Take the path of vulnerability

I hand out an assignment to my class. There are a list of options from which to choose, one of which is “Emotional Intelligence.” Perusing the list a student raises his hand and asks, “Will you please tell me what ‘Emotional Intelligence” is?

An act of vulnerability in service of learning.

A friend says to me, “I would like to get to know you better.”

An act of vulnerability in service of relationship.

A leader asks his team, “How can I be better for you?”

An act of vulnerability in service of…service.

Small acts that point to an essential truth: there is nothing we care about that won’t require us to make ourselves vulnerable. If we don’t care, we don’t bother.

The link below will take you to a 12 minute clip (which inspired this post) of one of my favorite teachers, David Whyte, speaking to the truth of vulnerability as the access point to real conversation.

David Whyte — Poetry from the On Being Gathering (Closing Words) https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-closing-words-oct2018

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.

Serious Play

IMG_5766“We have no empirical evidence that being more serious leads to greater insight into the human condition than being playful. There is, however, growing empirical evidence that being playful opens toward the ever-elusive, supple heart.”
John Paul Lederach

There is only one thing I miss…that I truly miss…from going to work every day at an organization; from being an employee, on a team, responsible to deliver what we’ve promised.

That thing? The fun of it. The playfulness, the messing around, the good humor, the connection and camaraderie. Enjoying myself at work – playing at work – is something I never got tired of and that I miss very much.

As a “sole practitioner” I have to work very hard to create the kind of playfulness that, inside the walls of the company – in the right conditions, of course – happens organically. I have regular and irregular phone calls and email/text exchanges with friends and colleagues that help me keep perspective, have a laugh and enjoy the experience of my day-to-day work. And that’s essential because I can take my work much too seriously on far too many days and everyone in shouting distance of the home office knows it!

So I am reminded today, a busy and intentional Monday, that the focus of my furrowed brow suits my work only insofar as it moves me toward lightness and freedom. Closer to the playground than to the principal’s office, right?

That the seriousness of my endeavor can be for the purpose of creating more playfulness – rather than just more work “product” – seemed an irreconcilable difference to me for far too long. That my work is and always needs to be play, given all of the best effort I can muster, is what makes it worth doing. And what makes those on the receiving end much more appreciative of what I offer.

I love my work. Some days I love it so much that I squeeze the life right out of it. Some days, better days, I hold it lightly…so lightly that it just starts to float away. And I can sit back and smile at the wonder of it all!

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.


The Blessing is Outside Your Comfort Zone

The title of this post is taken from an OnBeing interview with Ashley Hicks, co-founder of Black Girls RUN!. Buying new running shoes for her second marathon she tells the salesman that she is nervous and concerned about the upcoming race. In response he says, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

She continues, “Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that. The blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with you’ll never experience something new and incredible.”

When I agreed to teach undergraduate business school students last fall I found myself on a new edge, one that had me both frightened and energized. I have given hundreds of talks and facilitated at least as many classes, the longest of which was three days long. A semester’s worth of preparation and impact with something as important as a grade attached to it was brand new territory and I was concerned that I had the ability to sustain it. That concern was baseless. It came from my lizard brain and threatened to sabotage an experience that I knew could be extraordinary.

And it was, because the blessing is outside my comfort zone.

Earlier this summer, I agreed to teach a new class for the same college this fall semester. My lizard brain’s reaction was swift and startling. Despite two consecutive semesters of successful classroom experiences my default reaction was to resist and doubt myself in the face of the unknown.

The edge of possibility, the threshold of growth and blessing, is always attended by a voice of doubt. If it isn’t then the edge is not an edge in the first place! It is not my job to conquer it, to arrive at some plateau of uber-confidence where I never feel the twinge of fear. My good work is to feel its presence and use it to remind me that on the other side of that feeling is the version of myself I most aspire to be.

Fear has no chance in the face of a blessing.

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 We Need Now

“It’s an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole.” Courtney Martin

“Complexity can only be held by community.” Parker Palmer

I listen to a weekly podcast called On Being whose goal is to “take up the big questions of meaning.” A recent episode featuring Courtney Martin and Parker Palmer is an important conversation about the “The Inner Life of Rebellion.”

Three things stand out for me:

First, the participants present a model for the necessary qualities of intergenerational conversations that are and will continue to be essential for our cultural well-being in the years and decades ahead. Most of my work is with Boomer and GenX leaders and they are wary of Millennials, to put it nicely. As we know, the more we can normalize one to the other the more impact all will have.

Second, the first and primary focus of any act of “rebellion” must be on the internal life of the individual. And, that making the effort to start within – to continually assess and shape one’s wholeness – is in itself an act of rebellion. We live at a time when we can present multiple and fractured versions of ourselves to the world. What would happen if we lived into a commitment to our own wholeness and shared ourselves as the works in progress that we are?

FInally, and perhaps most significantly for our culture of “rugged individualism” is an emphasis on the role of community in holding complexity. We do not need to, nor can we, hold as individuals the overwhelming amount of turbulence that exists in the world today. While we must each find our own center point in the midst of it, we will not work with it constructively as individuals alone.

These, then, are the urgent requirements of leadership today:

  1. Facilitate empathy across the generations.
  2. Commit to your wholeness. Start and stay in an ever-deepening conversation with your internal self.
  3. Be a catalyst for the transition from “me” to “we.”

If it’s an act of rebellion to live this way, it’s an even greater one to lead this way. And we must.