Close the Circle

The mark of a mature commitment to development is the ability to move from the abstract – outside of myself – to the personal – within myself.

A well-articulated statement of development reads something like this: “Until I do X, I can not achieve Y.”

“Until I release myself from perfectionism, I will not write the book/finish the project/complete the policy statement.”

Development is not “write the book.” Development is “confront my perfectionism.”

“Until I get comfortable with creating accountability, I will not build a stronger team.”

Development is not “build a stronger team.” Development is “learn how to create accountability.”

“Until I share my vulnerability with my partner I will not build a relationship of mutual trust.”

Development is not “build a relationship of mutual trust.” Development is “learn to share my vulnerability.”

A mature statement of development is a full circle conversation. When the circle remains open, even a little bit, the commitment is still tied to external or abstract goals. Once the circle is closed, the conversation has shifted to a complete, or internal state.

A full circle commitment to development exists when we move from the outside in, when we recognize that nothing outside of us can change until something inside of us changes first.



Shaped, and Shaped Again

“We shape our self to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.”
{David Whyte}

fullsizeoutput_24fcThere is a dance we all must do. It is the dance of forming ourselves well enough to meet the requirements of our lives while also allowing ourselves to be formed by those same forces.

Those requirements, those forces, are not static, linear or concrete. Those forces are dynamic and fluid, most often we call them other people.

It is a deeply vulnerable act to willingly, as an accomplished and self-assured adult, allow others to use the tools of their dynamic selves to transform our own soft clay into something even more beautiful.

To trust the possibility of that happening is to trust those people, first of all. And as we know, that only happens when we create the space, the time and commit the energy to building a reservoir of trust that is filled by our mutual offerings.

A question to consider is this: do I allow myself to remain soft enough that I am able to be formed? And another: do I cultivate relationships with people whose forming power I can deeply trust and who are open to receiving my own?

Offered with affection for Tom, Molly, Kyle, Alia and Theresa.

Personal Mission

The quote and question after which I titled my first book is, “Are we not safer leading A More Daring Life?”

The motto of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is AMajorem Dei Gloriam, meaning “For the Greater Glory of God.” I first learned this phrase in college, at Loyola Marymount University.

When combined, these two phrases form the statement of my personal aspiration:

To lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.

I know that I am meant to become the fullest possible expression of myself, using the gift of my very life, as well as my innate and developed abilities, to make a positive difference in my family and community.

I know that I am not meant to play it safe, but to venture inward, exploring the territory of myself, and outward, exploring the territory of relationship and learning, in order to risk and to grow. And to always do so in service of something larger than myself, both terrestrial and spiritual.

I cannot say that I have achieved this because I remain a work in progress. I can say that I aspire to this, knowing that my failures are another opportunity to learn. I would rather fail attempting to live up to a high standard, then to set it so low that I guarantee my “success.”

Today is yet another day to lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.



Leader, Heal Thyself

Any pain that remains unhealed in our hearts usually ends up getting projected onto others.

If you are in a position of influence this may mean that you abuse your authority, create unrealistic expectations, berate team members, withhold information, feel threatened by other’s success, or regularly operate in passive/aggressive mode. All of these are outward manifestations of internal disquiet.

When I describe leadership as an “inside job” or encourage leaders to “start within,” I am talking, first, about getting honest about what is unhealed and getting down to the very serious business of healing it.

Until that work is begun, even our “best and brightest” will suffer the vulnerability of insufficiency and either avoid responsibility due to a fear of failure or accept it without the humility required to be of service to those they lead.




Fire Dependent



Multi-flowered grass pink orchid {Photo: Scott Hereford (USFWS)}

Jim Fowler is a gifted photographer who specializes in the native plants of the southeastern United States. His regular blog posts are a visual feast of plant varieties few of us will ever see in our lifetimes, and not just because of disadvantageous geography.

