Leaders Go First

“…the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

Jim Yong Kim
President, The World Bank


As I was preparing to facilitate a meeting this week on strategies for providing effective feedback I came across the quote above. It provides a framing for the feedback endeavor that successfully dis-associates it from the stereotypical, hierarchical, “done unto” (as opposed to done together) approach that still dominates so much of the corporate leadership point of view on performance improvement.

It puts the onus on leaders to start within, focusing first on their own improvement as a continuous exercise of genuine humility. That practice of humility creates a space for a deeper empathetic sensibility that can then be applied to the leader’s team.

When feedback comes from that place it demonstrates a universal commitment to getting better (We are all in this together!) while also reenforcing the most basic truth of leadership, that leaders go first.

If you are not willing to go first, you are not a leader. If you are not willing to learn continuously, grow continuously, question your personal status quo continuously, you are not a leader.

But when you do, it changes everything. And no longer are you dreading the discomfort of providing feedback to your team but relishing the opportunity to be a catalyst for their growth. Once you normalize it for you, you normalize it for them.

Leaders. Go. First.


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.

Change at the Margin

At the edges, not at the center. That’s where real change begins.

We work from the outside in, a series of small but potent actions in service of our highest aspirations:

  • small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting,
  • brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting,
  • “below the line” conversations with customers about their aspirations for their own enterprises,
  • common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • and how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.


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.

Another Set of Eyes

You can’t take care of what you can’t see.

Call it a blind spot, call it being too close to the problem, but with only your eyes – and the limits of your perspective and the strength of your bias – you’re going to miss some vital information.

If you’re cleaning a bathroom mirror that might mean some streaks here and there.

If it’s something greater, something about how you do your work or lead your team, those few forgotten streaks might have greater significance.

One major difference between an amateur and a professional is the commitment to getting it right. And that means building feedback into the process early and often.

If you want to see yourself – your work, your contribution – accurately, become a professional. Hire another set of eyes.


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.

Just Do Something

A friend once complained that since he didn’t have time to do his “full” workout he wasn’t going to bother going to the gym.

He knew that a quick walk around the block would make him feel better – would be a good use of the time he did have – but his benchmark for “workout” wouldn’t allow it.

Or have you ever been in conversation with a colleague and said, “Well, I don’t have time to go into that right now” and then gone into it anyway and found that “that” only took a few minutes?

It wasn’t the expression itself that needed much time but the buildup – perhaps the anxiety – you felt about it that made it feel that way.

Or is it even possible that you knew that once you expressed it you would have let the air out of that particular balloon, the stretched surface of which had provided a particular kind of self-righteousness. Once expressed – once normalized – that feeling no longer quite fit the situation and had to be let go.

I’m convinced that leaders regularly avoid career conversations, development conversations and even routine feedback conversations with their employees because they have a story in their head that a “big” conversation requires a big expense of time and energy when all they’ve got is the equivalent of a walk around the block.

The big investments – relationships, fitness, education – require some effort every day. Drip by drip that effort accumulates into something stable, sustainable and reliable.

Heavy rains tend to do more harm than good.


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 You Already Know

My coaching clients, regularly and repeatedly, react with the same kind of understated agreement when I share the feedback I have gathered from their peers and colleagues.

What they learn is no surprise. They are, in fact, underwhelmed by the process because it confirms what they already know.

The privilege of my work is to provide them that information in a way they haven’t heard it and within a process that allows us to take action on the feedback.

What do you already know? Who will help you do something about it?


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.