#47 – Readiness

I noticed from my second story window the trees swaying in the following wind of a passing storm. Billowing clouds raced across the sky as the trees bent and shook. I walked outside to get a closer look, to listen more closely and then I decided to get some of that beautiful action on video.

I lifted my phone and hit “record” when from down the hill my neighbor revved and raced his motorcycle to the top of the street. The moment was ruined so I stopped filming. He raced back down.

I started filming again. He raced back up. And on it went, our ridiculous collaboration, until I gave up.

It seems that we each have our own methods of diversion. It seems that we each have our own ways of engaging the world at a time when what seemed easily knowable no longer does.

I decided to come back later to catch the trees in motion, but the wind had passed, and only a trace of breeze remained.

Spring is here. It’s a transitional time, a borrowed time, where nothing is permanent, nothing certain. Like always, it’s a time of exploration and emergence. It’s a time of both weeds and flowers, rain and sun. It’s a time of trees and wind and motorcycles.

It is a time in which anything can happen.

dandelion nature sunlight

Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

As of today…

This transitional, uncertain, ill-defined space, this space in which you find yourself as a result of a recent change, this space which has you feeling anxious, uncomfortable, longing for “normal,” this is your space, but only as of today.

There are two things to remember about this space:

  1. It is not a permanent condition. It is, in fact, a season.
  2. You get to choose how to be in it, how to feel about it.

You may feel anxious and displaced but those feelings are only a tiny fraction of those available to you, those you can choose to experiment with and explore if you are inclined to do so.

You could add feelings of curiosity or hopefulness. You could go from withdrawn to activated or even involved. You could claim your agency and decide to investigate the opportunity, share your questions with others, lead through connection, transparency and disclosure.

You could choose to find a productive energy in the unknown, to allow your vulnerability to inform your sense of possibility.

You might even decide that how you’re feeling about the change right now will simply be as of today. Tomorrow, you have another chance to expand the list of what you feel, incorporating the hard feelings into a much broader list that will serve you in this season of change and well into the next.

nature sky sunset the mountains

Photo by NO NAME on Pexels.com

“Because it is a big change.”

On the cusp of his retirement from the NBA, future hall of fame player Dwyane Wade gave an interview to ESPN in which he discussed how he intends to adjust to life after basketball:

“I’ll be in therapy. Seriously,” Wade said. “I mean it, it is going to be a big change. I told my wife, I said, ‘I need to do therapy, and we need to do a little bit.’

“I was always against someone that don’t know me telling me how to live my life or giving me instructions. But I need someone to talk to about it. Because it is a big change. Even though I got a long life to live, other great things I can accomplish and do, it’s not this. So it’s going to be different.”

One observer commented that this is a “mature” approach. I would call that a major understatement. For a male, professional athlete to so plainly state his need for help and his commitment to receiving it is a very big deal.

While therapy has been de-stigmatized throughout much of our society it is not something easily discussed among men, especially those in positions of power and authority. In the business world we call therapy “coaching” and though it is inappropriate to conflate the two (one looks back, the other looks forward is a simplistic distinction) we are well-served to remember that when a client and a trained professional of any discipline commit to doing real work, good things usually come of it.

Thanks to Dwyane Wade and others like him, there will be more men who choose to make themselves vulnerable and seek the help they need. And each time that happens our world will become a better and a safer place.

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.

It was a very tough year

The year 2005 was the most challenging of my adult life.

In March we moved into a larger home to accommodate our growing family. In July we welcomed our third child, and two short weeks later I started a new job that would put me on the path I continue to walk today.

About a week into that job my boss told me I was being arrogant, which really pissed me off. I went home and fumed.

The next day we talked about it in what was one of the most crucial conversations of my life. It was as pure a moment of self-awareness as I can recall. The onion was finally getting peeled.

I wasn’t being arrogant because I was a jerk (at least I don’t think so) but because it was my default mechanism for expressing anxiety, fear and a growing sense of fraudulence. I was anxious about being the sole provider for my family, afraid I had taken on too much, and certain that I would be found out as a fraud who wasn’t up for the job as soon as someone decided to look just a little bit closer!

In the course of a few short months I had experienced three of life’s most stressful events. Fear, anxiety and insecurity make a lot of sense in those circumstances. But I just thought I was supposed to handle it; that I was supposed to summon my good friend “competence” and fake it ’til I made it.

It didn’t work and I got called out. Which meant, because I couldn’t “unsee” what was going on, that I could begin to learn better ways to navigate the stress of transition and the real difficulties of change.

