Reach For The High Bar

It’s hard to hold high ideals, to put yourself on the hook for living up to something exceptional. It’s not a question of whether or not you will slip up sometimes because of course you will.

The question is how you use those moments to repair, to learn and to teach.

Against the alternative you’d take your chances with someone willing to strive for something great and mess up along the way.

Against the alternative? You’d take that in a heartbeat.


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.

Independence Day

What it takes to form a nation:

Dedication to higher principles.
Clarification of identity.
Exploration of the unknown.
Devotion to a cause.
Consecration to learning.
Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.

And, what’s at stake:

Freedom from tyranny.
Independence of purpose, thought and action.
Discovery of new frontiers.
Becoming your own authority.

What it takes to develop the self:

Dedication to higher principles.
Clarification of identity.
Exploration of the unknown.
Devotion to a cause.
Consecration to learning.
Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.

And, what’s at stake:

Freedom from tyranny.
Independence of purpose, thought and action.
Discovery of new frontiers.
Becoming your own authority.


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.

Not Just Yet

In fireworks as in life it’s best to remember that a whole lot happens before the grand finale.

While you’re worrying about how to navigate the crowd to get back to the car a lot of good stuff is going on.

The end will always find us. And it may be beautiful and powerful evidence of your best effort. But when it comes it really is the end, leaving us to wonder what we might have missed while we were waiting for it to be over.

Don’t be in a hurry. This next one just might take your breath 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.

Don’t Motivate Me, Please

People are internally motivated. The good work of leadership is to tap into that motivation and accelerate, support, deepen and encourage it. I think the biggest leadership mistake is one of getting in the way of what is already there. It is the hubris of thinking that I either have to supply motivation or that my version of it is superior to what someone brings with them. This is classically paternalistic. “That’s nice,” says the well-intentioned leader, “but here’s how it should be.”

So many employees buy into this paternalism because they love the protection it affords. They are making a painful trade-off by accepting someone else’s version of how they should feel, think and believe and only because they are separated by one rung on the pay scale. At best this substitution of perspective is an ill-fitting replacement and at worst it’s deeply corrosive. The courageous leadership move is toward a partnership that is about maximizing what the individual has to offer; what you saw in them in the first place that made you want to hire them.

Leaders control, in my opinion, because the chaos of the individual is just too overwhelming. That is to say, most leaders don’t seem to have the capacity to treat each individual employee as a naturally, uniquely motivated person and figure out how to make the most it. And that capacity doesn’t exist because the leader hasn’t looked within long enough or purposefully enough to discover their own motivation. Ultimately, they just end up repeating the pattern of their experience because they haven’t learned to value and express their personal, internal perspective. Instead, the leader lumps everyone together, expecting them to be “just like me” and thinking that somehow this is going to lead to innovation and value creation.

How can it possibly?

Start within. The courageous step is the one back to yourself.

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’s a circle, not a line

star-trails-stunning-cosmos-polaris-north-star-at-center-as-earth-rotates-on-axis-beautiful-star-trails-time-lapse-stunning-cosmos-beautiful-night-sky_heu3nlzt_thumbnail-full12

There’s a great moment in the movie “Contact” when Jodie Foster’s character – and pretty much every scientist and engineer on the planet -is trying to figure out how to read the design plans for a transportation device that has been broadcast to earth by an alien species.

Attempting to read the plans in a linear manner – in the same way we would read any text – proves impossible. The images and symbols simply don’t line up using the tried and true approach. Finally, Foster is tipped off that the “documents” themselves are actually multi-dimensional and once connected on three sides they become usable. This changes everything.

I had an insight recently that feels a lot like that.

My work with leaders and teams is centered on three interconnected principles, the application of which is the best “equipment” for building resilience and adaptability that I have learned to apply. But I’ve been thinking of it too narrowly, a victim of the same “tried and true” thinking described above.

