What You Already Know

My coaching clients, regularly and repeatedly, react with the same kind of understated agreement when I share the feedback I have gathered from their peers and colleagues.

What they learn is no surprise. They are, in fact, underwhelmed by the process because it confirms what they already know.

The privilege of my work is to provide them that information in a way they haven’t heard it and within a process that allows us to take action on the feedback.

What do you already know? Who will help you do something about it?


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.

 

Scattered Thoughts On Creativity

Starting here: I recently watched the film, “My Neighbor Totoro” by Hayao Miyazaki. It was recommended by a friend following a conversation on creativity. A children’s film, such as it is, I settled down with my two daughters last Sunday afternoon to check it out. Interestingly enough, the movie centers on two sisters who are adapting to a move to the countryside. As they explore their new home the power of their imagination brings to life magical creatures and incredible happenings, the most significant of which is an enormous tree sprouting from their yard in the middle of the night. In reality they had simply planted some seeds. In their imagination (fueled by their insistence on immediate gratification) the tree erupted from the ground, filled the sky and became their new vantage point on the world around them.

Creativity starts with “rootedness.” A grounding in something solid and well-defined. Seeds are planted, roots move into the earth fed by nutrients and pulled by gravity, preparing for an upward push towards the sky. The tree is simultaneously moving into the earth as it extends itself into open space.

When I weave in Andy Goldsworthy’s idea that “change is best understood by staying in one place” the image of the tree as a metaphor for creative thought and action takes on another layer of meaning. The tree is stationary; growing down to grow up. It is a keen observer of the world around it and it uses this awareness to adapt and to grow. Stay with me here…

Let’s personalize it: I am the tree. If I am well-planted, well-rooted in my beliefs and values; if I am willing to stand firmly in reality, aware of who and what is around me and committed to continuous learning about them, I create the conditions for creative possibility. As I stretch myself upward, I do not do so at the risk of losing my “groundedness,” I do so because of it. My confidence is fed by the core truths at my base; the steady supply of food and water.

Change is a certainty. It is the wind that topples the shallow-rooted tree. Learning, creativity and adaptability are a must in the face of change. And they are only possible when the conditions are right, when the roots are deep.

Don’t Motivate Me, Please

People are internally motivated. The good work of leadership is to tap into that motivation and accelerate, support, deepen and encourage it. I think the biggest leadership mistake is one of getting in the way of what is already there. It is the hubris of thinking that I either have to supply motivation or that my version of it is superior to what someone brings with them. This is classically paternalistic. “That’s nice,” says the well-intentioned leader, “but here’s how it should be.”

So many employees buy into this paternalism because they love the protection it affords. They are making a painful trade-off by accepting someone else’s version of how they should feel, think and believe and only because they are separated by one rung on the pay scale. At best this substitution of perspective is an ill-fitting replacement and at worst it’s deeply corrosive. The courageous leadership move is toward a partnership that is about maximizing what the individual has to offer; what you saw in them in the first place that made you want to hire them.

Leaders control, in my opinion, because the chaos of the individual is just too overwhelming. That is to say, most leaders don’t seem to have the capacity to treat each individual employee as a naturally, uniquely motivated person and figure out how to make the most it. And that capacity doesn’t exist because the leader hasn’t looked within long enough or purposefully enough to discover their own motivation. Ultimately, they just end up repeating the pattern of their experience because they haven’t learned to value and express their personal, internal perspective. Instead, the leader lumps everyone together, expecting them to be “just like me” and thinking that somehow this is going to lead to innovation and value creation.

How can it possibly?

Start within. The courageous step is the one back to yourself.

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.

Ambivalence

Pinned to my bulletin board is a card received from a friend during a professional transition that significantly impacted us both. She wrote:

“Here’s to the next chapter! I say it with a pit in my stomach and eyes forward to the new.”

To acknowledge our discomfort with change while holding onto our belief in the possibility of what’s to come seems like a good description of maturity.

The last of the finches fledged on our patio has flown the nest. I will miss the daily, sometimes hourly, opportunity to see them grow before my eyes. I am also glad they’re gone.

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 to do when they change the rules

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Play it as it lies…

The official rules of golf have been changed! I know, in addition to the crazy swirl of national and world events, not to mention the relentless, arrhythmic drumbeat of your daily life this is sure to appear nowhere on any list of anything that you care about it.