Since life’s changes, big and small, keep rolling in with the tide, the lessons learned in 2005 continue to pay dividends. And I have no doubt that will continue to be the case.

I know in a very personal way how challenging it is to see things accurately, to understand oneself clearly and honestly, in the midst of so much change. And so to prescribe that kind of self-awareness – as if you can just a flip a switch –  isn’t helpful.

What I can suggest is that you familiarize yourself with the life events that are most responsible for spikes in stress. You might also do a sort of preemptory “life audit,” a review of your behavior under stress in the past so that you know what to look for. Finally, and most importantly, is to cultivate relationships of kind candor, the ones where people will see through your efforts at “competence” and remind you that you don’t have to go it alone.


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 Story of Now

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

— Thomas Merton —

The Story of Now is the story of what we do with our learning and how we continue to develop it. It is the story of turning insight into action, of turning our internal awareness toward our external reality. In other words, it is the story of how we change.

My daughter attends a school that is primarily made up of Hispanic students. Yesterday they were concerned about the election. Today, many are scared that they will be forced to “return” to a country they have never visited. This is not unique to her school or our community. This is our new national reality and it doesn’t much feel like the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today, I am thinking of our great country as a small child who has crawled into its mother’s lap seeking reassurance that bad things won’t happen. That mother, like all mothers do, lies to her child. She says, “everything will be ok” and “nothing bad is going to happen.” She delays the child’s experience of reality because she knows that the child needs reassurance right now, in this moment. Sixty million Americans crawled onto mom’s lap yesterday because they preferred to be seduced by the lie of simplistic reassurance rather than challenged to wrestle with the complexity of truth.

The truth is that the America of the 1950’s – homogenous and predictable – no longer exists. It hasn’t for some time. That change has been hard for lots and lots of people, in real ways that I have no intention of denigrating or belittling. Globalization is real. The world is smaller and more connected than ever before. Jobs have been lost. The definition of marriage has changed. The make-up of our citizenry has changed. Racism (and so many other “-isms”) remains pervasive. A black man was elected president…twice! And, sadly our government has proven itself to be an ineffective monolith of self-serving behavior. In the face of all of that, with the option of choosing either a deeply flawed woman who was prepared for the job or a detestable narcissist who is grotesquely unqualified, well…60 million people spit in the face of common decency, picked up their ball and walked home.

It’s an immature, shallow response to a new level of complexity. The greatest nation on earth just announced that it is not prepared for change. The “right” guy came along at the right time to fan the flames of uncertainty and send half of the electorate to act on the regressed belief that machismo, polarization and isolation are not only viable but preferable responses. This is stark evidence that when imagination is lacking human beings do the simplest thing they can think of, even when it’s horribly wrong.

We have to, perhaps now we will, reconcile ourselves to the depth of our country’s division. We need leaders who are equipped for that and we need them at all levels of public and private service. In part, that “equipment” is the ability to tell three distinctly and inextricably linked stories: one of personal understanding, one of deep connection, and one of continuous learning. That last one? That’s the Story of Now.

An honest and ongoing self-examination reveals us to ourselves and creates the opportunity to do something with and about what we discover. That experience creates openness to others and the ability to enter into and build relationships of powerful empathy and mutual reliance. With that foundation in place it becomes possible to wrestle – productively, positively, imaginatively – with the realities of complexity and change.

Know yourself. Commit to others. Learn together to create change. That’s the recipe mature adults – mature leaders – follow to navigate toward and meet the challenges of our shared existence. Yes, there are many days we long for mother’s lap and her false promises of security. But we don’t succumb to that temptation because we have earned the ability and made the commitment to stand on our own two feet, holding each other up when the going is difficult. We have earned the ability to see simplistic lies, false promises, fear mongering and hatred for exactly what they are.

The changing face of our country and the interconnectedness of our world will only continue, regardless of what happens these next few years. More acceptance is coming. More openness is coming. More structural dependency is coming. More integrated, holistic and systemic thinking is coming. And it will be created, sustained and led by people who understand how to speak the stories of understanding, connection and learning.

The Story of Now is happening…now. If ever there was a time to write your part, this is it.

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.

Picture Day

I’m guessing 3rd Grade…

My daughters had “picture day” last week. They looked great: hair carefully styled, faces clean, teeth brushed and looking good in their chosen outfits. I’ve been working from home for almost three years now so I’m usually around for these happenings.

