Anyone Can Cook

I don’t cook that often but when I do, I especially like to braise. Braising is a cooking method that typically calls for a few minutes of searing on high heat (this is perfect for chicken thighs or short ribs) followed by some combination of butter, onions, garlic and mushrooms and then some wine or a broth…something to create a sauce.

And once that sauce is reduced, the magic happens: the protein goes back in the pan and the pan goes in the oven, where it cooks for an hour, maybe two. This is when everything comes together, when every ingredient becomes a part of every other ingredient, where the whole truly becomes the sum of its parts.

It’s the combination of short-term and long-term that make this method so effective. You start with intensity to lock in the flavors of the primary ingredient but then you incorporate other flavors, over a longer period of time, to transform what you started with into something altogether more appealing.

There’s a lesson here for transforming anything that’s important to you. A powerful beginning is essential to any change effort but will only be sustained with the timely addition of the right resources. And anything worth sustaining needs a powerful beginning to show us why the longer term effort is required at all.

What finally emerges is something that resembles all of the original ingredients but through the commitment of time and energy has now taken on a new and even more compelling identity.


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.

Becoming a Person

I don’t want to start a philosophical or theological debate about this so let me offer a caveat at the outset: when I distinguish between a human being and a person I am distinguishing between the common accident of birth all Homo sapiens share and how some turn that accident into an intentional, conscious life. In my experience there is a vast difference between the two.

In my case, I don’t think that I became a person until I was 35 years old, because up until that age, even though I had done so many wonderful, beautiful things and faced so many deeply challenging circumstances, I had not honestly confronted my lack of consciousness about my self…my person.

You could argue that what I’m getting at here is more a question of maturity than personhood but I don’t find that word satisfying since it implies that if you live long enough you’ll get to self-awareness; again, the accident argument.

To become a person then, requires a conscious choice to venture out and away from the self in order to fully and wholly return to it. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, which begins:

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
Though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –“

That bad advice?

“Don’t do it! Don’t go! Stay here in the pleasantly familiar, entirely predictable pattern of a semi-conscious life. Don’t realize how you have allowed your circumstances to rob you of your freedom to choose how you will live.”

And (even more desperately now),

“Don’t remind me of my own fear, my own shame, my own self-satisfied stuckness by confronting your own!”

To become a person is to leave behind the relationships that hold you down – including the one with yourself – and take on the ones that build you up.

What is it, though, that gets you to the place where “you knew what you had to do and began.”?

For some, it’s tragedy; surviving an illness or a disaster, or grieving someone who did not.

For some, it’s the advent of anger that persists in unexpected, irrational ways. This can emerge in a new marriage or at the arrival of children, deep tears in the fabric of the familiar.

For others, it’s meeting a person of considerable influence who will not be bound by our rules of engagement, who hits us right between the eyes with the feedback we always knew was true but could never willingly hear.

And for others, it’s the revelation of childhood trauma, the awareness that their vulnerability was victimized by someone who knew better but still succumbed to their worst inclinations.

Whatever the source, our inner dynamics always find a way to emerge and provide us with a choice: will I remain constructed in this way (human) or will I set out to reconstruct myself into a person, by stepping into “…a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones.” (again, The Journey.)

There is no path to becoming a person that is not littered with risk, real or imagined, which is why many people choose not to walk towards transformation.

Once again, I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Rather, I am a student of the human experience, as practiced through executive coaching and organizational consulting. My domain of interest and influence is organizational life and how it can be made richer, more positive and more productive for every human, indeed, for every person who participates in it.

This is, then, a request to all leaders to take the steps necessary to become a person. Until you do, your human leadership is a roadblock to the positive, productive richness that your people both deserve and crave. For yourself, for them, please walk out into that wild night, leaving the voices behind and “save the only life you can save.”

Here’s the poem in full:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver


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.

Smooth Power

“In general, you can lead people (only) as far as you have gone.
Transformed people transform people.”
adapted from Richard Rohr


During the World Series game on Friday night a commentator said that a pitcher was forcing his power instead of relying on his mechanics to produce smooth power.

This reminded me of the difference between the leader who relies on hierarchical authority and the one who relies on experiential authority.

The hierarchical leader tends to be less secure with himself and projects that insecurity onto others in the form of unnecessary controls and unrealistic demands. He operates at a distance, afraid to know or be known because doing so requires vulnerability.

The experiential leader feels secure in himself because he has already confronted his insecurities. He has experienced the transformation of the facade of power into the smooth power that emerges from the mechanics of humility. He operates close in, curious to learn about the human condition, and how that knowledge can lead to individual, team and organizational success.

Smooth power looks effortless because the hardest work has already been done.


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.

One Beam of Light

I think it’s extraordinary that even the smallest light can illuminate the darkest space. Consider that for a moment: no matter how dark it is, if you have one ray, one beam of light, you can see. And once you can see, you can act. And once you can act you are steps away from being out of the confines of darkness and into the freedom of light.

What is your one beam of light?

Is it a friendship, a poem, a word?

Is it a quote, your marriage, a lifelong friend?

Is it a story of redemption, a moment of truth, an episode of daring?

Is it a work of art, a song, a chance encounter?

Is it your child, a value, a strength?

Is it your work? Is it your faith?

One beam of light transforms the darkness. Every time.


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

“If we do not transform our pain we will most certainly transmit it.”

Richard Rohr


There’s a line from the poem “Out on the Ocean” by David Whyte that conveys Rohr’s meaning with visceral urgency:

“Always this energy smoulders inside, when it remains unlit the body fills with dense smoke.”

That unlit energy is the potential and possibility within each of us to transform ourselves from who we are to who we want to be.

If it is not activated it turns into acrid smoke that at first only chokes us, but in time finds its way to others in the form of resentment, jealousy, harshness, impatience and intolerance.

It can be grueling to bear our own pain, the wounded, unrealized or unfinished parts of ourselves. So we either keep allowing it to spill over onto loved ones and colleagues or we decide to do the work to transform it from an anchor to a sail.


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.

A Suitable Place

The monarch caterpillar thrives on milkweed. We have two small plants in our front yard. The monarch eats it, grows nice and fat and lays its eggs on the underside of the leaves before wandering as far as forty feet away to find a suitable place to become a chrysalis. “Suitable” means any place that is firm enough for it to both adhere to and hang from, a place that will allow for a strong attachment, holding it up as it becomes something new.

IMG_2287

For the monarch caterpillar there is no perfect spot, there is only the spot that they find. On this day I was lucky enough to bear witness to the connection that was made just a few feet from our front door.

The monarch leaves the comfortable nourishment of the milkweed to find a place, as yet unknown to them, to go through the changes necessary to its survival. It sets off in search of the connection that will support its transformation.

Fed by our preparation, we set off in search of the connections that will help us to transform.

Prepare. Connect. Transform. These are the changes necessary for our survival.

DAVID BERRY is the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well. If you enjoyed this post someone else might, too. Please pass it along.