Love and Leadership

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If we choose to think of love as a “state of being…a state of grace…in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth” as James Baldwin challenges us to do, we place ourselves dangerously close to the realization that our capacity for love is proportionate to our capacity to lead.

What is leadership if not the ability to help oneself and others navigate the complexities of change? What is it if not the ability to live at the edge of our understanding and to help others function well in the discomfort of learning?

And what but love allows us to enter into the real conversations necessary to be in those places? What but love strengthens our vulnerability to stay in a place of not knowing long enough to let the next step emerge?

If you have been loved in this way, you have been led. And if you have been led in this way, you have been loved.

It is not only that “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” as President Kennedy said. It is that leadership and love are indispensable to each other and that learning is the fruit of that sacred tree.


Thank you, Carol Pate, for sharing this photo/quote with me.

 

Brokenness Aside

broken tree growth

Please look at the upper left section of this photograph. Please notice that the branch you see in the foreground is the same branch that has not quite snapped off of the tree. Please also notice that this broken limb is sprouting many healthy shoots, new branches well on their way.

This branch is not whole but it remains connected. And the connection that remains is enough to provide the nutrients necessary for new growth.

You are broken in places, and I am too. Our breaks do not define us unless we choose to let them. Our breaks, if we let them teach us, make us more resilient and more committed to find a way to grow, to make life happen in ways we could not have otherwise imagined.

Do not lose heart in the presence of your brokenness. Take comfort; this is your moment to shine.

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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.

AMDL/G


 

What is school for?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, put out a blog post this week called “Three Things Graduates Need to Know.” It’s his “two cents of advice…for preparing for the world of work.”

His three big ideas are worth repeating here, not only under the banner of “graduation advice” but as a way to answer the question, “What is school for?”

Our most thoughtful institutions of higher learning understand that they are in the business of providing rigorous academic instruction while also creating an environment in which students are challenged and expected to:

  • Develop an ethic of hard work.
  • Learn social skills, especially emotional intelligence.
  • Learn humility (That is, to add some wisdom to their stores of knowledge).

When this happens, if it happens, the downstream effects are positive and potentially profound for them and for the organizations they join. When it doesn’t happen, that learning still may occur in the early (mid?) stages of one’s career, but it is a much bumpier road and likely a less forgiving one.

Students, parents, faculty, staff, mentors and advisors – anyone invested in the best possible outcome of our educational endeavors – will be well-served to remember that success is one (small) part subject knowledge, and three very large parts work ethic, humility and emotional maturity.


 

Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

What to Remember in the Middle of Change

Given that we’re always “in the middle of change,” a better title for this post might be simply, “What to Remember.”

Here are three rules of thumb to keep in mind for when you find yourself feeling pressed, pressured, confined or constricted by the persistent discomfort of change:

Lighten up. If you’re like me, in the middle of change you might just be holding on too tightly; to the past, to the known, to your need for control. You might also notice, should you glance at yourself in the mirror, that your face is full of intensity and effort, that you are actually wearing the strain of your discomfort rather than a countenance of ease and openness. Exercise more. Get some more sleep. Consciously breathe more. Laugh at yourself, at least a little. All of this helps.

Make friends. Do the opposite of your instinct, which is to close yourself off and go it alone. You do not have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. (I do not have bootstraps and I doubt you do either.) That’s a bunch of bogus mythology intended to shore up the American fantasy of itself as “self made” rather than the less mythically appealing truth that we best deal with change by working together. (And by the way, exercise, sleeping, breathing, laughing…all better with friends.)

Stay curious. Learning is the only way. Open, attentive and ready to be surprised by the new is a radically vulnerable posture to take and one that is ultimately powerful. If only from a competitive perspective, whoever learns faster, grows faster. Beyond competition, it’s exhilarating to discover and actually explore new pathways and that very openness, right in the middle of change, will keep you light on your feet and ready to move.


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.

Create Another

Patti Smith: “I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say.”

Sam Shepard: “Say anything. You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

Patti: “What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

Sam: “You can’t. It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

{Patti Smith, Just Kids, 2010}


I don’t know anyone who’s not at least a little bit nervous starting something new. Patti Smith had never written a play and here was Sam Shepard encouraging her to just fall into it, to let it happen.

That’s easy for a seasoned pro to say but for a newbie, that falling feels endlessly scary.

The ability to begin, again and again and again, is the privilege of the human species. Reinvention is the best of who we are…it is, quite literally, why we are here.

Patti Smith was young, energized and on the verge of a breakthrough when she was doubting herself to Sam Shepard. That’s an “easy” space within which to be doubtful. But decades later, this proven poet, rock star, and author performed for the Swedish Academy at the Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan.

And she screwed it up. Improvisation in the moment eluded her. So she attempted a different kind; she politely asked if she could start again.

She did exactly that, beginning and completing a beautiful rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the other laureates fell over themselves telling her how much they admired her for how she handled it.

Young or old, seasoned or new, we are invited to approach this moment as a beginner.
The only question is whether or not we will be willing to start again.


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.

Big dreams, Small steps

Big ideas, big dreams, big accomplishments, big goals…they are just so compelling, so fun and interesting and exciting to think about.

What if? What could be? What’s possible? It will all be so much more (fill in the blank) when that happens!

We fall in love with the idea of the end state, not so much with the next step.

And because of that, when it comes to taking that next step, we find that we are stuck. Why? Because the big thing is only a concept, an abstraction of a future state, lovely in the imagination but that’s about it…for now.

The next step, on the other hand, is concrete, real and do-able. It makes the big thing that much closer which induces our resistance to say something along the lines of, What if it doesn’t turn out the way I envision it? (It won’t) or “What if I find out I don’t have what it takes to get there? (You probably do, but you might not).

And so the next step, the small next step that you really can take, ends up becoming a huge mental leap when really, it’s still just a step.

Small steps for big dreams. Small steps for big ideas. Small steps for big accomplishments. Small steps for big goals.

Dream big. Step small.


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.