My work is speaking and consulting to organizations on leadership and organizational culture. I work with a number of individual leaders in coaching relationships and I also do a fair amount of writing. Typically that writing consists of a semi-regular blog post but for much of this year it has been focused on something bigger. I made the decision to put the lion’s share of my professional effort this year on getting a book written for publication in 2016 (and I’m happy to report that the writing and editing are complete!). Doing this required that I do a few less speaking engagements and take a few less consulting and coaching assignments. It also means that I am home even more than usual.

By the time picture day rolled around my kids were used to seeing me in “writing mode” most of the time: comfortable clothes, maybe workout gear, a day or two of stubble on the face, a baseball cap.

On this particular morning, however, I was getting ready to visit a client. I followed the conventional ritual of shower and shave, put on my best professional attire and exited my room to head down for breakfast. I met my oldest daughter on the landing and without skipping a beat she said: “Is it picture day for you, too, dad?”

It was both a compliment and a dig, a great line delivered in a moment of surprise. My unexpected attention to grooming, at such an early hour no less, threw a wrinkle in the system that she caught right away and handed back to me with the graceful ease of her impeccable timing.

Her question got me thinking about the necessary transition from one kind of focus to another. For so many months now I’ve been of one mind, giving my energy to the work of completing the book. And as gratifying as it is to have come this far, I am fully awake to the reality that an even bigger question looms: So, now what?

That question carries with it the sizable implication that every effort we make will eventually yield to the responsibility of the next one. There is a season for all things, as the verses of Ecclesiastes assure us. As such, you don’t write a book forever. At some point that experience ends, giving way to a new question and a powerful opportunity: what to do with it?  It is time to emerge from the cave of creative effort and organization, the cave of comfy clothes and shave-less days, into the realm of activation and application.

I have done something and it is time to share it. It is picture day, once again.

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.


IMG_2227In a small clearing in the woods I discover a pile of rocks and I imagine that each is named for an old story I no longer need to know.

I picture myself tossing them into place, a mound slowly forming as gray stone thuds down upon gray stone, dusty paperbacks tumbling from a cardboard box.

I have lugged them around long enough. They have been read and read again, each turn of the page revealing familiar words and predictable plots, faint notations marking futile efforts to mine new learning.

With a hint of loss I send them to the pile, recalling their past if limited usefulness, and noting with both empathy and surprise just how small they now seem. Immovable boulders reduced to toss-able rocks. Fragments of former truth.

I carry a stone in my pocket. I selected it from a basket of gratitude and blessing. Smooth and black, its rounded edges tell the story of elemental shaping. There is a ridge running along half of one side, an invitational crease, the line of disruption a reminder of possibility. It is my touchstone, the shape of a new story. It comes with me now.

The others I have left behind.



Neil Peart, of the band Rush, is widely considered one of the greatest drummers of all time.

In the documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage I learned something extraordinary about him. At the height of his prowess; at the height of his band’s power and prestige, he decided to reinvent himself. That is, he decided to reinvent his playing style. In his words, he was looking for a “looseness” that had escaped him in his lifelong effort to master the precision that became the hallmark of his style.

He sought out the famous jazz drummer and teacher, Freddie Gruber, and became a learner all over again. Remember, he was already the best – the best – at what he does. And he knew he could be better. But that knowledge is nothing compared to the humility and vulnerability required to subordinate yourself to the emotional demands of letting go of expertise in order to make space for new possibility.

Personally, I love that his goal was “looseness.” It makes perfect sense to me that after so much time and energy throughout a lifetime of brutally long, arduous practice sessions, he would recognize that “perfection” was no longer a sufficient goal.

When I hear “looseness” I think of presence, accessibility, responsiveness and openness. I think of improvisation and creativity.

What he reports about the impact of his training is the best part. He says that to the listener his sound would be no different. The difference would be felt and appreciated by his band mates. His “looseness” created more space for them; the sound and structure of his playing opened up the possibility of new interpretations and added resonance in their own musicality.

His willingness to learn displayed the best qualities of  leadership: he challenged himself to change before asking others to do so, modeling the necessary humility required to go from best to even better. In doing so, he generously provided a space for those around him to do the same.

Author’s note: yes, that’s consecutive posts influenced by and about the band, Rush. I just saw their documentary (available on Netflix) and I am so impressed with who they are, how they work and what they’ve accomplished. A really good, very inspiring story.


Small Moves for Big Change

There is a fascinating profile of Pope Francis by James Carroll in the December 23/30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker that I believe is essential reading for anyone who bears responsibility for the leadership of meaningful change. “Who Am I to Judge?: A Radical Pope’s First Year” is a compelling account of Francis’ road to the papacy as well as the actions he has taken and statements he has made in the first 10 months of his tenure that mark a significant break from his immediate predecessors, especially in tone and what I will amorphously describe as “feel.” Catholics and non-Catholics alike agree that the new Pope is quite a different leader and all are watching in earnest for how his leadership will impact the church and it’s 1.2 billion followers. What we are watching for is how and when, beyond tone and feel, his leadership will lead to change.

