Do you still get nervous?

I’ve been performing or presenting in some form or fashion since I was 14 years old. In choirs, as a soloist, a trainer, facilitator, or speaker, I’ve been getting “on stage” for 35 years now. Once I while I’m asked, “Do you still get nervous?”

My answer is always “Yes” and that answer is often met with a look of confusion. Like, how can you have been doing this kind of thing for as long as you have and still feel nervous about it?

What I found myself explaining most recently is what I think of as the difference between functional and dysfunctional nervousness.

My functional nervousness is a result of an energy surge that comes from having an opportunity to do something I care deeply about – be it speaking or singing – and my desire to do the very best job I can possibly do. That nervous energy reminds me that I care and I would be very concerned not to feel it in the moments leading up to the experience.

Dysfunctional nervousness on the other hand, comes from a lack of passion (I’m doing this even though I don’t want to and I hope they don’t notice), a lack of preparation or a lack of experience, and possibly a combination of all three.

Dysfunctional nervousness is the type that induces fear and the very real desire to run away as fast and as far as possible.

My recommendation for moving from dysfunctional or debilitating nervousness to functional or energizing nervousness is to do the following:

  1. Whatever it is, don’t go through the motions. Find your personal passion in the material and deliver it from there. If you can’t find that, what are you even doing there?
  2. Don’t wing it. Do your homework and be prepared. That way, you can put your attention on your audience – who very much want you to succeed – and create an environment of generous, reciprocal positive energy.
  3. Get more at bats. Say “yes” to more opportunities. There is no better teacher than experience and if you really want to feel functional nervousness you’re going to have to go out and find/create the opportunities to do so.

Not only does my being functionally nervous remind me that I care, it reminds that I am alive. That aliveness – that energized and activated presence – is the greatest gift you can give to those who have come to listen.


black microphone

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The Pretense of Self Sufficiency

I like to fix things. I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a qualified auto mechanic or electrician by any stretch, but if you need your new TV setup or your phone reconnected or your files moved to the cloud, I’m a good guy to ask.

I like being good at fixing these small things because they are appreciated and they give my ego a nice dose of self-satisfaction. Also, they let me maintain a sense of control over my surroundings.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to fix things, also. She’s really good at it. Especially in the technical domain she’s a much better problem solver than me.

I don’t admit that easily (see, “maintain a sense of control” above) because for the longest time I wasn’t willing, when she said “I know what to do,” to get out of the way and let her do it. Instead, we would jockey for position and I would finally snap at her to just let me figure it out.

I still do that once in a while but not nearly as much. I’ve learned that her development depends on the ability to express and use her gifts and that my job is to give her the space to do that.

Instead of seeking that ego boost for these small achievements I enjoy watching her proudly play this role in support of her family and friends. I also enjoy the new reality that whatever needs to be done doesn’t have to be done by me.

It seems to me that this is what great leaders do, too. They learn to stop clinging to any pretense of self sufficiency, to not just admit that they need help, but to relish in the opportunity to give others the chance to be helpful.

That’s a pretty great thing to be able to do for someone. It builds esteem, confidence and connection. It creates teams of problem solvers who learn to rely on one another’s unique abilities to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, it creates the widest possible feeling of ownership for whatever we have agreed to create together.

In your workplace today, is there someone you can do this for? Is there someone doing this for you?


The Language of Aliveness

Are you living and leading with as much aliveness as possible? You might consider noticing your language to find out. Your instinctive verbal responses to challenging, complex or even novel circumstances say a lot about how alive and intentional you feel as opposed to how flat and stuck you feel.

This is the difference between holding a thoughtfully investigative, open stance versus one that is dualistic, critical and defensive.

The language of aliveness includes words, questions and phrases like:

Yes.
Let’s go.
I’m curious.
It’s possible.
Wow, look at that!
Let’s find out.
What about this?
Tell me more.
I’m not sure.
I don’t know.
How fascinating!
Let’s understand this better.
How can I help?

