Soften the Edges

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No one goes through life without a few weeds.

When one of my more insistent ones – impatience, doubt, smallness – attempts to reach maturity, daring to put my imperfections on full display, I am quick to uproot it.

The resulting facade is appealingly neat and tidy. It is also cold and unnatural. In that state, my appearance of “having it all together” not only doesn’t work in my favor, it makes me unapproachable.

Who wants to associate with someone they can’t relate to? When we know about our own weeds, we are on the lookout for other’s because that’s how we know they’re human, too.

The alternative is not to let the weeds overrun the garden, of course, but rather to help them coexist in a manner appropriate to their importance. A natural or organic garden is one in which a wide variety of species are permitted to grow, the less desirable ones never fully eliminated but always held in check by the quality of the conditions and the thoughtful attention of the gardener.


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.

What is your “more”?

You’ve got more to learn, more room to grow. We all do.

What does that mean for you? Do you know how to define and describe it? Are you willing to?

Yes? That’s outstanding.

Now, a harder question:

Do you know the patterns you have artfully created and that you dutifully follow to keep you from getting after it?

Of course you do, it’s just that naming it as a pattern – admitting that you have been seduced by the status quo – creates the discomfort that precedes all pattern interruptions.

All living systems are learning systems. If you keep learning, growing, developing you get to keep living. Not surviving but living.


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.

What they want

“They” are your team. You are their leader. This is what they want:

Meaning. Also known as “purpose” and “vision.” When they say, “I want to be part of something larger than myself!” this is what they’re talking about.

Trust. I once heard a leader say, “They have to earn my trust.” The only acceptable response to that statement is, no.

You recruit them and then hire them because you believe they have what it takes to make you and the team better, to help you fulfill your purpose and vision. And then they show up and have to earn your trust?

Your job is to earn their trust, every day. The trust that comes when you care for them, when you provide them the resources they need to be successful, when you care for them, when you clear roadblocks for them, when you surround them with great people, when you care for them…you get the idea.

Freedom. They are smart (because you hire smart people) so let them work. Make job expectations clear, the parameters of the project explicit, and work hours flexible. Give them space within a defined context and then get out of the way. And stop having so many meetings. Meetings are killing your culture, reducing feelings of freedom and corroding trust.

Development. Everyone has a development plan, a roadmap to their future, their definition of “more.” You coach them with feedback, powerful questions and accountability for progress. You give them resources, study groups, speakers, coaches, whatever is needed to cultivate and catalyze the learning. This is about creatively answering the most important question in front of you: How do we equip ourselves for change? Yes, it’s expensive but not nearly as expensive as filling all of the open positions that will exist when they leave to find these things someplace else.


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 > What

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
{David Whyte}


If you are engaged in a conversation about your development – the arc of your life and where it is leading – you might be tempted to ask something like:

What do I want to be when I grow up?”

This question is too small. Its narrow focus is on the external realities of position, role and title, none of which is large enough to contain a person.

A better, bigger question is this:

How do I want to be when I grow up?”

This is an especially relevant development question since it gets to the quality of your internal reality.

I imagine that you will hold and play many roles in your life and I hope that each one represents a next step in the evolution of your learning.

What is far more satisfying to imagine, however, is that how you decide to live your life fills you with the pride of knowing that you made the strength of your humanity your most important goal.


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 Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


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.

 

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


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.

Becoming a Person

I don’t want to start a philosophical or theological debate about this so let me offer a caveat at the outset: when I distinguish between a human being and a person I am distinguishing between the common accident of birth all Homo sapiens share and how some turn that accident into an intentional, conscious life. In my experience there is a vast difference between the two.

In my case, I don’t think that I became a person until I was 35 years old, because up until that age, even though I had done so many wonderful, beautiful things and faced so many deeply challenging circumstances, I had not honestly confronted my lack of consciousness about my self…my person.

You could argue that what I’m getting at here is more a question of maturity than personhood but I don’t find that word satisfying since it implies that if you live long enough you’ll get to self-awareness; again, the accident argument.

To become a person then, requires a conscious choice to venture out and away from the self in order to fully and wholly return to it. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, which begins:

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –“

That bad advice?

“Don’t do it! Don’t go! Stay here in the pleasantly familiar, entirely predictable pattern of a semi-conscious life. Don’t realize how you have allowed your circumstances to rob you of your freedom to choose how you will live.”

And (even more desperately now),

“Don’t remind me of my own fear, my own shame, my own self-satisfied stuckness by confronting your own!”

To become a person is to leave behind the relationships that hold you down – including the one with yourself – and take on the ones that build you up.

What is it, though, that gets you to the place where “you knew what you had to do and began.”?

For some, it’s tragedy; surviving an illness or a disaster, or grieving someone who did not.

For some, it’s the advent of anger that persists in unexpected, irrational ways. This can emerge in a new marriage or at the arrival of children, deep tears in the fabric of the familiar.

For others, it’s meeting a person of considerable influence who will not be bound by our rules of engagement, who hits us right between the eyes with the feedback we always knew was true but could never willingly hear.

And for others, it’s the revelation of childhood trauma, the awareness that their vulnerability was victimized by someone who knew better but still succumbed to their worst inclinations.

Whatever the source, our inner dynamics always find a way to emerge and provide us with a choice: will I remain constructed in this way (human) or will I set out to reconstruct myself into a person, by stepping into “…a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.” (again, The Journey.)

There is no path to becoming a person that is not littered with risk, real or imagined, which is why many people choose not to walk towards transformation.

Once again, I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Rather, I am a student of the human experience, as practiced through executive coaching and organizational consulting. My domain of interest and influence is organizational life and how it can be made richer, more positive and more productive for every human, indeed, for every person who participates in it.

This is, then, a request to all leaders to take the steps necessary to become a person. Until you do, your human leadership is a roadblock to the positive, productive richness that your people both deserve and crave. For yourself, for them, please walk out into that wild night, leaving the voices behind and “save the only life you can save.”

Here’s the poem in full:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver


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.

Better Questions for a Better Year

I meet with a small group of trusted friends – fellow travelers – once a month for the purpose of connection that surfaces learning and deepens insight. We create a space of mutual respect and loving friendship because we want to, most importantly, but also because our work as leaders, consultants, teachers and coaches demands that we expand our capacity proportionate to our desire to be of service.

For our most recent conversation, Alia Fitzgerald composed the following questions to help our reflections on the past year shape our aspirations for the year ahead:

  • What are the six words that best describe 2018? What would you like those words to be in 2019?
  • What were you a part of last year that you’ll remember for the rest of your life? What do you take away that you could apply to your wellbeing and success this year?
  • What commitment if achieved tomorrow would give you the greatest feeling of contentment, satisfaction or success?

There is too much to do and too much at stake for any of us to go it alone. Trusted friends and powerful questions are still the best recipe for setting the intentions that allow us to do our very best work, the work that is ours alone to do.

[HT to Molly Davis and Alia Fitzgerald]


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.

Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


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.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]