Take the path of vulnerability

I hand out an assignment to my class. There are a list of options from which to choose, one of which is “Emotional Intelligence.” Perusing the list a student raises his hand and asks, “Will you please tell me what ‘Emotional Intelligence” is?

An act of vulnerability in service of learning.

A friend says to me, “I would like to get to know you better.”

An act of vulnerability in service of relationship.

A leader asks his team, “How can I be better for you?”

An act of vulnerability in service of…service.

Small acts that point to an essential truth: there is nothing we care about that won’t require us to make ourselves vulnerable. If we don’t care, we don’t bother.

The link below will take you to a 12 minute clip (which inspired this post) of one of my favorite teachers, David Whyte, speaking to the truth of vulnerability as the access point to real conversation.

David Whyte — Poetry from the On Being Gathering (Closing Words) https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-closing-words-oct2018


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.

Change at the Margin

At the edges, not at the center. That’s where real change begins.

We work from the outside in, a series of small but potent actions in service of our highest aspirations:

  • small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting,
  • brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting,
  • “below the line” conversations with customers about their aspirations for their own enterprises,
  • common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • and how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.


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 Importance of Local

When I focus too much of my attention on global, national and even regional issues I am left feeling negative, overwhelmed and sometimes even heartbroken.

When I focus more of attention on my local community, especially those sub-communities of which I am a part – family, church, workplace, client organizations – I feel challenged, energized, connected and yes, sometimes heartbroken.

I consider it my responsibility to be an informed global, national and regional citizen. I consider it a privilege to be a participant within the vibrant context just beyond my front door.

The difference is intimacy, physical connection and the natural give and take of creating and sustaining viable communities. We can and must continue to pay attention to the big picture but nothing changes, nothing at all, until we practice locally.

At a recent dinner with friends we followed the routine pattern of loose and light introductory conversation. And then, with the comfort of a good meal and the support of our earned trust, we found another level.  We explored race and gender and education. We did so inexpertly and we solved nothing, changed no minds, won no victories. What we did accomplish, at least as I see it, was to remind ourselves that we share the same concerns, that we need a place to express them, and that it is a powerful gift to provide and receive that from one another.

In that spirit, here’s an organization you should know about: The People’s Supper. They have models and tools to help us come together around the table to connect more openly, to listen and to learn.

Their focus is local, the only place we can start to change.


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 are you?”

Here it comes…

“Fine, thanks.”

“Great.”

End of conversation.

Or…

“How are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“That’s good to hear, because I’ve noticed that you haven’t quite been yourself lately. You seem a little down.”

“Oh, was it noticeable? It’s just that…”

The conversation – the real conversation – continues. Or at least has a chance to.

And why is that? Because as a leader you are always paying attention. And when someone is not who you know them to be you check it out.

You get curious.

You get interested.

And you stick with it until you’ve done all you can to help them work through it.

Not for the sake of productivity. Not for the sake of efficiency. Not because of the big project deadline.

Because you’re a human being.

And that’s what we’re here to 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.

Just Do Something

A friend once complained that since he didn’t have time to do his “full” workout he wasn’t going to bother going to the gym.

He knew that a quick walk around the block would make him feel better – would be a good use of the time he did have – but his benchmark for “workout” wouldn’t allow it.

Or have you ever been in conversation with a colleague and said, “Well, I don’t have time to go into that right now” and then gone into it anyway and found that “that” only took a few minutes?

It wasn’t the expression itself that needed much time but the buildup – perhaps the anxiety – you felt about it that made it feel that way.

Or is it even possible that you knew that once you expressed it you would have let the air out of that particular balloon, the stretched surface of which had provided a particular kind of self-righteousness. Once expressed – once normalized – that feeling no longer quite fit the situation and had to be let go.

I’m convinced that leaders regularly avoid career conversations, development conversations and even routine feedback conversations with their employees because they have a story in their head that a “big” conversation requires a big expense of time and energy when all they’ve got is the equivalent of a walk around the block.

The big investments – relationships, fitness, education – require some effort every day. Drip by drip that effort accumulates into something stable, sustainable and reliable.

Heavy rains tend to do more harm than good.


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.

Culture is a Playground

What if you thought of your organization’s culture as a playground?

You might establish clear boundary markers. You might provide resources that induce creative interactions. You might not legislate rules but rather allow them to form organically, as a result of your teams natural inclination to create a workspace of accountability and accomplishment. You might provide soft landings for those who risk, experiment and explore.

You might keep alive an enthusiastic conversation about where you are going so the team is reminded of why they chose this particular playground on which to play their game.

You might lead by example, creating a higher standard of engagement for those who have the most responsibility and the biggest paychecks. You might not allow team members to “sit this one out” but rather learn how to have the conversations that re-engage them in the work. You might help the bullies and the narcissists and the prima donnas find the exit as fast as humanly possible.

You might provide drinks and snacks and sit together once in a while to celebrate a job well done, a game well-played.

You might.

But will you?

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.