Learning is Not Optional

Have you achieved what you’re capable of?

Are you well equipped for the speed of change and the demands of complexity?

Are you operating in a competitor-free environment?

Are local, regional, national and international issues irrelevant to your organization?

Is your team crystal clear about your vision and self-driven to attain it? Committed to your values and living them with integrity?

Do you and your colleagues have difficult conversations as soon and as often as needed? Do you do so with deep respect and empathy?

If so, don’t worry about learning.

If not…


 

I Can’t Do It Without You

I will always think too small about my own potential.

Left to my own impulses, I will always make the canvas of my possibility too small, and paint myself, with big, bright strokes, right into the corner.

Since I am both the painter and the canvas, I will think it a sufficient representation, even a bold one, but I cannot see it, so I do not know.

When I invite you into the gallery, you look upon the work I have created, you tilt your head, you take a step closer and immediately I know that you see it. You see that something is not quite right.

I ask, “What is it?”

And you say, “Well, it’s lovely, but it’s just so much smaller than I thought it would be.”

“What do you mean?” I protest. “It’s just how I imagined it!”

“Exactly!” you say, as my trusted colleague and friend. “That’s exactly the problem! You think you’ve stretched yourself to a new limit but you’ve only painted yourself into a corner. It’s too small a space for you!”

“No, no…,” I begin to protest further, but then I step back to look at my creation and I see, right away I see that you are right.

I had the choice of any canvas I wanted. The small ones were much too small and I am far beyond their limitations. But the large ones, the truly expansive ones, those are for the real painters, the ones who merit the largest possible expression of themselves.

And I chose the one in between, the one that would allow me to satisfy my too small definition of self.

You saw what I could not see. You helped me know what I could not know. That is why my development, my learning, is impossible without you.

Today, I buy a new canvas. “Will you come with me, please?”

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Called to Rise

We never know how high we are
{Emily Dickinson}

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
  Our statures touch the skies—

The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—


My father was an Episcopal priest and so it was not entirely a surprise when, around my 13th birthday my mother asked me if I had any inclination to follow that path for myself.

“Absolutely not,” I declared.

“But what if you are called?,” she asked.

“I would hang up!,” I shot back.

A few years later I would have gladly borrowed some of that conviction for what I didn’t want in my search to figure out what I did.

It became clear with the benefit of hindsight that a path was taking shape in front of me but it was so difficult to believe it in the moment that I hesitated to step forward. I was being called to rise – into myself, into my gifts – but I lacked trust in what I had already done as evidence of what I could and would become. The pieces were there, but the puzzle remained a mystery.

The clues to the solution came with a couple of major revelations. First, that what I had to offer was wanted and valued and, second, that the way I would and could offer it would remain beyond my imagination until I lived it into being. I know that sounds squishy but for me it’s the difference between reading a recipe and wondering about how it will taste and going ahead and making it to find out. It may not turn out as you imagined it but now that there’s a baseline, adjustments can be made.

I still wrestle with the voice in the head that shouts that I dare not dream “to be a King.” And those I mentor and teach, along with good friends and colleagues, generously share their own version of that same inner struggle.

I encourage myself and I encourage them with the reminder that I remain the worst possible judge of my potential; that if I sincerely want to respond to the call that comes for me, I must surround myself with those who will not only help me hear it but also grab the phone away before I can hang it up.


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.

 

Optimal Conditions for Growth

As leaders learn to see themselves as planters and cultivators, they will grow increasingly well attuned to the optimal conditions for growth:

Container: the supportive container for your team members is the thoughtfully defined scope of their work. It is appropriately sized to their role, experience and your expectations. It is adjusted based on progress, conditions, and the inevitable changes that occur.

Resources: soil, water and light for your team members are the information they require about the organization and its plans, how they fit into those plans and easy access to the tools they need to be successful. It is context and perspective about how what they do is connected to the goals and vision of the organization.

Attention: for your team members, regular care and feeding is checking in, asking what they need to be successful, providing recognition, assurance, feedback and necessary course corrections. Too much and they will drown. Too little and they will starve.

Applied with discipline and with care, it is nothing short of a miracle what can occur when living things are provided with conditions that respect and expect the emergence of their inherent potential.

Growth is never a given. It can never be assumed. But it is always possible when the conditions are right.

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Plumeria seedling at three weeks. Photo by Davis Berry (2018)


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 Constant Gardener

A few years ago, during a renovation of our backyard, we established a garden area that contains four raised-bed planter boxes. Those beds, with our care and feeding, have yielded beautiful lettuces, bucketfuls of cherry tomatoes and a variety of peppers, carrots and peas. It’s a garden that, once started, tends to take on a life of its own. Such are the favorable growing conditions of southern California!

This year, for so many very good reasons, the beds are empty. Optimistically, we replenished them with potent new soil but then simply didn’t follow through and get them planted.

The image of those empty beds came to mind yesterday as I was thinking about what happens in too many organizations; mission, vision and values statements are decided upon, videos are made and posters are placed without any clear plan for activation.

Just like my empty planters, those high-minded statements and principles contain essential nutrients. They have the potential to sustain the growth of something quite powerful but only if thoughtfully activated and carefully tended.

You would never assume that just creating the space for a garden and filling it with fresh soil would lead to a bumper crop.

So why is it repeatedly assumed that videos and posters are sufficient means for helping thoughtful people act upon something as important as what your organization stands for and who you aspire to be?

Culture is the sum total of the conversations you have about the things that matter most. It has the potential for vigorous growth – in precisely the ways you would like it to – but only after it is properly seeded, watered, picked and pruned. In other words, paid attention to.

You can build those planters in a day or two. But you will never be done with the gardening.


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.