Even so, bear with me for just a moment. I promise that I will spare you an analysis of the rule changes and talk directly about how this is a relevant example of adjusting to the unexpected.

A change to the rules of golf, esoteric to most, got my attention for one simple reason. I named my company after one of them.

The name of my company is RULE13 Learning. “Rule 13” in the old rulebook was “play it as it lies.” I chose this name for my company because it represents a lot of things that matter for leaders who are wrestling with personal, team and organizational change. It is about acceptance, resilience, responsibility and creativity.

I worked in the golf equipment industry for many years and felt great about naming my company after such a fundamental proposition: accept where you are and figure out how to get somewhere even better.

“Play it as it lies” is still a rule, of course, but by simplifying the rules down from 35 to 24, the old “Rule 13” has now become “Rule 9.”

RULE9 Learning? What do you think?

Yeah, me neither.

So, what to do? First, I just had a good LAUGH. I never – EVER – considered that this could happen. The rules of golf just are what they are (or were what they were): an accepted, if sometimes frustrating list of how to play a very traditional, conservative and inherently rule-bound game. The United States Golf Association and the R&A (or “Royal & Ancient”) are the official keepers of the rules of golf and are not what one would describe as liberal or progressive organizations.

And that means that I fell into the same trap I counsel my clients to avoid: believing that even the most hide-bound organizations cannot or will not change. If you look at it objectively, with participation in golf and golf industry revenues remaining flat or declining for at least the past 10 years and probably longer, OF COURSE the governing bodies were going to do something to make the game more approachable and enjoyable.

The irony of that…of having missed something so elusive because of its outward appearance and yet so obvious because of its inward reality just made me start to laugh.

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And don’t forget to have some fun!

And out of that laughter came the realization that I now have to ADJUST. I have to rethink and rewrite the language on my website. I have to rethink the story I tell about why and how I named my company. I have to recast that meaning in a new manner, one that demonstrates that even decisions that seem perfectly sound and timeless will be made irrelevant by the passage of time.

What’s more, this couldn’t of happened at a better time. I just celebrated the 5th anniversary of my business and as I continue to learn how to deliver meaningful work and my clients continue to shape my point of view, it is an ideal time for some thoughtful reconsideration.

I have a responsibility to stay at the leading edge of my own personal and professional transformation and the governing bodies of golf just gave me an extraordinary assist in doing so!

Now, having enjoyed a good laugh and considered some necessary adjustments it’s time to GET BACK TO WORK. I’m very proud of RULE13 Learning, LLC. It’s a growing enterprise with dynamic offerings and a terrific roster of clients. In fact, I’m more committed to the name and what it stands for now than perhaps I have ever been.

So, thank you to the USGA and the R&A for reminding of what I knew, that when we commit to playing it as it lies we commit to the whole experience: good, bad, challenging and rewarding.

We accept it all. We have a good laugh. We make some adjustments.

And then we get back to 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.

It’s a circle, not a line

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There’s a great moment in the movie “Contact” when Jodie Foster’s character – and pretty much every scientist and engineer on the planet -is trying to figure out how to read the design plans for a transportation device that has been broadcast to earth by an alien species.

Attempting to read the plans in a linear manner – in the same way we would read any text – proves impossible. The images and symbols simply don’t line up using the tried and true approach. Finally, Foster is tipped off that the “documents” themselves are actually multi-dimensional and once connected on three sides they become usable. This changes everything.

I had an insight recently that feels a lot like that.

My work with leaders and teams is centered on three interconnected principles, the application of which is the best “equipment” for building resilience and adaptability that I have learned to apply. But I’ve been thinking of it too narrowly, a victim of the same “tried and true” thinking described above.

