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.

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.

Disproportionate Influence

If you are a leader, you have influence that is disproportionate to that of the people you lead. By definition, you have the responsibility to see and do that which is necessary to help your team members be successful.

You are tasked with establishing a vision, providing resources, negotiating roadblocks, offering guidance, recognizing accomplishments and setting both a behavioral and emotional standard from which all others take their cue.

It’s absurd to think that this kind of influence – this level of responsibility – can be achieved and maintained without an equally disproportionate commitment to continuous learning.

A leader of any merit knows this and acts accordingly. There is no more valuable currency than that of continuous learning.


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

Sunday Morning Moments
{Patricia Gale}

Gently my eyes open and I whispered
Thank you for I can see

My feet moving slowly one in front of the other
Though my body stiff from the labor of work
I replied… thank you for your mercy

My mind recoiling the tasks that require my attention
My heart seems to fill with the beauty of the day
And I praise you for what you have given me

The house is silent
No words are heard
Little feet that once sounded like an army
Now long gone and marching to independence and their own battles
I wipe a crystal tear and thank you for the love you placed within my life

In the coolness of an autumn’s morn
I sit a listen to the Sunday morning symphony
A gift from You created by your loving hands
I hear a soft gentle voice…” to everything there is a season and by My grace there is a reason”
Admiration and thankfulness fill my soul
My lips quiver with soft words, I am unworthy, but yet You love me
Thank you Father for this day


 

Somebody is Always Watching

It’s easy to believe, in a world of increased devotion to personal devices and a status quo of extreme busyness, that nobody is paying attention to what we do and how we do it.

Somebody is always watching. Creepy though that may sound at one level, it is an imperative reminder that the quality of our engagement – the dedication (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) we bring to our work – is noticed and evaluated.

This is especially true for leaders who, by title alone, are appropriately under constant scrutiny. In the same way we might say of a child that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” we can notice employees who understandably (if sometimes regrettably) use their leader’s behavior as a guide.

I notice it in the classroom; students who arrive on time, students who sit upright or even forward in anticipation of what’s to come, students who expect to engage and be engaged.

I notice it in service situations; employees who make an effort to connect, to be genuine, to bring something personal to the interaction, and those who go through the motions, perhaps with a smile but one that is practiced, not pleasing.

At my best, I notice it in myself; when I am present and connected and when my energy and attention is flagging. When I do catch myself at anything other than my “best” I either correct it quickly or let others in on how I am feeling. I assume that they’ve already noticed.

An appealing practice that I think would do a lot of good without a ton of effort is to call people out when we notice their thoughtful engagement.

This happened to me once and it was an exceptional moment. I assumed the worst was coming, that I was going to be highlighted as a negative example, but it was just the opposite and it made an impression on me that I will never forget.


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.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
{William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida}


Yes, I blatantly stole an epic quote from the Star Wars pantheon as a title for this post. Between Yoda and Shakespeare it’s tough to go wrong and I prefer to save my energy rather than fruitlessly attempt to improve upon their genius.

In both cases they are extolling us to make the shift from a passive to an active approach to life.

Passivity is a practice, a habit, that is employed to soften the blow.

“I will try to make it to your event” is what you say when you have no intention of attending but don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

“I will try to learn how to play the piano” is what you say when you are scared that you actually won’t be able to…or won’t have the fortitude to stick with it when it get’s hard.

Why does it seem so bold, or callous even, to say “I will not attend the event. I have other priorities right now”? It’s true, it’s honest, and it allows the other person to clear the mental space that is otherwise spent on a bunch of “Will she or won’t she?” energy.

Why does it seem so bold, or brazen even, to say “I am going to learn how to play the piano”? It speaks of commitment to a clear choice that removes the mystery of “Will I be able to?”  and replaces it with “I’m going to find out.” And, if it’s really not your thing, now you know and you can move on and stop wondering about it. More mental space opened up…what a relief!

No discussion, even a brief one, of passivity is complete without mention of passive aggressive behavior which in classic ironic fashion ends up feeling even more aggressive to the recipient – a hundred tiny daggers – than if they just aggressively said their piece – one swing of the sword. It’s yet another example of passivity being employed to soften the blow and filling up our available mental and emotional space with needless anxiety.

Be clear, be open, be bold. Other people can handle it, including yourself. Your assumption that they cannot – that you cannot – is no longer worthy of you.


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.

It Can Be Done Another Way

I find it easy sometimes to get stuck on how something should be done versus how something can be done. Preferences for certain actions can blind us to the fact that a chosen behavior is indeed preferential and not the only option.

We have some large palm trees in our front yard and occasionally a frond will snap and fall to the ground. These can be ten feet long and very heavy which means they need to be cut up to fit in our green waste can. I have a great hand saw that is perfect for the job while also providing a decent workout!

On one occasion I asked my son to do the cutting and he proceeded to plug-in an electric saw – not one intended for this kind of job – and carved up the branch without breaking a sweat. I remember saying, “That’s not how you do it! You’re supposed to use the hand saw.”

He gave me his best “Are you kidding me?” look with a hint of “Did you want this done or did you want this done your way?” I don’t remember exactly but I probably doubled-down with something like, “But that’s what the hand saw is for, not to mention it’s good exercise.”

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The fact is that he got the job done in a perfectly acceptable way and in a manner that was gratifying to him. Regardless of how I feel about it, that should be enough.

The leadership lesson in this is that if you hire highly qualified people and pay them highly qualified salaries you need to provide them the autonomy they need to do what you hired them to do. Creative and capable people will express themselves beautifully in the right conditions, and those conditions must always include the freedom to make their mark, to test ideas, to share their experience and to solve problems.

Breaking a sweat can be gratifying but it’s hardly ever proof of the best way to do the work.


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.

Achievable Challenge

I started playing piano in early January. For the first month I did scales for 15 minutes a day to build up some strength and dexterity in my hands and fingers. But I didn’t decide to learn piano for the sake of scales so eventually I started messing around with some real songs.

My daughter recommended one of her early piano books in which I found a straightforward version of “Scarborough Fair,” the English tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s been a perfect first test of my nascent piano skills. It requires me to get my left and right hands working on different things at the same time, has just enough changes to be challenging and is just easy enough – because a familiar tune – to be rewarding.

Well, just the other day my daughter sat down to the very same piece of music and played it in a way I had no idea was even possible. It was just beautifully interpreted, this simple piece of music so artfully rendered by her capable hands.

Immediately I had to try it just like her. And immediately I discovered that I couldn’t do it. Which is when I remembered an important piece of information: she’s been playing piano for 7 years and I’ve been playing for 2 months.

I believe that one day I will play the song like she did. And I also accept that where I am is good enough for now. The gap between here and there is probably pretty wide but it will shrink every day proportionate to how willing I am to do the work.

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves, to go after things we’re not yet ready for. If we’re not careful that’s a path to discouragement and disengagement. The right mix, for ourselves and for our teams, is what I call “achievable challenge.” It’s got to be hard enough to keep our attention, inviting us to rise to the occasion, but well within our capability to actually accomplish.

{If you’d like to hear my version of the song you can do so here.}


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.

Because of You

If you’re a leader, everything you do and everything you say is being watched, recorded, memorized and replicated.

That may not be the most comforting image but it is the most accurate one.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the energy, the focus, the camaraderie, the expense of discretionary effort…that’s because of you.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the frustration, the disconnection, the avoidance…that’s because of you.

You have an extraordinary opportunity as a leader of a team. You get to create an environment that helps people bring the best of themselves to work every day.

What an incredible honor. What an awesome responsibility.


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.