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.

On Solid Ground

My friend and thought partner, Molly Davis, published a great piece on Monday in which she talks about the earth beneath our feet as the best source material we could ask for to live lives of hopeful expectation. She writes:

“That sense of the solid ground upon which to stand is the place from which we can dare to hope. And we can dare to hope because it isn’t our feet firmly planted that hold us up, but the holy ground upon which we stand.”

The imagery conjured up by her writing took me back to a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to keynote a gathering of undergraduate students who were assembled for an academic competition and convocation.

During the Q&A that followed I was asked about my preparation for a talk like the one I had just given. These students were going to stand in front of a room of judges the following day to deliver their prepared findings so effective presentation-making was very much on their minds.

I suggested to them that once the rituals of preparation and planning are complete; once you have done your research and your homework, collaborated with your partners on a design and gone through as many rehearsals and critiques as you can stand, that once all of that is done the final and most important thing you can do is to get out of your head and back into your body.

To have cognitive awareness of what you will present is the starting point, but to have somatic awareness is the place from which you can truly deliver the goods. Until you feel it in your body, what you present will just be a collection of words coming from your head.

I suggested a few things to help them get into this more robust kind of physical presence. First, that it is important ahead of time to spend some time in the space where you will be speaking. I told them that the reason I was already in the room when they arrived was because I was getting a feel for the space. It was not a room largely different from those I have presented in before but I had not presented in that particular room and wanted to build up my awareness of what it felt like. (Incidentally, I noticed a strong and very pleasing floral aroma in the room, as if the janitorial staff had used the greatest cleaning products ever made! This contributed to my sense of positive affect and energy. It was a perfect support system for my physical awareness.) 

Second, I suggested that it is important to just feel your feet on the floor, on the ground, on the earth. This kind of intentional inhabiting of space creates in me a grounded and humble confidence. It reminds me that “I am right here.” It reminds me that “I am supposed to be right here, right now with these two feet on this ground in this room.” It reminds me that “There are no mistakes or coincidences but only the truth that I am here and ready to share readily and generously with those kind enough to listen.”

Third, I suggested that it is important to feel your body. Amy Cuddy advocates for the “power stance,” hands boldly on the hips or raised high in victory formation. Others recommend scrunching the shoulders up to the ears and holding them there before a big, vigorous release and shake down of your entire bodily form. All of this physical effort is designed to join your head to your body, your head to your heart, more importantly. It’s a physical way to trick yourself into a “ready” position, a place the rest of us will experience as presence.

Finally, to bring it all the way back round to Molly’s contribution today, this work of physical readiness for real presence is the only stance from which it is possible to be the ideas, the possibilities, the hopefulness you are trying to convey. You want us to believe you, to believe in you. We want to believe you, to believe in you. You’ll get us part way there with your thoughtful preparation and articulate delivery. You’ll bring us all the way home when you convey the power that can only be made real when you start with two feet on solid ground.

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.

Another Set of Eyes

You can’t take care of what you can’t see.

Call it a blind spot, call it being too close to the problem, but with only your eyes – and the limits of your perspective and the strength of your bias – you’re going to miss some vital information.

If you’re cleaning a bathroom mirror that might mean some streaks here and there.

If it’s something greater, something about how you do your work or lead your team, those few forgotten streaks might have greater significance.

One major difference between an amateur and a professional is the commitment to getting it right. And that means building feedback into the process early and often.

If you want to see yourself – your work, your contribution – accurately, become a professional. Hire another set of eyes.

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.

A Runner’s Mantra

Friday Morning Run

This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.


This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.


This road that I’m running is not good or bad. It’s not right or wrong.

It just is.

And if I keep running I’ll be onto a new road very soon.


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.

The Blessing is Outside Your Comfort Zone

The title of this post is taken from an OnBeing interview with Ashley Hicks, co-founder of Black Girls RUN!. Buying new running shoes for her second marathon she tells the salesman that she is nervous and concerned about the upcoming race. In response he says, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

She continues, “Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that. The blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with you’ll never experience something new and incredible.”

