Hang Out With People Who Make You Better

I first played racquetball in high school and loved it right away. It’s intense, fast, highly competitive and an incredible workout.

Less than a year later, not too far into my first semester of college, I befriended a guy who mentioned that he played racquetball and that there were courts on campus just a short walk from where I lived. I brightened up right away and suggested that we play together sometime.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I was cocky or even overly confident about going up against my new friend on the court, but I had developed some skill in the short time I’d been playing and my friend, well, he just looked too big and slow to be much of a player.

He demolished me in our first game. And in our second game, and in the third one, too.

After the beatings he decided to mention that he had played in a semi-pro league for a while. I didn’t know that was a thing.

Sensing that he was about to lose the possibility of establishing a regular game with me due to my utter humiliation, he made me a deal. A right-handed player, he offered to play left-handed until I beat him.

And I did beat him. Six. Months. Later.

And then he switched back to his right hand and destroyed me all over again.

I never did win against his strong hand but the six months it took to break through against his weak hand saw my game improve by leaps and bounds. Beating him that day, conditional though it was, filled me with pure joy because I knew that I had played beyond myself. And I did so through the willing partnership of a very talented friend.

[HT to Anna Schrag for inspiring this post.]


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.

 

 

A Week of Thanks: Day 2

I am thankful for my work.

My day job allows me to interact with thoughtful professionals – leaders and team members – who are curious, energetic and determined. They are people who want to do good work for a cause they believe in. They want to learn and grow, challenging themselves to get better in the ways it is hardest to get better: self-awareness, emotional agility, relationships and working with the dynamics of change.

My side gig allows me to interact with undergraduates on the state university campus near my home. For the most part they demonstrate curiosity, energy and determination. They are people from diverse circumstances with all of the challenges you can imagine who have decided to make their education a priority. They want to learn and grow and I am privileged to facilitate and witness some of their discovery.

I bring the lessons and experiences from my day job into the classroom of my side gig. I bring the questions and revelations from my side gig into my discernment about how to be more effective in my day job.

Independently, each is a gift of challenge and growth. Together, they provide a dynamic interplay of realism, idealism, theory and practice. I am a better person and professional for the opportunity to play in these environments. I don’t take it for granted. I am determined to keep learning so I can serve them well and I will continue to relish the ways they are making me a better human.

I am thankful for my 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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

On whose example do you model your leadership?

A writer I admire said that the way to find one’s own voice as a writer is to imitate other writers. He said that by imitating them you allow yourself to write more freely because you have a model to follow rather than feeling the pressure to be an original voice. Because, of course, you can’t be those other writers but can only do a faint and probably poor imitation, what will begin to emerge is a version of the style you admire which you can practice and refine over time into one that is your own.

I had a similar discussion once with a mentor of mine who said in a discussion of leadership principles that “everything is derivative”; that we are always interpreting and reinterpreting the work, ideas and perspectives of the teachers who have come before us, those we have chosen to turn to as models for how to live, work and lead.

Again there is freedom is this thinking because it grants permission to build on the work of others – to stand on the shoulders of giants – instead of having to start out as giants ourselves.

If modeling is the path to leadership mastery, if it is the means by which you can ultimately claim your leadership “voice,” then there is one question you must answer as capably and responsibly as you can: on whose example do you model your leadership?


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.

Do the Work

“You can’t microwave emotional intelligence.”
Chip Conley, author of Wisdom at Work

There is no “fast forward” button. There is no shortcut, no “work around,” no Cliff’s Notes.

You have to do the work. And there is a hierarchy that can be learned, can even be mastered, but only over time and through experience, persistence, patience and a deep commitment to continuous learning:

Self-awareness: you accurately notice yourself, both your inner state and your behaviors – especially under stress.

Self-management: armed with your awareness of what you feel and how you act – again, especially under stress – you are able to anticipate and redirect yourself into more positive and beneficial behaviors.

Social awareness: perhaps the greatest gift of self-awareness and self-management is that it makes you keenly, empathetically aware of other’s feelings. Once you become fluent in your own emotional state you are capable of acknowledging the emotional states of others.

Relationship management: because you notice more you are prepared to respond well. You are prepared to stay present with another person as they experience a difficult emotional state and help them to work through it constructively.

As I ask my students: You will be a great accountant. So great, in fact, that you are promoted to management. And in your first week as a manager, an employee, formerly a peer, comes to your office to tell you that his mother has died suddenly. She had been sick but was expected to recover. The loss is sudden and your employee is shattered. He breaks down in tears standing in your doorway. What do you do?

What do you do?


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.

Keep on hand for one of those low days

I cleaned out some old files the other day and came across this note from an early mentor, Dr. Ralph Spiegl.  A longtime family friend, Ralph was a warm, encouraging voice during my high school years and I was incredibly lucky to get to know and learn from a person of his caliber. The fact that he took the time to reach out to me in this way is the best kind of proof that successful, caring and loving people do not consider those qualities to be limited resources. They know that the opposite is true, that those qualities can and will remain unlimited in direct proportion to the amount that they are practiced.

Dr. Spiegl was a man who chose to operate from love and generosity; to his work, his students, his alma mater and to an excitable, idealistic 16-year-old kid who was hungry for exactly the kind of encouragement he had to offer.

One story to illustrate his intersecting enthusiasms: as a dedicated Stanford alum, Ralph was keenly interested in helping me gain admission there. He was so determined in this that he made this offer: “David, just get your application turned in and I will be sure that you get an interview.” Well, I had no business applying to Stanford but I was always good in conversation, especially with adults, so I figured that if they were on the fence about me an interview might hoist me over to the other side. So, I applied, and Ralph, hat in hand, came back to me with the news that Stanford didn’t do interviews as part of its admissions process. He was crestfallen. And I was relieved!

That Ralph saw me as someone worthy of an institution about which he cared so much helped me to see my potential in a different way. It literally lifted my sights. And while Stanford wasn’t the place for me, I landed somewhere that was and brought to that new threshold the conviction that comes from having to go through that examination.

I am long overdue in paying tribute to my first mentor. And I hope you will help me do so by finding your own best way to say “yes” to this invitation:

  1. Think of a young person in your life whom you admire and respect
  2. Write (yes, actually write) them a brief note  of encouragement  (magazine clippings optional, though strongly encouraged!)
  3. Do it again.

It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that 30 years from now the cooling shadow of your gesture will pass over them again, providing respite from the exposures that always attend a life well lived.

There are so many good reasons why this is necessary right now but I think it’s best to keep it simple and clear: do it because your time and those qualities that are essentially you will remain unlimited as long as they are shared.

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.