These principles are the bedrock of my work, the centerpiece of every conversation:

  1. All change starts within. That is, we must develop a deep self-awareness, a fully literate self-understanding if we are to be sufficiently rooted to withstand the winds of change. That self-awareness creates an extraordinary byproduct known as empathy. When we know ourselves we begin to understand the depth to which others can be known and our curiosity leads us directly to…
  2. Deeper connection and stronger relationships. A single rooted tree does not make a forest. It is a collection of rooted trees, co-mingling there roots beneath the surface that makes a forest, an ecosystem within which shelter can be found, diversity can flourish and possibility begins too emerge.
  3. From that place of deep personal awareness and committed connection to one another we become open to the new. We know we must keep learning and exploring if we are going to survive and even thrive in the face of change. We also know that it’s far easier to peer into the unknown – to stand at the edge of the proverbial cliff – when we’re inextricably linked to others, our fears and doubts made tolerable by their presence and encouragement.

But then what?

And here’s the insight, something so obvious that I haven’t taken the time to understand and consider it an explicit way.

What happens after the cliff edge is that we walk the circle again.

 What I learn about myself at the cliff edge becomes the next layer of my self-awareness.

What we learn about one another through that shared experience becomes the next layer of empathy and trust in our relationship.

And it is that accumulation, that layering of self and relational knowledge, that equips us to courageously ask the inevitable question: what’s next?

We walk the circle again. And now, a little bit more faithful, a little bit more thoughtful and a little bit more prepared, we go even further.

Our ability to adapt and grow in the face of change is only limited by our willingness to walk the circle, to not break the chain from self to others to learning.

To keep walking. That is everything.

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.

Can you help me?

Last summer I was invited to be a guest lecturer in the College of Business at Cal State San Marcos University here in San Diego. Those first two classes allowed me to fulfill a longtime goal of teaching at the college level, and it is as challenging and fulfilling as I hoped it would be. I accepted two more class assignments this spring, eager for the chance to apply my lessons learned from the first semester and to see the experience less from the narrow perspective of survival and more from the advantaged point of view of having come this way before.

As the school year comes to a close and I anticipate continuing my affiliation with the University in semesters ahead, I find myself thinking about one interaction – one conversation – this spring that helped me to get fundamentally clear about my “why?” for teaching.

I am a leadership coach and consultant by trade. My “day job” allows me to work with leaders to help them become more effective in leading their teams and growing their organizations. It is challenging and humbling work. Progress comes in fits and starts and change is tough to measure in the speed and impatience of the modern company. If I had an agenda for my teaching at the beginning of the fall semester it was to bring this reality – the necessity of continuous learning amidst the demands of organizational life – to my students in a way that would bring urgency to our collaboration and focus to our work.

If I hadn’t physically bumped into a student at a campus event earlier this semester this would likely still be my point of view.

The College of Business takes seriously the opportunity and responsibility it has to prepare its students for career success. One example of this is an “etiquette dinner” for sophomore students who are on the cusp of pursuing and interviewing for internships. The evening is exactly what you are imagining: a facilitated dining experience, course by course, designed to equip students to succeed at the all-important professional lunch or dinner. I was invited to serve as a table moderator, tasked with keeping the conversation flowing amidst instructions for eating soup (spoon it away from, not towards you) and selecting the correct water glass (it’s on your right).

Before entering the dining room, students, faculty and staff were encouraged to “network” in a reception area too small for our group. It was a nervous, crowded room and if you wanted a drink of water you had to work for it. When I finally made it to the self-serve beverage station, I proceeded to bump into one of the students as I was reaching for a glass. I quickly apologized and noticed right away that he was hesitant to engage in any further conversation. Like many of the students that night he had a “fish out of water” sense about him, making it perfectly clear why an event like this is such an essential opportunity.

Just as I was retreating back into the crowd, this young man stepped toward me with unexpected composure and simply said: “Can you help me?”

Surprised at first, I replied, “Of course. What do you need?”

He said, “I don’t know how to do this. What do I say?”

“This” was the small talk of networking. He was out of his depth, nervous and intimidated and, in the swirl of all of those feelings, was still willing to ask for help! He made an affirmative choice to learn from the situation he was in when so many of his peers were shrinking from the opportunity. He could have stayed on the sidelines or just melted into the larger group but he chose a different path.