These principles are the bedrock of my work, the centerpiece of every conversation:

  1. All change starts within. That is, we must develop a deep self-awareness, a fully literate self-understanding if we are to be sufficiently rooted to withstand the winds of change. That self-awareness creates an extraordinary byproduct known as empathy. When we know ourselves we begin to understand the depth to which others can be known and our curiosity leads us directly to…
  2. Deeper connection and stronger relationships. A single rooted tree does not make a forest. It is a collection of rooted trees, co-mingling there roots beneath the surface that makes a forest, an ecosystem within which shelter can be found, diversity can flourish and possibility begins too emerge.
  3. From that place of deep personal awareness and committed connection to one another we become open to the new. We know we must keep learning and exploring if we are going to survive and even thrive in the face of change. We also know that it’s far easier to peer into the unknown – to stand at the edge of the proverbial cliff – when we’re inextricably linked to others, our fears and doubts made tolerable by their presence and encouragement.

But then what?

And here’s the insight, something so obvious that I haven’t taken the time to understand and consider it an explicit way.

What happens after the cliff edge is that we walk the circle again.

 What I learn about myself at the cliff edge becomes the next layer of my self-awareness.

What we learn about one another through that shared experience becomes the next layer of empathy and trust in our relationship.

And it is that accumulation, that layering of self and relational knowledge, that equips us to courageously ask the inevitable question: what’s next?

We walk the circle again. And now, a little bit more faithful, a little bit more thoughtful and a little bit more prepared, we go even further.

Our ability to adapt and grow in the face of change is only limited by our willingness to walk the circle, to not break the chain from self to others to learning.

To keep walking. That is everything.

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 Fire That Saves

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Patches of dead and dying trees near Cressman, Calif., in 2016. CreditScott Smith/Associated Press

“100 Million Dead Trees Prompt Fears of Giant Wildfires” is the headline of an article in today’s New York Times that examines how interrupting the forest’s natural state – its inherent ability to “use” fire to its advantage – has created the potential for unsurpassed devastation:

Mark A. Finney, an expert in fire behavior for the U.S. Forest Service and an author of the study, says California forests are much more vulnerable now because, paradoxically, they have been better protected. In their natural state, forests were regularly thinned by fire but the billions of dollars that the state spends aggressively fighting wildfires and restrictions on logging have allowed forests to accumulate an overload of vegetation.

“We had forests that were very resilient to weather variations and insect disturbances in the past — maintained by frequent fire on the order of every year, or every few years at the most,” Mr. Finney said. By putting out fires, “we’ve changed completely the fire component of these ecosystems,” he said.

The same is true for many people. Instead of allowing for and learning from change we protect against it in all its forms. When we open ourselves up to what is shifting in our lives – and the shift is always going on – we build a resilience that serves us well when the inevitable big changes come. The alternative is to suffer a drought of adaptability and to eventually be fully consumed by something we could have learned to contend with.

Are you over-protecting and making yourself vulnerable to a devastating fire? Or are you learning – one small burn at a time – to thin out the undergrowth of your personal ecosystem by learning to notice, accept and learn from the truth of continuous change in your life?

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 One Conversation That Will Change Everything

oneYou want to get better at having more challenging and courageous conversations. What you’re doing now isn’t working so you’re looking for a better way, a way to hold a real conversation that actually leads to meaningful change. Like most people you’ve done your research and found that there’s no shortage of books to help you out:

Crucial Conversations, The Art of Conversation, Fierce Conversations, How to Talk to Anyone, You Just Don’t Understand!, That’s Not What I Meant!, are just a few.

And you’ve discovered that with rare exceptions, these approaches are externally rather than internally focused. They teach tips, strategies and approaches for how to engage and influence someone else during a moment of truth and make it productive, or at least better than last time.

While there is no doubt that some of these methods can work, they typically amount to no more than a shortcut around the much more significant and important conversation that needs to take place. That is the conversation within your self.

A more courageous conversation begins when we say “yes” to the invitation to examine the elements of our own individuality.

Instead of, “I will learn and employ this technique to get this person to respond in this way” (which is ultimately, if unintentionally a manipulative approach) what if a more personal and courageous set of questions was asked? Questions like,

  • What am I doing to contribute to this situation?
  • What responsibility do I have for what’s going on?
  • What are my values and how are they feeling threatened or compromised right now?
  • How confident do I feel about my work, position, authority or impact? How might I be acting out against some insecurity?
  • What am I doing – what strengths am I using – when I’m at my best? Am I at my best right now?
  • What stories do I tell about what should be happening? About what others think of me? About how I’ve been treated?
  • How am I getting in my own way?
  • Who’s help do I need?
  • What am I afraid of? What’s really at stake?

