Poem for a Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Moments
{Patricia Gale}

Gently my eyes open and I whispered
Thank you for I can see

My feet moving slowly one in front of the other
Though my body stiff from the labor of work
I replied… thank you for your mercy

My mind recoiling the tasks that require my attention
My heart seems to fill with the beauty of the day
And I praise you for what you have given me

The house is silent
No words are heard
Little feet that once sounded like an army
Now long gone and marching to independence and their own battles
I wipe a crystal tear and thank you for the love you placed within my life

In the coolness of an autumn’s morn
I sit a listen to the Sunday morning symphony
A gift from You created by your loving hands
I hear a soft gentle voice…” to everything there is a season and by My grace there is a reason”
Admiration and thankfulness fill my soul
My lips quiver with soft words, I am unworthy, but yet You love me
Thank you Father for this day


 

Somebody is Always Watching

It’s easy to believe, in a world of increased devotion to personal devices and a status quo of extreme busyness, that nobody is paying attention to what we do and how we do it.

Somebody is always watching. Creepy though that may sound at one level, it is an imperative reminder that the quality of our engagement – the dedication (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) we bring to our work – is noticed and evaluated.

This is especially true for leaders who, by title alone, are appropriately under constant scrutiny. In the same way we might say of a child that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” we can notice employees who understandably (if sometimes regrettably) use their leader’s behavior as a guide.

I notice it in the classroom; students who arrive on time, students who sit upright or even forward in anticipation of what’s to come, students who expect to engage and be engaged.

I notice it in service situations; employees who make an effort to connect, to be genuine, to bring something personal to the interaction, and those who go through the motions, perhaps with a smile but one that is practiced, not pleasing.

At my best, I notice it in myself; when I am present and connected and when my energy and attention is flagging. When I do catch myself at anything other than my “best” I either correct it quickly or let others in on how I am feeling. I assume that they’ve already noticed.

An appealing practice that I think would do a lot of good without a ton of effort is to call people out when we notice their thoughtful engagement.

This happened to me once and it was an exceptional moment. I assumed the worst was coming, that I was going to be highlighted as a negative example, but it was just the opposite and it made an impression on me that I will never forget.


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.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
{William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida}


Yes, I blatantly stole an epic quote from the Star Wars pantheon as a title for this post. Between Yoda and Shakespeare it’s tough to go wrong and I prefer to save my energy rather than fruitlessly attempt to improve upon their genius.

In both cases they are extolling us to make the shift from a passive to an active approach to life.

Passivity is a practice, a habit, that is employed to soften the blow.

“I will try to make it to your event” is what you say when you have no intention of attending but don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.

“I will try to learn how to play the piano” is what you say when you are scared that you actually won’t be able to…or won’t have the fortitude to stick with it when it get’s hard.

Why does it seem so bold, or callous even, to say “I will not attend the event. I have other priorities right now”? It’s true, it’s honest, and it allows the other person to clear the mental space that is otherwise spent on a bunch of “Will she or won’t she?” energy.

Why does it seem so bold, or brazen even, to say “I am going to learn how to play the piano”? It speaks of commitment to a clear choice that removes the mystery of “Will I be able to?”  and replaces it with “I’m going to find out.” And, if it’s really not your thing, now you know and you can move on and stop wondering about it. More mental space opened up…what a relief!

No discussion, even a brief one, of passivity is complete without mention of passive aggressive behavior which in classic ironic fashion ends up feeling even more aggressive to the recipient – a hundred tiny daggers – than if they just aggressively said their piece – one swing of the sword. It’s yet another example of passivity being employed to soften the blow and filling up our available mental and emotional space with needless anxiety.

Be clear, be open, be bold. Other people can handle it, including yourself. Your assumption that they cannot – that you cannot – is no longer worthy of you.


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.

It Can Be Done Another Way

I find it easy sometimes to get stuck on how something should be done versus how something can be done. Preferences for certain actions can blind us to the fact that a chosen behavior is indeed preferential and not the only option.

We have some large palm trees in our front yard and occasionally a frond will snap and fall to the ground. These can be ten feet long and very heavy which means they need to be cut up to fit in our green waste can. I have a great hand saw that is perfect for the job while also providing a decent workout!