So we talked it over. I asked him a few questions and encouraged him to ask a few of me. I made some suggestions, shared some ideas and wished him well before we went our separate ways. It took five minutes. I think that I helped him, like he asked me to.

I still want my students to bring their energy and commitment to learning to our modern workplaces that are so in need of meaningful, sustainable change. I still want them to meet the crazy demands of the business world with a maturity and mindfulness that expands the conversation beyond the balance sheet.

But that’s my agenda. It’s not why I teach.

I teach because I want to be around people who, from time to time will courageously remind me that one of the bravest and most important things we can ever do is ask for help.

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.

Salt and Light

salt-mounds“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” – Matthew Ch. 5

Salt adds flavor, depth, dimension, perspective, enhancement, improvement, and preservation. No recipe has salt as its primary ingredient. It always acts in service of the other components, bringing them together into something otherwise unattainable. It is essential but not exclusive. It’s never just about the salt. When it is, it’s a mistake and the dish is ruined.

What does it mean for me to be “salt”?

Maybe it means that I have to let go of ego-driven, me-first, right/wrong dichotomies. Maybe it means I am to be of service rather than to be served. Maybe it means I choose to make contributions that complement the whole rather than standing out as an individual. Maybe it means humility, restraint, listening, noticing.

I’ve been having trouble being salt. Have you?

Light provides visibility, illumination, clarity, exposure, transparency, inclusion, honesty and awareness. Light is beautiful and inviting, welcoming us to a new day, showing the way in the dark. It is also revealing, sometimes exposing stark realities which must be acknowledged, if not dealt with, because they are now seen. Light can be manipulated to shade and shadow, giving us the chance to avoid the truth.

What does it mean for me to be “light”?

Maybe it means that I ask how I must change before asking others to change. Maybe it means that I shine an inviting light on others needs, shifting it away from my own. Maybe it means that I show someone the way, guiding them to a safer place. Maybe it means that I invite others into tough conversations and meet them there with empathy, restraint and a commitment to learn.

I’ve been having trouble being light. Have you?

Too much salt leaves us parched and too little leaves us longing for something more.

Too much light leaves us blinded and too little prevents us from finding our way.

There is a space between – there is always a space between. I am trying to find it. Will you meet me there?

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 Don’t Fear People Whose Story You Know

20130316-155255.jpg“Ask: ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking.

Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

Talk to people you know. Talk to people you don’t know. Talk to people you never talk to. Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty. Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”

Turning to One Another,” Margaret Wheatley

The Story of Now

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

— Thomas Merton —

The Story of Now is the story of what we do with our learning and how we continue to develop it. It is the story of turning insight into action, of turning our internal awareness toward our external reality. In other words, it is the story of how we change.

My daughter attends a school that is primarily made up of Hispanic students. Yesterday they were concerned about the election. Today, many are scared that they will be forced to “return” to a country they have never visited. This is not unique to her school or our community. This is our new national reality and it doesn’t much feel like the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today, I am thinking of our great country as a small child who has crawled into its mother’s lap seeking reassurance that bad things won’t happen. That mother, like all mothers do, lies to her child. She says, “everything will be ok” and “nothing bad is going to happen.” She delays the child’s experience of reality because she knows that the child needs reassurance right now, in this moment. Sixty million Americans crawled onto mom’s lap yesterday because they preferred to be seduced by the lie of simplistic reassurance rather than challenged to wrestle with the complexity of truth.

The truth is that the America of the 1950’s – homogenous and predictable – no longer exists. It hasn’t for some time. That change has been hard for lots and lots of people, in real ways that I have no intention of denigrating or belittling. Globalization is real. The world is smaller and more connected than ever before. Jobs have been lost. The definition of marriage has changed. The make-up of our citizenry has changed. Racism (and so many other “-isms”) remains pervasive. A black man was elected president…twice! And, sadly our government has proven itself to be an ineffective monolith of self-serving behavior. In the face of all of that, with the option of choosing either a deeply flawed woman who was prepared for the job or a detestable narcissist who is grotesquely unqualified, well…60 million people spit in the face of common decency, picked up their ball and walked home.

