Optimal Conditions for Growth

As leaders learn to see themselves as planters and cultivators, they will grow increasingly well attuned to the optimal conditions for growth:

Container: the supportive container for your team members is the thoughtfully defined scope of their work. It is appropriately sized to their role, experience and your expectations. It is adjusted based on progress, conditions, and the inevitable changes that occur.

Resources: soil, water and light for your team members are the information they require about the organization and its plans, how they fit into those plans and easy access to the tools they need to be successful. It is context and perspective about how what they do is connected to the goals and vision of the organization.

Attention: for your team members, regular care and feeding is checking in, asking what they need to be successful, providing recognition, assurance, feedback and necessary course corrections. Too much and they will drown. Too little and they will starve.

Applied with discipline and with care, it is nothing short of a miracle what can occur when living things are provided with conditions that respect and expect the emergence of their inherent potential.

Growth is never a given. It can never be assumed. But it is always possible when the conditions are right.

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Plumeria seedling at three weeks. Photo by Davis Berry (2018)


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 Reliable Reciprocity of Disclosure

“Well, I guess if you’re going to share something personal I will start there, too.”
– recently overheard in a meeting


If I share something personal with you, you are likely going to share something personal in return. It’s just how it works. It’s how relationships are built, one layer of connective tissue at a time.

Early in my work with teams I introduce them to a thought experiment I learned when I facilitated a leadership workshop called Leading Out Loud, based on a book of the same name by Terry Pearce.

It goes something like this: think of all the words you can to describe a leader you would willingly follow? (If you’re so inclined, perhaps pause here and make a list of your own before continuing. I’m curious if you get the same results I get with my clients.)

I then ask them to determine which of the words they have chosen represent a leader’s “competence,” as in the “hard skills” required to do the job, and which represent a leader’s “connection,” as in those having to do with building relationship.

I have used this question and analysis method hundreds of times and without fail the results are the same. One third of the words used to respond to the question can be put in the bucket of competence/hard skills and two thirds of the words go into the bucket of connection/relationship skills. This is determined by affirmation of the participants. Every time.

It seems we want to follow leaders who consistently demonstrate trust, integrity, listening, empathy and so on. We may comply with leaders who excel in “competence” but we commit to leaders who excel in “connection.”

I encourage the leaders with whom I work to build their capacity for connection. And doing so starts with making oneself vulnerable enough to be known at a human, rather than at a positional level. What happens at a human level is the revelation of personal information that reminds us that no matter what position we hold, our work is happening in the context of our common humanity.

When asked to check in at a meeting, kick off a learning event, or introduce a new colleague, the leaders I most admire – and the ones whose authority is most respected – are the ones who use that as an opportunity to be known in a more authentic way. In so doing, others respond by making themselves known, also. And a virtuous circle of connection is born.


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.

Expect the Unexpected

img_5574Two of our plumeria plants put out seed pods this year.

This was unexpected. Mainly because we had no idea that they did that!

We’ve been growing plumeria for decades now and this has never happened before.

So I researched it and learned that if you want to harvest any seeds you have to let the pod ripen and split open on its own.

The first plant revealed its seeds and we were able to gather a few but it wasn’t much of a harvest. So, I fastened some netting around the second one which allowed us to catch many more. But even then they sat for a while, in the netting, because their owner forget about them.

Knowing nothing about the viability of sun-baked plumeria seeds I followed instructions on how to prepare them for planting.

After an overnight soak between two soggy sheets of paper towel, I poked the winged seeds into some potting soil, placed them in a plastic container (for greenhouse effect) and kept them in a warm lighted place.

And just a week later, look what happened!

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Not to be greedy, but I’m hoping for a few more. I’ve read that it can take a month for them to germinate so there’s still a chance.

Whatever happens from here, I’m so glad that I took a chance on these seeds. I’m so gratified that my efforts have been rewarded with these beautiful sprigs of new life. I’m so thankful to be reminded that sometimes it’s worth building up my expectations so that they can be totally and irreversibly exceeded.

It’s worth starting something. Find your seeds. Help them grow.


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.

Safety, Dignity and Love

The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved. When you feel loved, when you feel safe, and when you know your dignity, you just keep growing! That’s what we do for one another as loving people—offer safe relationships in which we can change. This kind of love is far from sentimental; it has real power. In general, we need a judicious combination of safety and necessary conflict to keep moving forward in life.
– Richard Rohr


It’s bold to say “only,” don’t you think?

“The only people who change, who are transformed, are people who feel safe, who feel their dignity, and who feel loved.”

Yes, it’s bold. But, is it right? Is it true?

Ask yourself, when did you change – when were you transformed – when you felt threatened, worthless and hated?

You didn’t. You weren’t. Because all of your energy was focused on protection, defense and preservation of a status quo that made more sense than an even more uncertain future.

Leadership is best described as holding a vision for a better future and making it possible for others to work towards and fulfill that vision.

That is impossible to do without safety, dignity and love.

Leaders, your mission is clear: create safe environments; uphold the dignity of all people; and love, love, love like you’ve never loved before.


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 nice to have…

…but unnecessary.

That extra hour of sleep, or work, or exercise or reading or meditation or shopping or, you name it.

It’s nice to have some extra time on an early November Sunday but you don’t need it.

The most successful people in the world have exactly the same amount of time as everybody else.

It’s not about how much time. It’s about choices. It’s always about choices.


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.

 

Flower by flower, leaf by leaf

IMG_5803It’s easy to forget that change usually doesn’t happen all at once.

