Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Beannacht
{John O’Donohue}
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

The High Five Test

Vicki Gravlin is a local school district administrator who is responsible for “academic excellence and innovation.” She spoke to my business school undergraduate classes this week about the joys, challenges and every day realities of leading innovation and change in the highly diverse and complicated world of K-12 education.

In a common sense, often very funny and always inspirational style, she reminded us that an effective leader is “always on” and always engaged, especially when it’s the last thing they want to be. She challenged us to meet our people right where they are – at their school, in their office, in the classroom – to best understand what is going on, how they are feeling and what they need.

One of her proven methods for doing so is through the liberal application of the “High Five” test. It’s not complicated. She stands at the door of the classroom (or walks around her office environment) and as the students file past she gives them a high five. From this simple and brief act of physical contact she is able to gather a ton of information about both that individual and the state of the group overall.

A look away and a half-hearted effort probably means that the student is preoccupied or disengaged. A too aggressive slap of her hand lets her know there is something unresolved or unexpressed. She’s learned to pull a lot of data from these encounters but she doesn’t accept it all at face value. She connects and verifies with those around her through sincere questions and thoughtful listening to put the pieces together.

Vicki’s high five test is a reminder of the simple and potent power of connection. A small and sincere effort, in the classroom or the office, to even just momentarily connect with others kicks open the door of learning and awareness.

If you’re looking for evidence of thoughtful and committed leadership, the consistent pursuit of learning and awareness is about the best data you can get.


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.

Called to Rise

We never know how high we are
{Emily Dickinson}

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—


My father was an Episcopal priest and so it was not entirely a surprise when, around my 13th birthday my mother asked me if I had any inclination to follow that path for myself.

“Absolutely not,” I declared.

“But what if you are called?,” she asked.

“I would hang up!,” I shot back.

A few years later I would have gladly borrowed some of that conviction for what I didn’t want in my search to figure out what I did.

It became clear with the benefit of hindsight that a path was taking shape in front of me but it was so difficult to believe it in the moment that I hesitated to step forward. I was being called to rise – into myself, into my gifts – but I lacked trust in what I had already done as evidence of what I could and would become. The pieces were there, but the puzzle remained a mystery.

The clues to the solution came with a couple of major revelations. First, that what I had to offer was wanted and valued and, second, that the way I would and could offer it would remain beyond my imagination until I lived it into being. I know that sounds squishy but for me it’s the difference between reading a recipe and wondering about how it will taste and going ahead and making it to find out. It may not turn out as you imagined it but now that there’s a baseline, adjustments can be made.

I still wrestle with the voice in the head that shouts that I dare not dream “to be a King.” And those I mentor and teach, along with good friends and colleagues, generously share their own version of that same inner struggle.

I encourage myself and I encourage them with the reminder that I remain the worst possible judge of my potential; that if I sincerely want to respond to the call that comes for me, I must surround myself with those who will not only help me hear it but also grab the phone away before I can hang it up.


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 Get to Choose

You have a choice today: to lead with your competence, your position, your title, your sanctioned authority, or to lead with connection, your open heart, your curiosity, your earned authority.

You have a choice today – a choice you have every day – and how you choose determines the culture of your workplace, the quality of your relationships and the level of joy experienced in the work itself.

Please do not underestimate this choice. In fact, just try to overestimate the ripple effects of its impact. You will struggle to do so because most people do. A reality that positive and that full of possibility cannot be assumed, it must be earned.


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.

 

Nothing to see here

img_6409I’ve got this neighbor who drives a truck and tows a trailer behind it. Both the truck and the trailer are consistently full of random stuff, making him a kind of junk man. It seems that some folks have gotten the idea that all of that random stuff must equate to some kind of value because he’s taken to putting this sign up in the window.

When I noticed it this morning I imagined it as an incidental projection of the state of his self-esteem. And then I realized that what I was actually noticing was the darker truth that it reminded me about what was once the state of my own self-esteem.

It’s a stretch to say that I ever considered myself “value-less” but I have potent recollections of periods in my life when I put up a good front to protect against people finding out what little substance I had to offer. I remember a haphazard set of feelings that included confidence of having certain abilities but insecurity about not knowing what to do with them. And that not knowing compiled on itself until it became serious self-doubt.

For a long time it felt like a sick joke to know quite deeply how much I had to offer but to have absolutely no direction or comprehension about how to offer it. Because of some very good people who gave me some strong nudges in the right direction; because of some fortunate experiences that forced my maturity (like storing seeds in a dark cold place so that when they hit the warm earth and sun they only know to grow); because of some small risks I was finally willing to take; the not knowing turned into a hazy knowing which built some confidence which allowed me to own my gifts and start to employ them in ways that brought a sense of value.

Perhaps this is familiar to you. Or perhaps you recognize someone in your circle who carries themself as if they have nothing of value inside. More challenging still, that person may present a facade that is so well constructed that you have been convinced otherwise.

Whatever the case, it’s time for a strong nudge from someone just like you. For that matter, you might even have to break the glass. But do that and do it soon. The sooner they see how much you love, respect and value them, the sooner they will be on the path of offering that same consideration to themselves.


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.

Happy (just not enough)

Walt Disney created and invited us to the “happiest place on earth.” Do you think he believed that the place itself – the castle and the rides and the well-manicured grounds – was the source of that happiness? Or do you think that he delighted in providing a backdrop, a scene onto which we could project our own visions of happiness with and around the people we love, the relationships that are the real source of our happiness?

Whatever Disney has become, I like the romantic idea that Walt attempted to live into the latter question, that he was simply creating a new environment, one never before imagined, within which we could stimulate and reenforce the best of ourselves and the best of those we love. That he could build an empire on that premise might have, but probably didn’t surprise him.

Walking down Main Street this morning, I carried a sense of opportunity that Walt and Mickey’s playground could and would provide that very stimulus for me and my family. That walk remains magical to me, a few moments of suspended reality and appreciation for an extraordinary vision superbly brought to life.

As the day advanced and the spring break crowd grew larger, I appreciated something else that Walt in all his genius could not possibly have imagined: that it wouldn’t be enough for us; that no matter how creative and fanciful, how daring and surprising, this island of fantasy and adventure could never stand up to the onslaught of the mobile device.

The happiest place on earth is real. The catch is that it only exists when and where we allow it to. And it seems, more and more, that we are not willing to do that. With every glance at the phone we are reminded of what and where and with whom we are not, rather than what and where and with whom we are. That kind of dissociation from the present moment, even at a place as remarkable as Disneyland, makes Disneyland less than remarkable.

Because it’s not about the place. It is always and only about the people. And when the people are present, curious and engaged with one another and their surroundings, that place – any place – feels magical. And when they are not, there is no amount of window dressing that can do a thing about it.

No one has taken the magic from us, we’ve done that to ourselves. And we alone will have to decide if we’re willing to take it back.


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.

Things I know nothing about

I won’t bore you but the list is long.

I used to think I had to be perceived as knowing things even when I didn’t. That facade was grueling to maintain and so easily pierced.

Today, I enjoy saying, “I don’t know” or “That’s cool, tell me more about that” or “Beats me, what do you think?”

It’s so much easier, so much more conducive to meaningful connection and I also end up learning a lot. Maybe that’s maturity and a little bit of the hard-earned wisdom that comes with it. I also think it has to do with being clear and confident about what I do know and being invested in helping that to grow in new ways.

The byproduct of clarity and purpose is a sense of ease and composure. In that space it’s easy to acknowledge what I don’t know because I am so energized by what I do.


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.

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.