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.

1 or 120?

The answer is “1.”

Why? Because human beings are bad with big numbers. (See Paul Slovic’s work here.)

I have a class of 120 students this semester. It’s a sea of faces, thoughtful and present in the aggregate but difficult to appreciate in a more personal way. To address this challenge I assigned a questionnaire at the beginning of the semester to help me get to know who’s in the room; course of study, employment, family, personal challenges, learning preferences, favorite books and movies.

From their responses I select 25 or so and invite them to meet with me during office hours. This is a game changer.

To look into the eyes of these individuals, to learn more about them, to get a brief education on their particular form of humanness, this changes everything about the large class experience. Now, as I take in the full class assembly I see individuals first. They have become names and stories and aspirations, not just another number on a printout.

I will not get to know them all. I will not remember that many of their names. And those who I do meet and connect with will continuously serve to remind me that each of them deserves to be known and remembered, regardless of my inability to do so.


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.

 

 

 

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


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.

There’s Room at the Table

In 1936 Dale Carnegie proposed that there are “six ways to get people to like you.”

Here’s his list:

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember people’s names.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Talk in terms of other’s interests.
  6. Make people feel important and do it sincerely.

– from How to Win Friends and Influence People

Not on the list?

  1. Share your accomplishments.
  2. Demonstrate your worthiness.
  3. Take yourself seriously.
  4. Describe your competence in detail.
  5. Act self-important.
  6. Tell an anecdote that makes you sound interesting.

Is this all self-evident? Is it obvious that humility and curiosity are the benchmarks of likability and therefore the cornerstones of connection? Most people would say so but I still see behaviors – and even notice impulses in myself – that contradict that sentiment.

The need to prove our worthiness seems to me the single greatest impediment to the establishment of mutually generative relationships. The drive to make sure “they know what I’ve done and what I can do” disallows the flowering of our natural interest in others because it keeps us bound by the disabling trio of comparison, competition and scarcity.

When we seek to connect, to build trust, to establish meaningful relationships we do not have to prove our merits or establish our bona fides. We simply have to remember three things:

  1. Each of us has an offering to make.
  2. Each of us has a ‘best’ way to make it.
  3. There is plenty of room at the table.

I have learned to trust that the better I get – the more focused, the more thoughtful – at making that true for others, the more others will make it true for me.


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 Facade of Competence

If you are experiencing difficulty connecting with your colleagues in a meaningful way, it’s possible that you are leading with your competence.

It’s possible that your investment in looking like you know what you’re doing is getting in the way of your being in relationship with the people who can help you do what you need to do.

I was once called “arrogant” after three weeks on the job because I couldn’t stop proving my “competence.”

I was competent. And I was the only one who didn’t think so.


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 I Learned Today

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me is a little bit crazy.

Everyone I know who trusts me enough to be honest with me also feels at least a little bit vulnerable about being a little bit crazy.

There seems to be an opportunity in there somewhere.

The nexus of trust, honesty, crazy and vulnerable is a powerful, scary and liberating place to be.

I’ll hold the light so you can find it. Will you please hold the light for me?


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.

The Getaway Car

I meet my friend Jeff Gibbons once a month for breakfast. Today’s encounter got off to a funny start.

As I turned left on the street of our regular spot, I noticed plenty of parking on both the left and right sides of the street. Knowing that I would be headed back the way I came, I passed up the spots on the right, flipped a u-turn and took one of the spots on the other side of the street, making sure I was headed in the direction I would be going next.

Since I was early, I sat in the car for a few minutes to finish up a radio interview. And then in my side view mirror I noticed Jeff’s car approaching on the same side of the street I was on. I assumed he would pull in to the open spot behind me.

And just as I was sure he was about to do so, he flipped a u-turn and took a spot on the other side of the street, headed back from where he had come. Like me, he had planned his exit strategy.

I emerged from my car laughing, approaching Jeff and saying, “Apparently there’s a masculine need to make sure we have a getaway!” and explained to him that I had done the same thing just 10 minutes earlier.

We shared a knowing laugh and then proceeded to talk it over. I am grateful to say that when Jeff and I meet we don’t spend a lot of time on the surface. We get into stuff that we don’t talk about in many, if any, other places. It is an open, honest, thoughtful and candid discussion of manhood, fatherhood, marriage, faith, politics and anything else we might throw in.

