there won’t be an end.” – Tony Robbins

 “The influence of a vital person vitalizes. The way to bring the world alive is to be alive yourself.”  – Joseph Campbell

CULTURE – key words: values, vision, meaning, learning, engagement

 “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

 “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates

 “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It fails because it’s too late.” – Seth Godin