Optimal Conditions for Growth

As leaders learn to see themselves as planters and cultivators, they will grow increasingly well attuned to the optimal conditions for growth:

Container: the supportive container for your team members is the thoughtfully defined scope of their work. It is appropriately sized to their role, experience and your expectations. It is adjusted based on progress, conditions, and the inevitable changes that occur.

Resources: soil, water and light for your team members are the information they require about the organization and its plans, how they fit into those plans and easy access to the tools they need to be successful. It is context and perspective about how what they do is connected to the goals and vision of the organization.

Attention: for your team members, regular care and feeding is checking in, asking what they need to be successful, providing recognition, assurance, feedback and necessary course corrections. Too much and they will drown. Too little and they will starve.

Applied with discipline and with care, it is nothing short of a miracle what can occur when living things are provided with conditions that respect and expect the emergence of their inherent potential.

Growth is never a given. It can never be assumed. But it is always possible when the conditions are right.

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Plumeria seedling at three weeks. Photo by Davis Berry (2018)


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 Best Advice

The best advice I ever received came from the book, “The Art of Possibility” by Ben and Rosamund Zander. It goes like this:

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!” (aka, ‘Rule #6′)

I remember thinking, “How did they know!!!” (Yes, three exclamation points.)

The second best piece of advice I ever received was to see a therapist.

Doing so is how I learned make the space to apply the best advice I ever received.

I don’t believe that therapy is the only path to follow but it worked for me and it continues to pay dividends.

I’m not fixed or finished, by any means. I’m a work in progress and will forever be. It’s just that the time and energy I invested in clearing a path to understanding has made it possible for me to reduce my self-interest, my selfishness, my neediness and my need for control.

That reduction has forever changed the quality of my relationships, my capacity for understanding and empathy, my openness to new experiences. It has increased my sense of humor and my perspective. It has encouraged my acceptance of everything that’s beyond my control and a deeper commitment to everything that is.

And that’s what motivates my work today. I understand what’s possible and I want it for others. And for the people they lead. Especially for them.


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.

My Developmental Pathway

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


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.

On whose example do you model your leadership?

A writer I admire said that the way to find one’s own voice as a writer is to imitate other writers. He said that by imitating them you allow yourself to write more freely because you have a model to follow rather than feeling the pressure to be an original voice. Because, of course, you can’t be those other writers but can only do a faint and probably poor imitation, what will begin to emerge is a version of the style you admire which you can practice and refine over time into one that is your own.

I had a similar discussion once with a mentor of mine who said in a discussion of leadership principles that “everything is derivative”; that we are always interpreting and reinterpreting the work, ideas and perspectives of the teachers who have come before us, those we have chosen to turn to as models for how to live, work and lead.

Again there is freedom is this thinking because it grants permission to build on the work of others – to stand on the shoulders of giants – instead of having to start out as giants ourselves.

If modeling is the path to leadership mastery, if it is the means by which you can ultimately claim your leadership “voice,” then there is one question you must answer as capably and responsibly as you can: on whose example do you model your leadership?


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.

A Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


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.

I don’t know

“The human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. ‘Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,’ it invariably says. Most people who think they are fully conscious or ‘smart’ and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.”

– Richard Rohr


If you want to encourage more compassion, start with “I don’t know.” Your vulnerability will signal to others that their vulnerability is ok, and normal. The other day, not knowing what to say to a sick friend, I somewhat shamefully Googled, “what to say to a sick friend.” It turns out that there are some very compassionate people in the world with more practice than me in being in those tough situations. My “I don’t know” led me to the help I needed.

If you want to establish a stronger community, start with “I don’t know.” You will signal to others that it is the combination of your perspectives and experience that form a strong community. You will become an invitation for others to share what they have to offer. The leader of the band I’m a part of consistently asks for the group’s ideas about what music to perform and is always open to suggestions about how we can most successfully sing and play.

If you want to discover more wisdom, start with “I don’t know.” A momentary pause leaves space for more thoughtful consideration, for a deeper learning to take place. Early in my work as a leadership coach, I felt self-conscious pressure to fill in any gaps in the conversation. I have learned to pause and allow brief silences to serve as catalysts for my curiosity.

