Who Am I Being?

“I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Rumi

Ben Zander, orchestra conductor and co-author of “The Art of Possibility,” had an epiphany about why his players weren’t producing the sound he wanted. Instead of berating them for a lack of preparation, professionalism or skill, he decided instead to look at himself.

“What are they doing wrong?” or “Why can’t they get it right?” became, “Who am I being that my players are not playing the way I would like them to?”

He began a practice of placing a blank sheet of paper on each player’s music stand, on which they were invited to give him any and all feedback they wanted to share. And because he was willing to change himself, to change the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra, they did exactly that.

Every time – every single time – I have applied this same approach to my own circumstances I have found myself not only happier but more effective, too. When I stop trying to change my clients and instead change my approach to our interactions; when I stop trying to change my children and instead change the quality of my listening; when I stop feeling frustrated with other’s negativity or cynicism or disconnection and instead become more positive, optimistic and connected, this is when good things start to happen.

And to those who suggest that this is an unfair division of labor, that changing oneself is an unsustainable approach unless others are willing to do the same, I can only say that leader always go first. As a result of doing so, one of two things tends to happen: others positively respond to the leader’s personal changes and begin to change themselves (like Mr. Zander’s musicians learning to give him feedback) or they reveal their intransigence, helping the leader better understand which relationships and opportunities to invest in and which to leave behind.

close up of hand holding pencil over white background

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How fascinating!

A fun and challenging test for you:

For the next week, each and every time you screw something up – shatter a glass, miss a deadline, say a dumb thing, send the wrong information, miss your turnoff – shut down your regular critical voice of reaction and replace it with “How fascinating!”

So, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that!” becomes:

How fascinating!

And, “You idiot, what were you thinking?!” becomes:

How fascinating!

And, “Ok, dummy, there you go again.” becomes:

How fascinating!

Give it a try. See what happens.

Curiosity is so much more appealing than criticism, especially when it’s aimed at ourselves.

{“How fascinating!” is shamelessly borrowed and propagated from the brilliant book, The Art of Possibility}

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 Best Advice

The best advice I ever received came from the book, “The Art of Possibility” by Ben and Rosamund Zander. It goes like this:

Don’t take yourself so damn seriously!” (aka, ‘Rule #6′)

I remember thinking, “How did they know!!!” (Yes, three exclamation points.)

The second best piece of advice I ever received was to see a therapist.

Doing so is how I learned make the space to apply the best advice I ever received.

I don’t believe that therapy is the only path to follow but it worked for me and it continues to pay dividends.

I’m not fixed or finished, by any means. I’m a work in progress and will forever be. It’s just that the time and energy I invested in clearing a path to understanding has made it possible for me to reduce my self-interest, my selfishness, my neediness and my need for control.

That reduction has forever changed the quality of my relationships, my capacity for understanding and empathy, my openness to new experiences. It has increased my sense of humor and my perspective. It has encouraged my acceptance of everything that’s beyond my control and a deeper commitment to everything that is.

And that’s what motivates my work today. I understand what’s possible and I want it for others. And for the people they lead. Especially for them.

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.

Before Asking Others to Change

How will you change first? How must you change first?

It’s a radical question because it puts the responsibility back on you. And few people, few leaders are willing to take that kind of responsibility.

Or ask it this way, from The Art of Possibility , “Who am I being that my player’s (my colleague’s, teammate’s, direct report’s) eyes are not shining?”

“Who am I being?” is not just a call to self-awareness but to a humility that opens you to another way of being.

And those “shining eyes”? If they are “windows to the soul” they confirm that those we are privileged to have on our team are fully with us. Even more than that, from our sincere commitment to learn those eyes shine with the anticipation of their own learning.

It is in our very nature to grow, to learn and to make more meaning.

Effective leaders make that possible because they go first.

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.



To honor the accomplishment of my son’s high school commencement today here’s a piece I wrote a few years back. Congratulations, Duncan!


Here at the end of the school year I’ve been thinking about what I would say to a class of graduating seniors to mark their commencement. There’s nothing here you don’t already know. The question is, for all of us, at what point does the reminding help us finally decide to take action. At what point do we say, yes, there is another way?

Social media is for sharing, not comparing. We are the most connected we’ve ever been and it’s an extraordinary thing. It’s also a trap that can put you into a “downward spiral” (see “The Art of Possibility”) really fast if you aren’t careful. 

You are creative. Beautifully, richly creative. Saying you are not is a lie you tell to protect yourself from the fear of failure.

Everything you find lacking in someone else you find lacking in yourself. Be kind, starting with yourself.

Bullies and other junkie people are in pain which is why they take it out on you. Don’t give them the satisfaction. And, if you can, help them.

The kids who dress weird and are into art, music, tech and other creative pursuits will likely be your boss someday.

Learning is the only path through change. Change will never stop so learning can’t either. Once you finish all of the academic stuff, turn that attention on yourself. Be your own best subject.

