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.

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.

 

 

You do not have to be good

So says Mary Oliver.

And releasing the demands of being “good” may provide the freedom you need to be yourself.

To know how you are made,

To know who you can turn to,

To know what you need – what you want – to learn;

This is how to live and how to lead a more daring life.


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.

Take Responsibility for Your Learning

Jia Jang is inspiring. He feared rejection so much that he decided to pursue it directly with the hope that he would learn to fear it less and respond to it more productively.

He recounts his “100 Day Rejection Challenge” in his self-effacing, funny and beautifully sincere TED Talk. It’s hard not to smile along – to root for him – as he teaches us an extraordinary lesson.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection

In the end I felt like I was rooting for myself; to keep learning the piano, to keep seeking out speaking engagements, to keep writing every day, to keep opening my heart to new people and experiences. All of this takes risk and, as Jia so thoughtfully proposes, all of it leads to benefits far too richly saturated for the fearful mind to anticipate or articulate.

{You can also hear Jia talk about his experience on this terrific episode of the TED Radio Hour}


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 Leadership Compass

I’ve told the story many times of my getting lost in the woods while hiking in a forest on Whidbey Island, WA. Three days in a row I headed out in the early morning darkness on a well-marked trail and three days in a row I got lost.

Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was dark. But three days in a row? There has to be more to the story. And there is: I’m an impatient, fast-acting, things-will-work-out-fine-if-I-just-get-started kind of person. By refusing to slow down, much less stop, I repeatedly failed to see and read the signs – literally and otherwise – that would have kept me on the right path.

On the Leadership Compass that behavior puts me squarely in the North. The compass is a tool I use with both clients and students to help them see their operating preferences accurately and to develop empathy for the operating preferences of others. Just as there is no wrong direction on a compass, there is no wrong leadership personality. Understanding these preferences is key to understanding the persistent and challenging conflicts that take place in organizational settings every day.

After asking a group to sort themselves into one of the following categories, I ask them to discuss the questions that follow:

  • NORTH: Acting – Likes to get going, try things, plunge in.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been considered and voices have been heard before acting.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where and why before acting.
  1. What are the strengths of your style?
  2. What are the limitations of your style?
  3. Which style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from the other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?
  5. What do you value about the other three styles?

I am comfortable asserting that if I had been accompanied on that forest trail by someone from the WEST, SOUTH or EAST I would not have gotten lost. Besides the additional set of eyes and ears, their different sensibility would have tempered my natural inclination to go too fast.

But since there are times we must act alone, keeping our knowledge of the different Compass elements front of mind, and reminding ourselves that we have the ability if not the preferential comfort to practice them, allows us to avoid being servants to our first impulse.

The dynamics of change will frequently require us to walk in the dark. That does not mean we have to get lost.

Personality Compass – Turner & Greco, 1998
Leadership Compass Self Assessment – Be the Change Consulting, 2010


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 Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


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.

Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.


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.

 

Reverse Jenga

In the game of Jenga, it’s not if the tower is going to fall down, it’s when. Players take turns removing blocks, trying not to be the one to cause the tumble while also using the removed blocks to make the tower higher.

The game came to mind today when I was thinking about the toxic build up we so often allow to take place in our most important relationships; the small hurts, the sleights, the passive aggressiveness, the stubborn refusal to apologize, the feelings of victimization.

At home, at work, wherever we are emotionally invested, these little moments which we can so easily write off as “water under the bridge” don’t just wash away; they accumulate and they calcify. Like a hardened artery, they make us perfect candidates for a very painful reconciliation.

We need to learn how to “reverse Jenga” this process. We have to be vigilant in knocking the bricks down, one by one, so that the tower grows smaller and smaller. I’d like to suggest that we can eliminate it altogether but my reality checking self understands that it’s hard to be human, and that it can be especially hard to be human in relationship with other humans. We are going to mess up and hurt each other.

The question is, are we willing and able to knock down the hurts as fast we can? To apologize as fast as we can? To express our needs as fast as we can? To listen as fast as we can? To own what we alone can own as fast as we can?

It’s rare that pile of rubble is considered a good thing, but sometimes you have to knock down something old to build something new.


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.