This kind of language, however you express it, signals to those around you an eagerness and readiness for learning. Used with careful intention it can be a contagious if fragile bulwark against its easy and defensive opposite.


 

More fun, please

img_6938It seems to me that the designer of this particular user interface had better options than this.

Instead of “No one is invited” how about:

“Who will you be meeting next?” or “Who’s on your invite list?” or “What are you waiting for? Make that call!” or “I can’t read your mind…who’s next?” or “Connection is the seedbed of creativity. Who will you be planting with today?”

I know, these aren’t great and I should stick to my day job, but I do wonder if the designer – team of designers? – knew that they had better options. I wonder if a better option got vetoed because it was “too funny” or “too creative” or “not in line with our customer’s expectations” or “not the best representation of our aspirational corporate image.”

I wonder when business got so dang boring, so risk averse, so disconnected from the actual human beings who work for them and from those they serve?

It’s not really a big deal, this unimaginative interface, but it’s just no fun. And we need more fun, much more of it, even in the form of a silly message on a corporate phone.


 

One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

When is it due?

Have you ever had “Just get it to me whenever you can” turn into “Why haven’t you finished that yet!?!”?

Both the requestor and the producer are complicit in this failure of agreement.

The former needs to provide a clear deadline, even if it’s a best guess, and the producer needs to request one before agreeing to the work.

The deceptively simple give and take of our daily interactions hinge on the clarity of our expectations, those guidelines within which we can plan for our mutual success.


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.

Hiding in Plain Sight

“What is obscure we will eventually see;
what is obvious usually takes a little longer.”
{Edward R. Murrow}


Your team is hiding in plain sight. They are there, you can see them, they are working…all true.

But they are hiding, just the same.

What they are hiding is the depth of their creativity, their energy and their initiative because they do not (well, most of them, statistically speaking do not) feel engaged enough to do so.

In other words, most leaders of most workplaces haven’t earned the right to preserve, protect and defend the most important qualities of the human condition, those qualities that demonstrate who each of us is at our most open, and most vulnerable.

Knowing this as they do, they do not bring those best parts of themselves into the office. They leave them elsewhere for safe keeping…in the car, at home, online.

And the organization is impoverished for the lack of access to their best selves. Complex problems remain unsolved, possibilities remain unexplored, “craziness” remains unexpressed.

This is, technically speaking, a huge bummer.

But there is hope, here on a Tuesday, in the shape of you and your willingness to start a new kind of conversation in a brand new way. It goes like this:

“I would like to earn the right to get to know you at your most creative, energized and engaged. What would need to be true around here for that to happen?”


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.

How to Change an Organization

In The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King the character Pippin, who is one of a ‘band of brothers’ on a quest to save Middle Earth, lights a beacon (a large and strategically placed bonfire) that begins a ripple effect of many more such lightings. From mountain peak to mountain peak, the fires are lit, passing along an urgent call to action. It is the Middle Earth version of S.O.S. and 911.

The lighting of the beacons is my favorite scene in the trilogy of films, both because it is beautifully constructed and filmed and because of the message it gives us about how we might begin our own efforts at organizational change.

None of us is preparing for a war that will determine the outcome of Middle Earth, though on some days it feels just that way. What we are hoping for, and struggling to enact, is change that allows us to operate more effectively in the every day. We want our best efforts to equate to beneficial outcomes alongside people we care about. That does not happen by accident. It happens when we commit ourselves to the necessities of adaptation.

The lighting of the beacons is not the story of a single fire but of the manner in which the lighting of one fire begets the lighting of the next. Most organizational change efforts are single fire, top-down affairs that rarely translate into new practices and better outcomes. Instead, they fizzle out, leaving cynicism and frustration smoldering in the ash heap.

What gets missed is that real change only happens at the level of the individual fire, with each group designing its own plans for change in the larger context of the system of which it is a part. This is messy and disjointed at first but allows the personalization of change – involvement and ownership at the ground floor – that is directly connected to the whole. When each group’s beacon is lit, it sends a declaration that serves to inspire other’s to light their own.