When I agreed to teach undergraduate business school students last fall I found myself on a new edge, one that had me both frightened and energized. I have given hundreds of talks and facilitated at least as many classes, the longest of which was three days long. A semester’s worth of preparation and impact with something as important as a grade attached to it was brand new territory and I was concerned that I had the ability to sustain it. That concern was baseless. It came from my lizard brain and threatened to sabotage an experience that I knew could be extraordinary.

And it was, because the blessing is outside my comfort zone.

Earlier this summer, I agreed to teach a new class for the same college this fall semester. My lizard brain’s reaction was swift and startling. Despite two consecutive semesters of successful classroom experiences my default reaction was to resist and doubt myself in the face of the unknown.

The edge of possibility, the threshold of growth and blessing, is always attended by a voice of doubt. If it isn’t then the edge is not an edge in the first place! It is not my job to conquer it, to arrive at some plateau of uber-confidence where I never feel the twinge of fear. My good work is to feel its presence and use it to remind me that on the other side of that feeling is the version of myself I most aspire to be.

Fear has no chance in the face of a blessing.

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.


Jimmy Graham touchdown catch - September 27, 2015. Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

Jimmy Graham touchdown catch – September 27, 2015. Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

In September, as part of a leadership development experience that I was co-facilitating,  our group had the opportunity to learn from the leadership experience of an NFL coach. Dave Canales is the wide receivers coach for the Seattle Seahawks and a genuinely thoughtful and effective leader.

As our conversation with Dave progressed, and he shared thoughts on preparation, process, and the dynamics of working with some very big egos, a question came to mind that I have often mused on but have never had the chance to ask someone who was qualified to respond.

The question on my mind was this: What does the casual sports fan not appreciate about what it takes to excel as a professional athlete?

At the heart of this question is my deep curiosity about what separates those of us on the couch from those who are on the field. I struggle to imagine what it takes to perform at the level of an elite athlete, especially under the scrutiny they face. And so, given an opening in the conversation I asked Dave my question. He did not hesitate to respond.


Both the immediacy and the content of his answer caught my attention. He went on to explain what was maddeningly obvious and so easy to overlook. Professional football players, for all of their skill, and for all of the ways they make it look easy or routine, get beat-up pretty good on a weekly basis. And they are expected to recover and do it again. And, again. Sixteen times over the seventeen weeks of the regular season. Implicit in his response was that the best ones – those who excel week in and week out – do so because of a radical commitment to the disciplines of recovery, restoration and preparation.

Since we were speaking in the context of a leadership program, the question immediately reformed in my mind this way: What does the “average” follower not appreciate about what it takes to excel as a leader?

Before I heard Dave’s response I would have immediately offered “self-awareness,” “care for people,” and “commitment to continuous learning” as my top responses. I would have only glanced at the truth that in order to seek awareness, extend care and continue to learn effective leaders have to be in great shape to do so! The exposure and expectations of leadership are tough. The weight of responsibility, day in and day out, can and will wear you down. If you don’t restore and recover well and if you don’t have a clear commitment to your well-being, you simply can’t excel. Sooner or later the wear and tear will make you susceptible to injury and your contribution will be reduced to that of a bystander.

There’s another game coming up and we need you on that field.

Will you be ready?

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.


(Servant) Leadership Defined

This is not only a beautifully articulated definition of Servant Leadership but a clear and direct definition of “leadership,” period.

Servant Leadership is a smart leadership approach with a moral imperative to lead for the sake of others. Great leaders model behaviors that equip and inspire others toward individual and community greatness. They do not see their employees as tools, but as humans with dignity that they can empower to make a difference. Servant Leadership is designed to increase the self-determination, self-confidence, and self-sacrifice of everyone.
(Courtesy of the Servant Leadership Institute)

I struggle with the fact that the leadership we see in our organizations today is so far from the “servant” model that we have to classify it as a unique leadership approach. I also imagine that the idea of leadership as a “moral imperative” makes many leaders deeply uncomfortable.