We talked about the fact that men are always looking for a way out, regardless of the threat level. We have inherited the bias for action and reaction and, as such, equip ourselves for a ready response. This is painting with a broad brush, I know, but seeing the two of us act this way in quick succession made me think that it might not just be me, or Jeff, but that maybe lots of us operate in this mode.

We men need other men in our lives. The science backs up the health benefits of long-term male friendship and it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional reminder that we’re not the only one dealing with, working on, trying to get better at…whatever it is.

I appreciate male friendships that provide the space for intimate and vulnerable conversations. I also recognize that it can be tough for us to stay in those conversations for too long. We dive below the surface for a little while and then bob back up to the surface for some fresh air and a check of the weather, often literally. We use that moment to pinpoint the location of our car, confirming that it it’s still pointed in the right direction.

Just in case.


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.

Timing is Everything

Not Here

There’s courage involved if you want
to become truth.  There is a broken-

open place in a lover.  Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp

compassion in this group?  What’s the
use of old and frozen thought?  I want

a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury
where gold is stored; this is for copper.

We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

won’t do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by?  Not here.

– From Soul of Rumiby Coleman Barks


The adamancy of this poem is startling, when I stop to think about it. Rumi gives no quarter. “It’s all or nothing,” he seems to say. And a huge part of me agrees with him, trained as I’ve been in, and inclined as I am, to the practice of disclosure for the purpose of developing greater intimacy and deeper connections.

But, not so fast.

Not so fast for everyone, that is.

My urgency to “go deep” is not always aligned with your willingness to enter those waters. And there are times when I catch myself in a judgmental state for your lack of willingness to meet me there. This is the truth as I know how to tell it.

It is not a stretch to say that where my family is expressive, my in-laws are not. I am not suggesting that we ritually descend to the absolute depths at every possible opportunity, but we are practiced at getting to the heart of things in a very emotional way, productively or otherwise. It’s who we are and what we do.

My in-laws are the other sort. Lots of fun, lots of laughter, but a rather certain sort of even keel prevents the kind of emotional verisimilitude that pervades so many of my family’s gatherings.

Until this past weekend, that is.

In the very best way and in a manner, thanks to my wife’s genius, perfectly appropriate to her brood, there was an outpouring of expression on the occasion of her father’s 90th birthday.

We are blessed that Bob, at 90, is a healthy and happy man. This is quite a gift, for him and for us. Appropriate to that good fortune, Theresa invited all of those assembled (and many from afar) to write a letter to him of both congratulations and appreciation. Documents in hand, and immediately following a glorious prime rib dinner just two days removed from the Thanksgiving feast (I married well!) we sat around the dinner table and read to Bob our expressions of love.

The tears flowed. Generously, genuinely they flowed. From sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and this son-in-law, they flowed freely and well. It was a beautiful and sacred space made possible by Theresa’s initiative and the willing participation of the assembled clan.

My point is only this: we dare not assume what is present in the hearts of those near us. We dare not assume their willingness or ability to express it. What we can only assume is that if we, if I, am patient and thoughtful and lovingly present, that the right amount of expression, in the right way, and in the right time will find its way to the surface and become a blessing that will never be forgotten.


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.

Take the path of vulnerability

I hand out an assignment to my class. There are a list of options from which to choose, one of which is “Emotional Intelligence.” Perusing the list a student raises his hand and asks, “Will you please tell me what ‘Emotional Intelligence” is?

An act of vulnerability in service of learning.

A friend says to me, “I would like to get to know you better.”

An act of vulnerability in service of relationship.

A leader asks his team, “How can I be better for you?”

An act of vulnerability in service of…service.

Small acts that point to an essential truth: there is nothing we care about that won’t require us to make ourselves vulnerable. If we don’t care, we don’t bother.

The link below will take you to a 12 minute clip (which inspired this post) of one of my favorite teachers, David Whyte, speaking to the truth of vulnerability as the access point to real conversation.

David Whyte — Poetry from the On Being Gathering (Closing Words) https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-closing-words-oct2018


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.

Worth the Wait

If you want to ice skate on a frozen pond it’s best not to attempt it after the first frost.

A reliable surface, one you can trust to sustain your weight and the carving of your skates, needs time and consistently low temperatures to get to a solid state.

The same is true for new relationships or those that are recovering from a difficult passage.

We want to believe that our initial best efforts to repair the damage will be sufficient. But it takes time and consistency for someone to believe that we are worthy of their trust, once again.

Do not ask me to skate with you on the early, brittle ice. Invite me, deep into winter, to join you on the solid ice that will hold us both.


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.