Regardless of the years of experience, the degree of gravitas, the number of deals considered and consummated, companies built and ideas realized, a powerful leader is one who can sit with childlike patience and make every inquiry that comes to mind to satisfy their deep need to fully understand something new.

This is not the gift of manipulation, that ceremonial show of restraint that is ultimately and easily broken with the pounce of telling and teaching. This is the commitment to a professionalism that is marked by unmatched sincerity and the sure belief that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

child holding clear glass jar with yellow light

Photo by willsantt on

What to Say

The next time you are asked to give career advice to a young professional, please just provide them with this quote by the late, great James Michener:

“We all worry about wasting time, about the years sliding past, about what we intend to do with our lives. We shouldn’t, for there is a divine irrelevance in the universe that defies calculation. Many men and women win through to a sense of greatness in their lives only by first stumbling and fumbling their way into patterns that gratify them and allow them to utilize their endowments to the maximum.”

Come to think of it, you might just consider making up some cards so you always have one handy to give away.

Come to think of it, you might read the quote again and realize that it’s even more appropriate for you – that refreshingly pesky divine irrelevance phrase – than for anyone you might share it with.

Perspective is a priceless thing. As is curiosity and experimentation and the relief that comes when we stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and choose to follow our own path.

person sky silhouette night

Photo by Snapwire on

The Curiosity of a Visitor

It is impossible to convey the experience of visiting this waterfall through a single photograph; through any photograph, for that matter.

If you don’t hike the forest trail, if you don’t hear the first, distant thrum of the rushing stream, if you don’t reach into the cold water and brush your hand across the stones, if you don’t test the fallen log to see if it will bear your weight across the rocks, if you don’t watch and listen and revere both the stillness and the movement of the place, if you don’t swat the mosquitoes from your legs on the way back down the trail then, well, you cannot know.

And all of that took place in only a single one-hour window, late in the afternoon on the last day of July. What is happening there right now, I can’t possibly say. It is similar, yes, but it is not the same, and it would be hubris to claim, having been there once, that I know the place.

In that spirit, please consider the exercise of the annual performance review for what it really is, a singular statement of a year of work feebly attempting to stand as a representation of the whole.

It cannot and should not be done.

I implore you to treat each employee with the curiosity of a visitor to a wonderful new place. Each encounter is an opportunity to expand your understanding, but none ever completes it.

You might ask, “What will this visit help me to see that I could not see before?”


Plaikni Falls – Crater Lake National Park – July 31, 2019 at 4:21 pm


How fascinating!

A fun and challenging test for you:

For the next week, each and every time you screw something up – shatter a glass, miss a deadline, say a dumb thing, send the wrong information, miss your turnoff – shut down your regular critical voice of reaction and replace it with “How fascinating!”

So, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that!” becomes:

How fascinating!

And, “You idiot, what were you thinking?!” becomes:

How fascinating!

And, “Ok, dummy, there you go again.” becomes:

How fascinating!

Give it a try. See what happens.

Curiosity is so much more appealing than criticism, especially when it’s aimed at ourselves.

{“How fascinating!” is shamelessly borrowed and propagated from the brilliant book, The Art of Possibility}

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.

There’s Room at the Table

In 1936 Dale Carnegie proposed that there are “six ways to get people to like you.”

Here’s his list:

  1. Be genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember people’s names.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Talk in terms of other’s interests.
  6. Make people feel important and do it sincerely.

– from How to Win Friends and Influence People

Not on the list?

  1. Share your accomplishments.
  2. Demonstrate your worthiness.
  3. Take yourself seriously.
  4. Describe your competence in detail.
  5. Act self-important.
  6. Tell an anecdote that makes you sound interesting.

Is this all self-evident? Is it obvious that humility and curiosity are the benchmarks of likability and therefore the cornerstones of connection? Most people would say so but I still see behaviors – and even notice impulses in myself – that contradict that sentiment.

The need to prove our worthiness seems to me the single greatest impediment to the establishment of mutually generative relationships. The drive to make sure “they know what I’ve done and what I can do” disallows the flowering of our natural interest in others because it keeps us bound by the disabling trio of comparison, competition and scarcity.

When we seek to connect, to build trust, to establish meaningful relationships we do not have to prove our merits or establish our bona fides. We simply have to remember three things:

  1. Each of us has an offering to make.
  2. Each of us has a ‘best’ way to make it.
  3. There is plenty of room at the table.

I have learned to trust that the better I get – the more focused, the more thoughtful – at making that true for others, the more others will make it true for me.

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.

At the bottom of the stairs

IMG_5757I had some time between appointments this morning so I decided to head to the beach for a stroll. I haven’t had my toes in the sand for a while and on this beautiful October morning it seemed the perfect way to use the time.

I arrived at a favorite spot and began the long walk down the steps only to notice that the ocean seemed a lot closer than usual. And a lot louder, too. It was, indeed, high tide. And there was no beach to speak of, at least in the walkable sense of the word.

I stayed on the steps for a few minutes, watching a swarm of surfers make the most of an impressive swell. And then I turned to go.

But something made me pause and turn again. And I went down another flight of steps. And then another one. There, one short flight from the bottom, I encountered surfers leaving the water, having simply paddled up to the base of the stairs. That’s when I noticed, right below me now, the sound the water makes as it recedes over the rocks and back to the ocean.

Here’s a snippet, if you are so inclined to watch and listen:

I didn’t find what I was looking for this morning. I found something unexpected, a natural reminder that I don’t get to decide the conditions. I only get to decide how curious to be about what I find.

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.