In Jim’s work, timing is everything. He relies on a network of fellow naturalists to tip him off about rare finds and he is known to pack his gear and head out at the drop of a hat when an extra special opportunity arises. His latest post tells the story of just such an adventure.

In it, Jim describes the achievement of a “bucket list” find, the Multi-flowered grass pink orchid. Here’s his description of the challenge of finding this rare species:

“…the orchid blooms only after a prescribed burn in the Pinus palustris or Longleaf pine savannahs of the national forest. Moreover, when it blooms, all of the flowers…open in one or two days, and they remain open for only a few days, making it difficult to photograph it unless one can be there during that brief period of time.” 

Did you catch that comment about the “prescribed burn”? Here’s more about what that is and why it matters from the website of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region:

“One of the greatest conservation tools we use in habitat management of our refuges is prescribed fire. While fire is applied to reduce the risks of wildfires on our refuges and surrounding homes, it also encourages native plants and wildlife habitat. This rare orchid, the multi-flowered grass pink, is a perfect example. It is considered globally imperiled and critically imperiled in the State of Mississippi. It was discovered on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge following a carefully planned and precise controlled burn that was used to reduce the hazards of wildfires and improve the surrounding savanna grassland habitat. Like many plants of the savannas, this rare plant is fire dependent. It requires fire to stimulate flowering while reducing the brush to allow more light for the plant to grow.”

I am neither a naturalist nor a botanist, but I am passionate about how much we can learn from the natural world if we are just occasionally willing to slow down and pay attention. I am also passionate about the subject of change and the fulfillment of human potential and to that end I have come to the conclusion that if a “prescribed burn” is good enough for the rare flowers of the savannahs then it is good enough for you and me.

The way to find the very best of us – the rare and wild plant that is blooming within – is to get rid of everything else that’s in its way. This requires the heat of discomfort, the burning away of the ideas, perceptions, habits, attitudes, and reactions that hold us back.

What remains, once the smoke clears, is an interior landscape, at first scarred and vulnerable, but now loaded with the potential for extraordinary growth. This open space is just what’s needed to allow something new, something even more compelling, to take root and grow.

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.


“Because it is a big change.”

On the cusp of his retirement from the NBA, future hall of fame player Dwyane Wade gave an interview to ESPN in which he discussed how he intends to adjust to life after basketball:

“I’ll be in therapy. Seriously,” Wade said. “I mean it, it is going to be a big change. I told my wife, I said, ‘I need to do therapy, and we need to do a little bit.’

“I was always against someone that don’t know me telling me how to live my life or giving me instructions. But I need someone to talk to about it. Because it is a big change. Even though I got a long life to live, other great things I can accomplish and do, it’s not this. So it’s going to be different.”

One observer commented that this is a “mature” approach. I would call that a major understatement. For a male, professional athlete to so plainly state his need for help and his commitment to receiving it is a very big deal.

While therapy has been de-stigmatized throughout much of our society it is not something easily discussed among men, especially those in positions of power and authority. In the business world we call therapy “coaching” and though it is inappropriate to conflate the two (one looks back, the other looks forward is a simplistic distinction) we are well-served to remember that when a client and a trained professional of any discipline commit to doing real work, good things usually come of it.

Thanks to Dwyane Wade and others like him, there will be more men who choose to make themselves vulnerable and seek the help they need. And each time that happens our world will become a better and a safer place.

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 to Motivate Your Employees

You can’t, so stop trying. That’s step number one.

Motivation is an internal dynamic, a choice based on a wide range of individual forces such as personality, values, perception, emotions, attitudes and stress. You can inspire but you can’t motivate. Knowing the difference is crucial to effective leadership.

