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.

Commencement

 

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

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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

Energy

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.