As for me, I love that language. It’s a call to action to not allow a single drop of human potential to be wasted. That the leaders biggest and best responsibility is to ensure that his followers have every opportunity to maximize their strengths and deepen their learning in pursuit of a cause larger than themselves.

“Servant Leadership” is simply leadership in its best, most appropriate and most productive form.

How long is it going to take us to figure that out?

Winning with Culture

I spent nearly eight years of my professional life working to bring a “coaching culture”  to life within the TaylorMade Golf Company. Alongside brilliant product creation, exceptional marketing efforts and flawless sales execution, our ability to sustain a purposeful culture of learning and development led to some truly incredible results. Hardly a perfect science, in the pursuit of a coaching culture we rarely got it all right. But that’s missing the point because culture is always unfinished business. It is a work in progress if ever there was one. But, when a company grows 4X over 12 years you can and should look to many reasons why. If you don’t look at culture you’re missing a huge part of the story.

Here’s a piece from the Wall Street Journal that does a nice job of explaining the measurable elements of TaylorMade’s rise to dominance (How TaylorMade Made Its Move). What it fails to address is one of the most glaringly obvious reasons for this historic growth: a company culture that will knock your socks off. I appreciate that the WSJ lives mostly in the land of the rational, the measurable and the known. I further appreciate that culture, leadership and learning are decidedly fuzzy and definitely “soft.” As such they don’t get discussed in the mainstream business media which is a sad reality that has to change. I know the role that culture played in achieving those results because I was there. But you don’t have to take my word for it since TaylorMade isn’t the only one linking an intentional culture to incredible results.

Zappo’s has been playing this game for a little while, also. And they also have the results to show for it as they have taken the idea of an intentional and purposeful culture to an entirely new level. Zappo’s leaves no room for doubt that it is the squishy stuff like culture that took them to a billion dollars in revenue.

I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters last December and it is obvious from the very moment you step foot in the place that there is nothing “squishy” about what’s going on there. For as much fun as they seem to be having they are dead serious about maintaining a culture that allows them to deliver exceptional business results. Again, it is their culture that allows for the results to follow. This is on purpose for one simple reason: it works.

I appreciate your skepticism. The media never talks about it because they haven’t figured out how to do so. I suggest you go see for yourselves. The good people at TaylorMade and Zappo’s are waiting for your call.


Six months down, six months to go.

2009 is sliding by awfully fast and at this mid-point I find myself thinking about what’s been and what will be. Time and dates are pretty arbitrary aren’t they? I mean, July 1 (or September 12 or October 29) is as good a day as any to make new commitments and define new goals. A New Year’s resolution is romantic but it’s really just one of 365 opportunities to decide, plan and act.

So, on the first day of the second half of the year I owe myself a quick reality check about what I’ve done about my 2009 development plan. My mantra this year is to “Expect More” of myself and others. Specifically, to actively pursue my goal of becoming a a credible, inspiring and respected speaker/presenter on leadership, employee engagement and organizational culture. This has required more risk, more candor, more presence and more commitment. Here’s a quick list of what’s happened so far:

1 conference presentation (February)
1 journal article (March)
1 MBA student roundtable (April)
1 webinar (June)
1 consulting engagement (July)
1 keynote (August)
1 association presentation (pending)
26 blog postings (March-July)

That’s exactly eight more such activities than last year and what’s especially gratifying is that four of these things came about simply because I asked the question: “Do you need a speaker at your conference?”; “Do you need any leadership development support for your MBA students?”; “Do you have a client who would like to hear about my work when I visit the east coast?” And, to evidence the generative impact of getting started, two more items on this list happened as a result of something else – the webinar came from the conference; the keynote came from the roundtable. Cool.

Looking at the back half of the year my goal is simple: keep going. Continue to “expect more.” Continue to ask the questions. Continue to learn from each experience. Continue to refine my voice and my message.