A leader’s job is to create the conditions in which it is possible for people to motivate themselves. Here are five things you can do to create that kind of environment:

  1. Define and commit to a compelling purpose and vision for your organization. Help people to understand what they signed up for, where you’re going and what’s in it for them to be a part of it.
  2. Create obvious and plentiful pathways for your employees to be involved in decision-making,
  3. Hire terrific and talented people, connect them to the vision, provide them with the necessary context and then get out of their way. Autonomy is a powerful motivator because it is the tangible evidence of trust.
  4. Live out a value system that makes fairness a driving principle of the organization. For starters, you can pay people based on the quality and impact of their performance rather than on the parameters of a pre-determined scale.
  5. Make continuous learning a priority for everyone and work hard to develop your team members. Make it obvious to them that you want them to grow and that you are willing to invest time and resources to that end.

“How do I motivate my team?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “How do I create the conditions in which my team members will activate their internal motivation?”

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.

Make it Real

“What’s a next step?” is the question that makes the plan real.

I knew I wanted to become a capable and confident speaker in my field. I knew I wanted opportunities to speak on leadership and change and the kind of organizational cultures that never stop learning how to be better at both.

I wanted to speak at conferences, inside organizations, in higher education, anywhere there was a curiosity to explore these ideas and the many questions that surround them.

I saw myself in the front of the room and on the stage. I just didn’t know how to get from where I was to that reality. So I constructed a development plan, a plan that held my vision of high competence and confidence as a voice of authority about my professional passion.

That plan was thoughtfully imagined and constructed. It was forward-looking and future focused. It allowed me to take an idea that was disconnected from my experience and help me to see how to bridge that gap.

And then, just when I needed it most, just when I was lost in the reverie of what might be, I was asked the hardest of all questions: So, what’s your next step?

This is the moment when my plan met reality because the options were endless: research where to speak, hire a coach, make phone calls, prepare an outline, prepare an abstract, clarify my point of view through conversation with colleagues, watch videos of great speakers, title a speech for publication (much harder than it sounds!), film a practice session, etc.

Each of these actions, none of them wrong, all of them right, represented the hardest step in my plan for a preferred future state; the next one.

That moment when I realized that what I had envisioned – and all of the possibility and opportunity it contained – depended on a single next step? That is the moment that my future became real.

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.

Make Way for the Good Stuff

“Dethatching” lawns refer to the mechanical removal from a lawn of the layer of dead turfgrass tissue known as “thatch.” This residue is bad for your grass, as it keeps water and nutrients from seeping down to grassroots. 

Source: The Spruce

What’s good for the grass is good for you and me.

We all have stuff that builds up inside. That could be resentments, negative emotions or self-talk, or just some habits that no longer serve us very well.

That layer of “dead tissue” is not only no longer useful, it’s in the way of those things that will make a positive difference to your well-being, your emotional and mental, and maybe even physical health. Maybe that’s forgiveness of an old wrong or a dose of self-confidence, or the realization of a core strength or even an earlier alarm setting to get a jump on the day.

I wish we could just add the good stuff on top of the bad stuff and have it sort out the right way. But it doesn’t work like that. The bad stuff is a stubborn blockade that must be pulled down and tossed aside for the good stuff to do its work.

For my lawn that means getting out a heavy-duty rake or renting a piece of equipment that digs down and pulls out the dead layer beneath the surface. For you and me, that process might look like some combination of quality conversations with people we trust, honest feedback about our strengths and weaknesses, the creation of a development plan, seeing a therapist or coach, digging into helpful reading material, getting regular exercise, periods of quiet reflection, and so on.

The good stuff will find its way to your roots if you make the space it needs. That’s the best and most challenging part of spring.

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 to Get Recruited or Promoted

First, ask for more opportunity, not for more money or a “better” title.

Second, commit to closing the gap between your current level of impact – both your technical skills and your relational/interpersonal ones – and the next level up. And then do it. In other words, create an outstanding development plan and then work that plan.

Third, be willing to leave a good thing for a new opportunity. The next level roles where you are will always be more limited than the ones “out there.” You’ll grow from the stretch of the change and your old company will be known as a place that cultivates talent like yours.

Finally, never forget that you own your career and nobody else does. When you decide to take 100% responsibility for that, your mind and heart will be more open and alive and the world will expand for you in ways you could never imagine.

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.