On one occasion I asked my son to do the cutting and he proceeded to plug-in an electric saw – not one intended for this kind of job – and carved up the branch without breaking a sweat. I remember saying, “That’s not how you do it! You’re supposed to use the hand saw.”

He gave me his best “Are you kidding me?” look with a hint of “Did you want this done or did you want this done your way?” I don’t remember exactly but I probably doubled-down with something like, “But that’s what the hand saw is for, not to mention it’s good exercise.”

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The fact is that he got the job done in a perfectly acceptable way and in a manner that was gratifying to him. Regardless of how I feel about it, that should be enough.

The leadership lesson in this is that if you hire highly qualified people and pay them highly qualified salaries you need to provide them the autonomy they need to do what you hired them to do. Creative and capable people will express themselves beautifully in the right conditions, and those conditions must always include the freedom to make their mark, to test ideas, to share their experience and to solve problems.

Breaking a sweat can be gratifying but it’s hardly ever proof of the best way to do the work.


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.

You Won’t Know Until You Start

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
{Helmuth von Moltke}


I am a self-admitting and self-avowed starter of things. For good and bad, I have always been a catalyst. Once begun, the planning and sustaining need to belong to someone else, if what’s been started is going to survive.

What I know from my natural inclination to begin, and the reason I truly enjoy it, is that doing so informs me about what is actually possible, rather than what I might imagine to be possible.

My most visceral experience of this came on a cliff edge above the Pacific ocean. Strapped into a harness with my instructor, a large sail dragging on the ground behind us, I blurted out the question I was ill-equipped to answer: “How do we get up there anyway?”

“We have to walk off the edge of the cliff.”

Oh.

I had paid my money, signed all the forms, been provided with all of the safety instructions and equipment, and was accompanied by a guide. The planning was done and it was time for action.

The thing that mattered most – the relationship between ocean, wind and cliff – could only be harnessed by going out to meet it, by stepping off into the unknown.

Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.”

Of course, make plans. But plan just well enough to inspire a first action. Allow that action to inform you and teach you. Use that learning to revise the plan and as a catalyst for a next action. And then? Repeat, repeat, repeat.


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.

Achievable Challenge

I started playing piano in early January. For the first month I did scales for 15 minutes a day to build up some strength and dexterity in my hands and fingers. But I didn’t decide to learn piano for the sake of scales so eventually I started messing around with some real songs.

My daughter recommended one of her early piano books in which I found a straightforward version of “Scarborough Fair,” the English tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s been a perfect first test of my nascent piano skills. It requires me to get my left and right hands working on different things at the same time, has just enough changes to be challenging and is just easy enough – because a familiar tune – to be rewarding.

Well, just the other day my daughter sat down to the very same piece of music and played it in a way I had no idea was even possible. It was just beautifully interpreted, this simple piece of music so artfully rendered by her capable hands.

Immediately I had to try it just like her. And immediately I discovered that I couldn’t do it. Which is when I remembered an important piece of information: she’s been playing piano for 7 years and I’ve been playing for 2 months.

I believe that one day I will play the song like she did. And I also accept that where I am is good enough for now. The gap between here and there is probably pretty wide but it will shrink every day proportionate to how willing I am to do the work.

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves, to go after things we’re not yet ready for. If we’re not careful that’s a path to discouragement and disengagement. The right mix, for ourselves and for our teams, is what I call “achievable challenge.” It’s got to be hard enough to keep our attention, inviting us to rise to the occasion, but well within our capability to actually accomplish.

{If you’d like to hear my version of the song you can do so here.}


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 of You

If you’re a leader, everything you do and everything you say is being watched, recorded, memorized and replicated.

That may not be the most comforting image but it is the most accurate one.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the energy, the focus, the camaraderie, the expense of discretionary effort…that’s because of you.

Whatever you are seeing from your team; the frustration, the disconnection, the avoidance…that’s because of you.

You have an extraordinary opportunity as a leader of a team. You get to create an environment that helps people bring the best of themselves to work every day.

What an incredible honor. What an awesome responsibility.