It’s tough to remove the manhole cover, and I’m not sure I will ever be rid of it entirely. But I have enough encouraging examples of ways I have learned to let go of being right, to let go of being in control.

I am reminded, again and again, that they all start with “I don’t know.”


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.

Predisposed to Lead

It is widely believed that leadership can be taught and there is a thriving multi-billion dollar industry to prove it. I agree that anyone can become at least incrementally, perhaps even demonstrably better at skills like listening, presenting, planning, goal setting, feedback and decision-making. Each of these core leadership competencies comes with models and frameworks – take your pick – that, through the discipline of routine practice can be effectively implemented.

And nothing about the application of those skills makes me feel compelled to follow.

I want more and I believe that you do, too.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate a deep and genuine love for the welfare and progress of all people.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate a deep and genuine humility born of robust self-awareness.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate an ability to tell the story about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. And why.

I want my leader to possess and demonstrate an unparalleled commitment to personal, team, company and industry learning. I want them to have an energetic spirit of exploration and the expectation that I will, also.

Can these things be taught? Honestly, I don’t think so. I think to have them you have to care more than anyone else and only a very few are up for what that means and what that takes. It’s time to stop saying “everyone’s a leader” and start saying that while everyone can have influence and make an impact, leadership is reserved for those who dare to go where a shiny set of new skills can never take them.


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.

 

What Came Before

There’s a pretty good reason we don’t drive around in Model T’s, listen to music through phonographs, talk to one another on “party lines,” use wooden golf clubs or tennis rackets, or plow the field with a horse.

We don’t do those things or use those things anymore because we figured out a better way.

Of course, we didn’t figure it out all at once. A lot of people stuck with the horse and buggy, didn’t have a telephone installed or purchase a TV, and refused to play with aluminum rackets or steel golf clubs. A lot of people held out until the model was “proven” and even then resisted making the change.

Change does not discredit the value of what came before. It acknowledges that people who care about what came before – be it in transportation, communication, crop yield or play – have a vested interest in improving upon that experience. And that interest, under the best circumstances, cultivates a spirit of curiosity and learning that moves things forward.

This applies to the human experience as well. As a teenager I was a raw jumble of energetic passions expressed through choir, musical theater, student government, athletics, pep rallies, you name it. I once bought a bicycle so I could compete in a bike race. I rode in the race and never got on the bike again. I was trying things out and it was a lot of fun. But as growing up will do, I bumped up against the larger world and learned that my widespread passions needed to be refined and directed in order to become something I could rely on.

I could look back at that time of my life critically and say that there was a foolish kid who didn’t know what he wanted or how to get it. Or, I could look back and say that I was exactly right for that time and place in my development and learning. If I had gotten stuck there and never figured out how to become more than a hummingbird of flower-to-flower exploration, I would not have lived into the possibility of my future self.

But I didn’t get stuck. I figured out how to live into that possibility and most definitely not in a linear or steady way. It was bumpy, jagged, backwards and tear-filled. I was not an “early adopter” of my own experience! It was a long letting go of what once had been in order to make space for what might be. But it happened, and continues to happen as I continue to decide to learn and grow.

We need where we’ve been to remind us that growth is always possible. That learning is always available. And that change is the natural human condition.


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.

Get Moving

“I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion is able to last for all eternity.”

– Olga Tokarczuk, Flights


You don’t have to go anywhere to be in motion. And you can go everywhere and be frozen in place.

What counts, what matters, and what I subject to you for consideration on this first Sunday of autumn, is that you move forward with that which moves you.

Get to work. Make your mark. From your chair, your home, your neighborhood, school or workplace. From the most remote island on the planet. It doesn’t matter where. All that matters is what.

The leaves are going to fall. But that’s an act of living, not of dying.

Whatever it is you’re here to do, get moving…go do it.

In spite of all the risks involved.


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.

No End In Sight

I have this feeling that 30 or so years from now, should I still be kicking around, I’m going to be wrestling with the same existential crisis: the joy and the dread that learning never ends.

The dread: How is that I’ve come this far and still have so far to go?

The joy: How is it that I am so lucky to have the opportunity, the invitation, the opening up, the chance to live into an even more complete understanding of my experience?

No one, not a single person, said it was going to be easy. Just that it would be possible.

And no matter how uncomfortable it is to admit it, they were right.


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.