Ambivalent About Change

If I ask you how you feel about change, and you give me your most honest response, my guess is that you will lead with ambivalence.

It depends, you’ll say.

What does it depend on?

For starters, and maybe most importantly, it depends on whether or not the change is your idea.

Nothing could be easier than writing a list of changes that we believe other people, teams and organizations should make.

The tougher list is the one on which we catalog those changes that are in our own best interest even when we’d rather keep things just as they are.

Tougher still is the practice of seeking other’s ideas of how we can change for the better in spite of the resistance we feel when we are challenged to take in the possible truth of their perspective.


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Just As They Are

There is a compelling irony in the truth that when we accept people as they are we  create the conditions for them to pursue meaningful change.

Acceptance is not weakness or acquiescence, but a baseline offering of dignity and respect from which another can freely, loosely, and playfully experiment with their own version of becoming.

If our acceptance can help unlock that discovery, and we choose to withhold it, that says far more about us than it does about those being held to standards they are not yet equipped to meet.

In the powerful dynamics of human influence we are either catalysts for one another or we are roadblocks. There is nothing in between.


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To Accept Oneself

“Fully alive people accept and love themselves as they are.”

– John Powell, S.J.


This week I am going to explore each of the five elements of John Powell’s “essential steps into the fullness of life.” These steps, as described in his book, Fully Human Fully Alive are:

1. to accept oneself
2. to be oneself
3. to forget oneself in loving
4. to believe
5. to belong.

It is not my intention to restate Powell’s teaching on these elements but to share a personal reflection on how I have experienced each of them, especially in the context of my experiences in organizational life. The lenses I bring to this expression are that of employee, teammate, leader, consultant and coach. It is through these lenses that I intend to articulate how aliveness, a term I first heard in an organizational context, is central to vibrant and productive organizational life.

Fully alive leaders are, in not only my opinion but in my experience, those who have the most chance of leading real and lasting change, the leadership of change being the fundamental task of leadership especially in the context of our current national and global realities.

Leadership is, of course, most directly experienced at the local level. As a faithful subscriber to this localized perspective, that “the universal is in the particular,” it is more relevant – and interesting – to me to share my personal experiences than to conduct some cold case-study analysis of a leader in the abstract.

“To accept oneself” is both the root and the anchor of the entire construct. Aliveness is not possible without it. We can never comfortably be ourselves, give ourselves to another, commit to belief or truly belong until we are at home in ourselves. It is why, in my particular case, once I began to crack the code of self-acceptance it wasn’t long for the other elements to click into place. I am not suggesting that I have achieved aliveness in this sense, but that I spend much more time there now than I ever used to due to the fact that I learned, finally, how to accept myself.

The biggest hurdle to that acceptance was – and sometimes still is – the toxicity of perfectionism. As for so many others, I allowed unmet childhood needs to become the unhealthy adaptations of my adult life. By holding unrealistic standards for my work, for example, I was simply protecting against the fear of loss. Before you could tell me my work was lousy, and probably never want to have anything to do with me again as a result, my inner critic would prevent any external representation of my internal world.

The very reason I began writing this blog, back in 2007, was to prove to myself that I wouldn’t melt like the Wicked Witch at the first criticism I received about my perspectives on leadership and culture. The fantasy I was living had me convinced that there was a stadium of people just waiting to pounce on my ideas when, of course, the stadium was just row after row of empty seats. My job as a writer was to fill those seats, not by perfecting my work but by finding my voice. This had never occurred to me before.

Twelve years later, I haven’t filled that stadium but I have learned, over the course of one book and 832 posts, that the stadium never existed. It was merely a clever construct of my unaccepted self. Today, I write daily to discover what I’m thinking, to maintain a discipline, to share and continue to find my voice.

My commitment to written expression is one of the few essential pathways I have walked directly into a new and trustworthy pattern of self-acceptance.

To be fully alive means to accept and love yourself, just as you are.


high angle shot of sports stadium

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It’s Just a Decision

Whatever it is you “have” to do today, this week, please remember this: you don’t have to do it.

You get to do it.

“You get to do it” can feel impossible to accept when we’re not feeling up to it, when we’re distracted by what else might be available to us. But right now, this is it. It’s all of it.

And you get to do it.

Until you choose not to.


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’s Not Working

“When a paradigm no longer provides reliable guidance for how to live in the world, the most common response is to grab hold of it more firmly. As it dawns on us that we don’t know how things work – that it’s not working – we become more insistent that it has to work just as we thought.”

Margaret WheatleyWho Do We Choose to Be?

It can be difficult to assess what I need to let go of. It’s tough to be objective when approaches, practices, behaviors and relationships that have worked so well for so long are past their expiration date. Few of us find this easy.

So I’m working to develop another point of reference, a way to guide me – gently and directly – to the knowledge that it is time to let go.

That point of reference is the amount of pressure I apply to make something continue as before even though it is time for it to become something else or to end altogether.

An example: my son is leaving for college next month. I’ve seen this coming for 18 years but of course that’s only cognitive awareness. My emotional awareness kicked in somewhere around February and I began exhibiting a grab-bag of behaviors that could generally be described as “emotionally charged.” I was holding on more firmly – fighting with reality – to ward off the certainty of what was to come.

Another: a client relationship was at an end. From a small, insecure place I didn’t think it had to be, that there was more to be done. So I offered up a suggestion that I didn’t believe in, that I didn’t have any interest in. Mercifully, it fell on deaf ears.

Everything ends. A good definition of wisdom is not only acknowledging that truth but accepting it as well.

“Lightly child, lightly” said Aldous Huxley. We are well advised.


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.