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.

Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

Measure satisfaction when you want to find out what people think about the food in the cafeteria or if the marketing team needs new furniture or if your employees would like to form a softball league.

Measure engagement when you want to find out if people’s hearts are in the work; if they are willing to spend their discretionary effort on your cause.

Remember, many people and many teams have changed the world fueled by lousy food, sitting on crummy furniture, and blissfully unaware of the company’s standing in the softball league.


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.

 

Learning to Ask For Help

Among the most important – and most difficult – realizations I had to contend with on my path to becoming a person is that of learning to ask for help. My life is littered with instances of persisting in a state of futility when engaging with someone else, sometimes something else, would have made the difficult thing an easier thing.

The roots of it have to do with perfectionism/fear of failure and a persistent voice in the head asking questions like, “What if they find out you are not as good as you think? What then?”

I have stood on a lakeshore for over an hour, fruitlessly trying to catch fish while everyone around me was having success.

I have gotten lost on a forested trail three days in a row because of my stubborn unwillingness to slow down and notice the actual signs that marked the way.

I have avoided sharing my written work with talented writers and editors whose thoughtful and helpful criticism might just sting too much.

And the list goes on. Or it went on until I turned a corner and began to practice, albeit imperfectly and sometimes haltingly, some alternative ways of engaging with the sources of help that surround me.

Most recently, I took up the piano. After years of avoiding a hard thing that would make me feel all the painful feelings of being a beginner, I decided it was time to get over it and get on with it. My daughter, an accomplished player at age 13, has been exceedingly helpful to me. My piano teacher, with whom I just recently had my first lesson, is genuinely interested in my success. I am saying “yes” to their quite visible forms of help.

I also spend time with two different peer groups on a monthly basis. These are people in similar fields and with similar aspirations for learning, growth and impact. Our conversations consist of inquiry, revelation and support and just being present with and for one another is a form of deeply important help.

My daily writing on this blog is another way I am seeking and finding a helping hand. Basil King said, “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” Though I sometimes doubt the value of sending yet another post into the dark void of the internet, I am reminded that the practice of doing so is less about where it lands and more about helping myself stay attuned to my own thinking and my own voice. It is a practice in self-help, I suppose.

One final example of saying yes to help: A few weeks ago as I was scrambling to get my things together and get out the door on time for my full day of teaching and office hours at the university, I asked my wife Theresa if she would make a lunch for me to take along. My campus schedule doesn’t allow me the time to get something between classes and on this particular day I didn’t have time to prepare ahead of time. She said yes, of course, and has done the same for me on each Thursday since.

It’s a simple and loving kind of help, the kind that can be taken for granted. But I don’t because it reminds me that I have someone in my corner who is ready and willing to help me as long as I let her know how. And that’s what makes it such an important example, that she – someone who implicitly wants to help me – can’t do so if she doesn’t know how. Which means I have to ask and risk the vulnerability of doing so.

These examples, large and small, remind me that in spite of a deeply rutted pattern of assuming that people will be judgmental or unkind or bothered – a clear projection of my vulnerability – there is another assumption, by far a more accurate one, to be made: that most people, most of the time, want to help.

The unknown variable in the equation, as it turns out, is 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.

 

 

The Certainty / Sincerity Divide

Many people still subscribe to a mythology of leadership that speaks of singularity, certainty and strength. This is not a relevant model for how change actually happens. In fact, it’s just bogus.  If and when you are a leader of organizational change, your most valuable currency will be your sincerity.

If we need to get out of the burning building and you know where the exit is, by all means, express your certainty. The less dramatic, in fact the laborious, repetitive, incremental, daily grind of any significant organizational change will benefit most from your sincere efforts to listen and to learn while cultivating that same kind of attention in others.

To be certain in the face of systemic change is to default to a kind of fearful simplicity. How can you know exactly what must be done and exactly how it will end up when it’s humanly impossible to do so? The fully formed adult human beings who walk through the door every day are quite good at recognizing when someone is stating something they have no right no state.

Crises like the burning building are often survived due to heroic individual efforts. Those lessons are easily romanticized and then liberally applied where they don’t belong.


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.