From Theory to Practice

Oh, what I would give to have my ideas show up on the page, in the speech, in the classroom, in the coaching session as beautifully formed as when they first took flight in my imagination.

Alas, it never happens that way. Not once, not ever.

So I persist, as you do, in taking the inspiration of that starting point and turning it into “good enough.” Understanding that “good enough” is more than just “something,” that it is everything. Because without it we are left with nothing.

And nothing is not an option. Not when there’s this much possibility. Not when there’s this much to do.


 

Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


silhouette of person holding glass mason jar

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

Quiet Power

When the power went off unexpectedly today, the washer and dryer stopped, the dishwasher cut short its cycle and the lights clicked off. The TV and its attachments were disabled, and there would be no charging of phones or computers for over four hours. Dinner plans were made, “Plan A” if the oven was functional, “Plan B” if not. And under no circumstances was the refrigerator or freezer to be opened.

It was a brief, not unpleasant, but wholly conspicuous reminder of our dependency on effective sources of power. When power is present and available to us, it is an invisible force that allows us to go about the day secure in our focus on matters of creativity and connection rather than on contingency plans for keeping food cold.

Human power, when capably and humbly applied is a source of reassurance and possibility. As you have no doubt experienced, when it is applied with arrogant insecurity, everything that worked seamlessly before comes to an abrupt and disruptive halt.


windmills on seashore under white clouds

Photo by Jem Sanchez on Pexels.com

 

Freedom to Create, Freedom to Lead

Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new creative leaders of the next period of history.
{Richard Rohr}


The disciplines of creativity and leadership require freedom from the limitations that stem from our undeveloped, unexamined selves.

You cannot be creative if you are continuously second-guessing yourself, consumed by concern about other’s opinions or stifled by perfectionism. It just doesn’t work that way. And the same goes for leadership.

To do either effectively demands agility, flexibility, exploration and the ego strength that only comes from robust self-awareness.

Creative leadership, then, exists when the leader engages the team in an open and ongoing conversation about what is working, what is not, where we are going and what we can do to get there.

Creative leadership, then, requires a dedicated effort to normalize change as the best friend of our future effectiveness.

When we celebrate our freedom, the independence gained from breaking old constraints, we are also called to celebrate the opportunity to be stewards of a new creation.


bird animal freedom fly

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It Can Be Done Another Way

I find it easy sometimes to get stuck on how something should be done versus how something can be done. Preferences for certain actions can blind us to the fact that a chosen behavior is indeed preferential and not the only option.

We have some large palm trees in our front yard and occasionally a frond will snap and fall to the ground. These can be ten feet long and very heavy which means they need to be cut up to fit in our green waste can. I have a great hand saw that is perfect for the job while also providing a decent workout!

On one occasion I asked my son to do the cutting and he proceeded to plug-in an electric saw – not one intended for this kind of job – and carved up the branch without breaking a sweat. I remember saying, “That’s not how you do it! You’re supposed to use the hand saw.”

He gave me his best “Are you kidding me?” look with a hint of “Did you want this done or did you want this done your way?” I don’t remember exactly but I probably doubled-down with something like, “But that’s what the hand saw is for, not to mention it’s good exercise.”

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The fact is that he got the job done in a perfectly acceptable way and in a manner that was gratifying to him. Regardless of how I feel about it, that should be enough.

The leadership lesson in this is that if you hire highly qualified people and pay them highly qualified salaries you need to provide them the autonomy they need to do what you hired them to do. Creative and capable people will express themselves beautifully in the right conditions, and those conditions must always include the freedom to make their mark, to test ideas, to share their experience and to solve problems.

Breaking a sweat can be gratifying but it’s hardly ever proof of the best way to do the 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.

The Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


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 Should I Not Be Glad?

I sat to write the other day and the words came effortlessly, as if I were simply transcribing something already written. As I brought the piece to completion I overheard myself utter the words “the poems flow from the hand unbidden,” a line from the Derek Mahon poem, Everything is Going to be All Right.

Hearing myself speak these words made me smile. I happily recognized that the poem had sunk in, after many readings and “listenings,” most courtesy of David Whyte who references this work of Mahon’s in many of his talks.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with the author, his work helping me to connect with the feelings generated by my own work; a quiet mind and a more open heart.

Even more, I was confronted by my own commitment to welcome all that comes to me; to reconcile myself to his opening question: How should I not be glad?

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems


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.

Boring is Better

“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained. We must always return to the ordinary.”
Richard Rohr


Fancy: going “offsite”
Boring: better meetings

Fancy: brainstorming sessions
Boring: asking people how things could be better

Fancy: bean bags, free food, relaxation chambers
Boring: a clean, well-lighted workspace

Fancy: (pointless) performance reviews
Boring: regular, meaningful conversations

Fancy: for us to win, they have to lose
Boring: working hard, being generous

Fancy: “we need more creative employees”
Boring: “we need leaders who know how to access human creativity and put it to work for the business”

Fancy: email, text, Slack, etc.
Boring: picking up the phone, walking down the hall

Fancy: mission, vision, values posters/placards/videos
Boring: modeling the mission, vision and values

Fancy: company parties, generic “thank you’s”
Boring: specific individual/team recognition of good work

Fancy: the “open door” policy
Boring: getting out of the office to see what’s going on

Fancy: “high potentials”
Boring: we hire authentic, talented people; we teach them our culture; we help them grow or we help them move on

Fancy: the “suggestion box”
Boring: an environment in which people freely share ideas without fear of recrimination

Fancy: being the boss
Boring: being a human who cares about helping other humans achieve awesome things

*What would you add?*


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.