Carroll quotes Francis as saying: “Many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time for discernment.” Francis also referenced the words of John XXIII who frequently repeated the motto “See everything, turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.”

What Francis is telling us, by recollecting the words of a predecessor who led the church through the renewal and reform of Vatican II, is that the leadership of change comes first from the patience of intensive discernment (knowing and understanding what’s going on at a level of profound depth) and, second, from the ability to understand the critical importance of “timing and dosage.” He acknowledges that leading change is essentially a frustrating, difficult and lonely enterprise, not for the faint of heart, as it requires great tolerance for all that is not working and the ability to apply minor corrections to the most important issues in precisely the right way to insure they can be sustained over time. To put it simply, it is about playing “small ball” – hitting for contact instead of swinging for the fences.

I had the opportunity to experience the wisdom of these sentiments directly when I shared in the design and facilitation of a cultural transformation at TaylorMade Golf company between 2005 and 2012. The mandate was to create a “coaching culture.” Through highly personalized and specific leadership development activities we were to build the capacity of the organization’s leaders to be more adaptive, agile and responsive in the face of constant change. Our approach was simple: we would take it one leader at a time.

While the impact of the learning initiatives we put in place – one-on-one coaching, team off-sites, quarterly learning events – are notoriously difficult to measure what I can report is that the company’s top-line tripled during the period of our efforts. And, not surprisingly, employee engagement soared as well. It was a period of intensive learning, creative exploration and risk-taking and it was completely energizing.

The most important takeaway from the experience was how I learned to appreciate the importance of taking the long view; the understanding from direct experience that small shifts made in the context of a larger, meaning-filled vision, always require powerful awareness of the context in which you are operating, generous tolerance of what is beyond your control and the ability to apply consistent effort over time. The latitude for much of this is typically in short supply in for-profit organizational life as the demands of speed and immediacy are always present. We were not exempted from these pressures but we were fortunate to enjoy a rare window of time to do things the right way – slowly, steadily, consistently – that afforded us an impact we would otherwise not have achieved. Since we knew it wouldn’t last we did our very best to make the most of our time, hopeful that our efforts would exceed their immediate application and extend well into the future. Others will have to weigh in as to whether or not we achieved that goal.

Is it even appropriate to suggest a comparison between the leadership challenges of the Roman Catholic church and the cultural transformation of a golf equipment manufacturer? In many ways, of course not. And, what’s true is true: the leadership elements of meaningful change – sustainable, necessary, growth-inducing change – remain the same regardless of the enterprise:

1. See everything – know the landscape and understand it in a deep, meaningful way. This requires listening.

2. Ignore what you can’t do anything about. There’s plenty of it so let it go.

3. Apply the right timing and dosage to what you can control. Correct a little, using small moves in support of a big, compelling vision.

4. Take the long view…it’s just over the horizon. (Remember that diamonds are formed with consistent pressure over time.)

Quick fixes and silver bullets are sold by the arrogant and purchased by the foolish. Do you really want to bet your future on the possibility of a home run in the bottom of the 9th?

The Space Between

Between grief and thankfulness there is a space. That space is today.

Yesterday we buried my mother-in-law, committing to the earth a woman who is remembered for her sparkle and her sass, her practical goodness and her deep love of family. My wife, with the strength and composure that are her signature gifts, represented the family with a beautiful eulogy in which she reminded us that her mom’s death was no tragedy, coming as it did after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Our grief is as much for Marion’s death as it is for the years we lost to a disease so merciless in its thievery of the simple joys of recognition, remembrance and connection.

Tomorrow we will share in a Thanksgiving feast, the preparations for which are already underway. We will celebrate our family, near and far. We will celebrate our opportunities and our relationships. We will be mindful of how much – and it is so, so much – we have and, perhaps in that recognition make a new resolution to share it more generously than we have before.

And what about this space between? What about today?

Between the depths of our grief and the height of our thankfulness we live another day, both replete and unremarkable. Like every day, it contains all of it. Whether we choose to see it or acknowledge it, it is with us; the losses we mourn, the gifts we celebrate. All are contained in this single day.

We are always leaving behind and we are always moving towards. We are always losing and always gaining.

This space between? This is now.

And it holds everything.