The flowers don’t die because it’s fall. Today is November 2 and we are six weeks into fall but the pink cosmos don’t know that. They don’t care that the leaves litter the lawn. They only ‘know’ that the conditions have remained suitable to their existence until now. And as long as those conditions exist, they will remain in bloom. But that doesn’t make it summer. One day, not too long from now, the change that has been coming, evidenced by shorter days, cooler nights and that growing pile of leaves, will have its say. One good cold snap will put a punctuation mark on the what’s been becoming. The flowers will die off, exhausting their annual potential.

That cold snap is not the full story of the change. It is a dramatic final scene without which the play would not be complete, but it cannot stand alone as a story in its own right.

And what ‘evidence’ do we cling to that change is just a rumor, a fabrication not to be believed? And what dramatic moment are we waiting for to tell us what to think and how to feel rather than working with what’s been taking shape all along?

Every system shows its place in the cycle of change. Our understanding is determined by how much we are willing to see.


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.

Make Work More Human

The following post was written by Renee Smith and first appeared on the Make Work More Human blog on 10/24/2017. In it, Renee explains the origins of the Make Work More Human movement which she leads as the Director of Workplace Transformation at ‘Results Washington’ for the State of Washington.

I am posting it on my site for two reasons. First, Renee is an exceptional leader and her work deserves to be widely known, understood and replicated. Second, she was kind enough to speak to my Management class at Cal State San Marcos this week while in town for another speaking engagement and I want to publicly thank and acknowledge her for doing so. 

To be “human” at work is to be in our natural state. It is neither an exception nor an abstraction. It is the best of us. And the closer we get to integrating our complete humanity with the necessary demands of organizational process and efficiency, the closer we will be to building workplaces that have the ability to become unstoppable forces for positive change.

Not only do we deserve this, but it is in our power to create it.

– DCB


Chris Liu and I were deep in discussion. Chris is director of the Department of Enterprise Services, our state’s central services agency, and I direct Lean Transformation Services for DES. As an agency we are pursuing a human-centered way of working that trusts employees to make things better for customers every day. We want every aspect of the organization to be coherent with that philosophy. This is a big undertaking, and we are committed to pursuing this.

Chris and I were preparing for a short talk, an introduction really, at the state’s annual Lean Conference. We would be introducing two of our teams to share their inspiring stories to an audience of about three hundred. I was helping Chris nail down a clear focus for our introduction.

“Chris,” I asked finally, “what is the most important job of a leader?”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “To eliminate fear from the workplace.” 

Thunder boomed! “That’s it,” I thought, stunned. “That sums up exactly what we’ve been trying to do these last few years at DES. That’s why our teams have stories to share. Chris has been on a quest to fulfill this job as a leader and to show others how as well.”

We named the workshop session “Eliminate Fear.”

But this one conversation with Chris raised more questions for me than it answered. Reflection and dialogue with others made it clear that eliminating fear to create safety is only half the story. What is it that increases to create safety? Some insisted it was courage. Others freedom. All worthy ideas but they did not ring true for me. The thing I now believe that eliminates fear and creates safety at work?

Love.

That’s right, love.

Psychologists sort human emotional experience into two primary categories, fear and love. All other emotions cascade from either fear or love. Understanding this helps us make more sense of and respond more effectively to any of the other emotions we either experience ourselves or encounter in others. An angry or violent child’s emotions can be sourced back to fear. The limbic root of belonging or respect? Love.

At the conference, we opened the workshop with Chris proclaiming that leaders must eliminate fear if they want to see results like our teams are getting. And then I brashly declared that increasing love will help eliminate fear.

Could have heard a pin drop. Nervous laughter. Shuffling. Had I really just said the “L word” in a government sponsored Lean conference?

I reminded the audience that love is human. We all need to know we belong, that our contributions matter. We need to know that we are safe to step out and take risks to improve. When people feel loved at work, they can love their customers and respond to their needs with improvements to safety, cost, time, and quality. A more loving workplace creates the conditions for a Lean culture.

And then…spontaneous applause! And later, comments in the halls, and emails of thanks. People stopped me weeks later to discuss this idea of love at work. I was on to something important.

Since then I’ve sought to understand this outpouring of love for the idea of love at work. There’s research. There’s writing. There’s work with leaders and teams. There’s a community.

And now there’s you too. Welcome to the conversation.

I love that you are here.

Please follow Renee Smith and her work at Make Work More Human. And please work to eliminate fear in your workplace and replace it with love.


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.

Standing in the Tragic Gap

By the tragic gap I mean the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so, but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.” —Parker J. Palmer


This week, more destruction, loss and pain. More reminders of the frailty of the human condition, of the terrible pain we are capable of inflicting on one another. I am tired of swinging from exhausted cynicism to unrealistic idealism. I continue to challenge myself to stand in the middle of the uncertainty, to learn to pause in the ‘tragic gap.’ That challenge and that searching have led me back, once again, to the teaching of Parker Palmer.


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.

 

Smooth Power

“In general, you can lead people (only) as far as you have gone.
Transformed people transform people.”
adapted from Richard Rohr


During the World Series game on Friday night a commentator said that a pitcher was forcing his power instead of relying on his mechanics to produce smooth power.

This reminded me of the difference between the leader who relies on hierarchical authority and the one who relies on experiential authority.

The hierarchical leader tends to be less secure with himself and projects that insecurity onto others in the form of unnecessary controls and unrealistic demands. He operates at a distance, afraid to know or be known because doing so requires vulnerability.

The experiential leader feels secure in himself because he has already confronted his insecurities. He has experienced the transformation of the facade of power into the smooth power that emerges from the mechanics of humility. He operates close in, curious to learn about the human condition, and how that knowledge can lead to individual, team and organizational success.

Smooth power looks effortless because the hardest work has already been done.


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.