This shared responsibility for owning a link in the chain of change connects people in ways that top-down commands simply cannot do. The leader’s job is to answer where we are going and why.  The team’s job is to provide the how. Let them start the fire of change and they will strive to keep it burning for as long as they are entrusted 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.

You have 30 seconds. Go!

Who are you?

What do you want to do?

Why should I care about that?

These questions are the backbone of any good “elevator pitch,” a brief statement of purposeful introduction that helps one person understand another person’s intentions.

I teach a Business Professional Development course for undergraduate students and this week in class I had the students form two circles in the center of the classroom – one facing in and one facing out – and stand face to face with one peer after another to practice their elevator pitches.

Including brief feedback comments after each round, each person had four chances to practice their pitch in just under twenty minutes. When we got to the final round I asked the students to put their notes away and simply share their pitch with their final partner as best they could. I wanted them to feel the anxiety and, as it turns out, the freedom of simply talking to someone else, off script, about what they want to do.

They ended up surprising themselves, reporting significant increases in confidence and composure from round one to round four. Most importantly, they learned that those first few practice rounds equipped them to leap without a net in the final round…and land safely on their feet.

Since we had an uneven number in our class that day, I joined the circle and took a few turns of my own. It was a fun and helpful challenge to make my pitch, to remind myself what I am here to do, why I want to do it and, most importantly, to ask for what I want. Until that happens, we can’t expect others to know how to help us!

Here’s what I said:

Hi, my name is David Berry. Six years ago I started a leadership coaching and consulting firm called RULE13 Learning. My mission is to equip leaders to be more effective, more confident and more human in the face of complexity and change. I am seeking speaking opportunities with organizations who are committed to continuous learning and whose leaders are hungry for both the encouragement and the tools they need to be successful. Does that sound like your company?

If only for a renewed sense of clarity about your particular mission and purpose, take some time to consider your pitch. It may awaken a dormant intention or spark a creative insight. It may remind you what you most want to do and give you the boost you need to go ahead and ask for 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.

The Leadership Compass

I’ve told the story many times of my getting lost in the woods while hiking in a forest on Whidbey Island, WA. Three days in a row I headed out in the early morning darkness on a well-marked trail and three days in a row I got lost.

Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was dark. But three days in a row? There has to be more to the story. And there is: I’m an impatient, fast-acting, things-will-work-out-fine-if-I-just-get-started kind of person. By refusing to slow down, much less stop, I repeatedly failed to see and read the signs – literally and otherwise – that would have kept me on the right path.

On the Leadership Compass that behavior puts me squarely in the North. The compass is a tool I use with both clients and students to help them see their operating preferences accurately and to develop empathy for the operating preferences of others. Just as there is no wrong direction on a compass, there is no wrong leadership personality. Understanding these preferences is key to understanding the persistent and challenging conflicts that take place in organizational settings every day.

After asking a group to sort themselves into one of the following categories, I ask them to discuss the questions that follow:

  • NORTH: Acting – Likes to get going, try things, plunge in.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been considered and voices have been heard before acting.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
  1. What are the strengths of your style?
  2. What are the limitations of your style?
  3. Which style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from the other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?
  5. What do you value about the other three styles?

I am comfortable asserting that if I had been accompanied on that forest trail by someone from the WEST, SOUTH or EAST I would not have gotten lost. Besides the additional set of eyes and ears, their different sensibility would have tempered my natural inclination to go too fast.

But since there are times we must act alone, keeping our knowledge of the different Compass elements front of mind, and reminding ourselves that we have the ability if not the preferential comfort to practice them, allows us to avoid being servants to our first impulse.

The dynamics of change will frequently require us to walk in the dark. That does not mean we have to get lost.

Personality Compass – Turner & Greco, 1998
Leadership Compass Self Assessment – Be the Change Consulting, 2010


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.