There’s no such thing as “ready.” If you’re ever “ready” you’ve waited too long.

If the path ahead of you is clear, you are probably on someone else’s path. Yours is the tough one and even though you will be tempted many times to give it up for some “greener grass,” stay on it and make the most of it.

The vast majority of the world’s population is worse off than you in ways that are sometimes hard to believe. Astonishingly those same underprivileged, underfunded and under appreciated people tend to have a perspective on what matters most that too often eludes the rest of us. 

The quality of your relationships determine the quality of your life. Be generous with those you care about. Love them well.

The world is not waiting to laugh at you when you mess up. Everyone else is too concerned about their own stuff. So, mess up often, learn from it and get better. Living intentionally is where the action is. 

If it can’t be done playfully it’s not worth doing. Find what you can play at and just keep playing.

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 Bigger Self

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet 

“It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.” – Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander from The Art of Possibility

Once in a while it helps to remember that it’s all invented. It’s easy to lose perspective, to get wrapped around the axle of circumstances and conditions that are completely made up in the first place. (Think of things like grades or performance reviews being valued OVER learning and contribution and you’ll be in the ballpark.)

There are two things I easily forget and I bet you do, too:

1) I’m a great storyteller. Human beings are gifted with this lightning fast limbic brain that puts emotion before reason. When emotion leads the way, justified by the insistent survival mechanisms of the brain stem (Seth Godin’s lizard brain) we masterfully create fictions too rich for publication. Dragged into the light of day they crumble to dust but in the fantasy factories of our minds they couldn’t be more real.

2) It’s not about me. The world is not waiting with bated breath for my next move. The people around me are not extras in the film production of my life. Everyone is fighting their own battle, making their own way. The sooner I get to an attitude – and supporting actions – of making it even the slightest bit easier for others to make their way, the sooner I will receive the support I need to do the same. It is the cosmic truth of the universe.

With a little practice – and the discipline of self-awareness – we can turn these common pitfalls to our advantage. The great storyteller can tell a new story. That means investigating our assumptions about what’s going on and shifting our thinking to the possibility of the new story that can take its place. As for the second one, we can start from a place of humility (literally, coming to ground) that is born of a commitment to create space for others rather than take it up for ourselves. The fact is, if it’s all about you and it’s all about me and it’s all about him and it’s all about her then, by default,   it must be all about…all of us.

Chances are, when it all starts to feel like too much, when the overwhelm is creeping in and the window of opportunity appears to be closing fast, that we are telling ourselves an old story. That story is based on old assumptions and rooted in our self-centeredness.

Each of us can live into the possibility of a bigger self. In a beautiful paradox, that bigger self emerges only when we redefine “bigger” in a way that isn’t quite so big.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl


Do not ask someone to be something you are unwilling to be yourself. Leadership is living your vision so completely that others cannot help but do the same.

There are easily hundreds of things I could say about the experience my family had last night. I am only going to focus on one. Consistently in my career I have seen this one quality demonstrated by a small number of leaders to great effect but never more powerfully or totally than in the language, body and presence of Ben Zander.

Mr. Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and the co-author of “the book authored by Roz Zander” (his words), The Art of Possibility. I read this book ten years ago. I have taught its principles, attempted to live its precepts, recommended it to countless individuals and groups, and referenced it in some way in every talk I have given and every class I have taught. Further to that I have watched video of Ben Zander speaking, both on Ted

and elsewhere and have become deeply familiar with his style, his stories, his patter and his expressions. Until last night I had never seen him in person and it was exhilarating.

Without overstating it it’s important to say that quite literally there was nothing he said that was new to me. I’ve been paying attention to his work for ten years and the trunk of his tree, along with all of the primary branches are almost precisely the same as when I first read and heard him. He is a living monument to the extraordinary power of redundancy done right.

And the only way to do redundancy that way and that well is by bringing an energy to it that is born of a vision so clear that he cannot help but to shout, sing, cajole, laugh, conduct, clap, dance, contort and otherwise give over his entire physical and emotional presence to the manifestation of it. That vision, simply put, is this: that we will all live from the place of possibility.

My kids were stunned by him. “What is this thing we are going to?” “Why are we doing this on a Tuesday night?” “I have homework. A LOT of homework?”

My fifteen year old: “that wasn’t so bad.” (HUGE praise!)

My nine-year old: “that was awesome.”

And while they were certainly talking in some way about his content they are really talking about the infectiousness, the piercing arrow of his energy.

For a seventy-six year old man to take an audience of that demographic range from laughter to reflection to tears, turning us into a serenading birthday choir in the early going and into a master chorale singing “Ode to Joy” in shattered phonetic German at the top of our lungs later on – all from the compelling force of his vision – is a model so profound that one is left with only one option: to do the very thing he asked of us.

To imagine what else is possible.