It’s an immature, shallow response to a new level of complexity. The greatest nation on earth just announced that it is not prepared for change. The “right” guy came along at the right time to fan the flames of uncertainty and send half of the electorate to act on the regressed belief that machismo, polarization and isolation are not only viable but preferable responses. This is stark evidence that when imagination is lacking human beings do the simplest thing they can think of, even when it’s horribly wrong.

We have to, perhaps now we will, reconcile ourselves to the depth of our country’s division. We need leaders who are equipped for that and we need them at all levels of public and private service. In part, that “equipment” is the ability to tell three distinctly and inextricably linked stories: one of personal understanding, one of deep connection, and one of continuous learning. That last one? That’s the Story of Now.

An honest and ongoing self-examination reveals us to ourselves and creates the opportunity to do something with and about what we discover. That experience creates openness to others and the ability to enter into and build relationships of powerful empathy and mutual reliance. With that foundation in place it becomes possible to wrestle – productively, positively, imaginatively – with the realities of complexity and change.

Know yourself. Commit to others. Learn together to create change. That’s the recipe mature adults – mature leaders – follow to navigate toward and meet the challenges of our shared existence. Yes, there are many days we long for mother’s lap and her false promises of security. But we don’t succumb to that temptation because we have earned the ability and made the commitment to stand on our own two feet, holding each other up when the going is difficult. We have earned the ability to see simplistic lies, false promises, fear mongering and hatred for exactly what they are.

The changing face of our country and the interconnectedness of our world will only continue, regardless of what happens these next few years. More acceptance is coming. More openness is coming. More structural dependency is coming. More integrated, holistic and systemic thinking is coming. And it will be created, sustained and led by people who understand how to speak the stories of understanding, connection and learning.

The Story of Now is happening…now. If ever there was a time to write your part, this is 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.

Becoming

DSC_0042Sometimes I forget that my son isn’t finished yet. He’s 16, he’s strong-willed and he doesn’t see the world quite the way I do. I understand that this comes with the territory but since my dad left well before my teenage years I feel like I’m leaping without a net on most days. Lacking a model upon which to base my “fathering” I tend, of course, to default to my own experience. And not to my 16 year old experience but to my 46 year old experience. This is entirely unfair, to both him and me.

I so want for him to care about the things I care about, to find importance in what I find important, to believe in, move towards and otherwise embrace ideas and purposes that weren’t even on my radar, much less in my daily practice until I as well until adulthood.

In my utter lack of realistic appreciation for his need to walk his path in his way, I find myself wanting these things desperately, frustratingly, achingly. Sometimes, I drive myself a little crazy with it. I get frustrated. I get ornery and “snipey” and jerky.

Pause here for long sigh of uncomfortable recognition.

There is an essential belief and practice in the coaching, therapy and other “helping” professions that we who are coaches and therapists are to meet our clients “where they are.” This is, of course, as opposed to where we want them to be or where, in our wise assessment, we believe they ought to be.

This is easier, much easier, said than done. I was recently expounding on this idea in a small group conversation about the necessity of leaders to tend to the building of strong connections and durable relationships. I help forth with the example that we might be enjoying our personal “summer” while a colleague or peer is experiencing a transitional “fall” or is even plunged into the depths of “winter.” That our job as leaders is to sharpen our lens to notice and discover where people are and what they need so that we can help them be as successful as possible from that place.

I was both convicted and convincing. For a little while, I even convinced myself.

And then I got home and watched as that logical insight gave way to the messy truth of my uncertain heart. I want so much for him to see what I see, know what I know, to believe in the depths of his heart what I believe in the depths of mine.

More important than that, and far more essential, is how I share what I see, know and believe so that he has a positive model of the value of seeing, knowing and believing. What he chooses to do with that will always be up to him and I have to make peace with that.

I have to learn to love what is unfinished in him, which means I must continue to learn to love what is unfinished in me.

A worthy goal. A difficult path.

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.