This is just a start but it could be a powerful one. It’s certainly a challenging one. And what if you got yourself up for the challenge and began this conversation in earnest? What if you decided to firmly and totally believe – even against present evidence to the contrary – that your progress in holding a deepening conversation with yourself would become a fertile seed bed for the growth of more substantive interactions with all of your significant others?

There aren’t too many people who are willing to take this level of responsibility. There aren’t too many who are willing to adopt the attitudes of vulnerability, transparency, ownership and service that are required. But leaders are willing to do so, which is why authentic leadership is actually quite a rare thing.

What you’re doing now isn’t working so you’ve started looking for a better way, a way to hold a real conversation that actually leads to meaningful change. Stop looking outside of your self and start looking within.

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 Story of Now

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

— Thomas Merton —

The Story of Now is the story of what we do with our learning and how we continue to develop it. It is the story of turning insight into action, of turning our internal awareness toward our external reality. In other words, it is the story of how we change.

My daughter attends a school that is primarily made up of Hispanic students. Yesterday they were concerned about the election. Today, many are scared that they will be forced to “return” to a country they have never visited. This is not unique to her school or our community. This is our new national reality and it doesn’t much feel like the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today, I am thinking of our great country as a small child who has crawled into its mother’s lap seeking reassurance that bad things won’t happen. That mother, like all mothers do, lies to her child. She says, “everything will be ok” and “nothing bad is going to happen.” She delays the child’s experience of reality because she knows that the child needs reassurance right now, in this moment. Sixty million Americans crawled onto mom’s lap yesterday because they preferred to be seduced by the lie of simplistic reassurance rather than challenged to wrestle with the complexity of truth.

The truth is that the America of the 1950’s – homogenous and predictable – no longer exists. It hasn’t for some time. That change has been hard for lots and lots of people, in real ways that I have no intention of denigrating or belittling. Globalization is real. The world is smaller and more connected than ever before. Jobs have been lost. The definition of marriage has changed. The make-up of our citizenry has changed. Racism (and so many other “-isms”) remains pervasive. A black man was elected president…twice! And, sadly our government has proven itself to be an ineffective monolith of self-serving behavior. In the face of all of that, with the option of choosing either a deeply flawed woman who was prepared for the job or a detestable narcissist who is grotesquely unqualified, well…60 million people spit in the face of common decency, picked up their ball and walked home.

It’s an immature, shallow response to a new level of complexity. The greatest nation on earth just announced that it is not prepared for change. The “right” guy came along at the right time to fan the flames of uncertainty and send half of the electorate to act on the regressed belief that machismo, polarization and isolation are not only viable but preferable responses. This is stark evidence that when imagination is lacking human beings do the simplest thing they can think of, even when it’s horribly wrong.

We have to, perhaps now we will, reconcile ourselves to the depth of our country’s division. We need leaders who are equipped for that and we need them at all levels of public and private service. In part, that “equipment” is the ability to tell three distinctly and inextricably linked stories: one of personal understanding, one of deep connection, and one of continuous learning. That last one? That’s the Story of Now.

An honest and ongoing self-examination reveals us to ourselves and creates the opportunity to do something with and about what we discover. That experience creates openness to others and the ability to enter into and build relationships of powerful empathy and mutual reliance. With that foundation in place it becomes possible to wrestle – productively, positively, imaginatively – with the realities of complexity and change.

Know yourself. Commit to others. Learn together to create change. That’s the recipe mature adults – mature leaders – follow to navigate toward and meet the challenges of our shared existence. Yes, there are many days we long for mother’s lap and her false promises of security. But we don’t succumb to that temptation because we have earned the ability and made the commitment to stand on our own two feet, holding each other up when the going is difficult. We have earned the ability to see simplistic lies, false promises, fear mongering and hatred for exactly what they are.

The changing face of our country and the interconnectedness of our world will only continue, regardless of what happens these next few years. More acceptance is coming. More openness is coming. More structural dependency is coming. More integrated, holistic and systemic thinking is coming. And it will be created, sustained and led by people who understand how to speak the stories of understanding, connection and learning.

The Story of Now is happening…now. If ever there was a time to write your part, this is it.

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.