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.

A Midweek Thought Experiment

Imagine that it’s five years ago. If you could meet yourself on October 10, 2013 what advice would you give yourself for the coming five years?

Five years ago, my advice would have been (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Imagine it’s five years from now. What advice can you give yourself today that will help you wake up on October 10, 2023 satisfied that you lived the last five years with intention?

My advice to my future self is the same: (1) trust yourself, (2) open yourself, (3) express more, more often.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to separate my present and future selves. It’s a tough thing to be objective about. Or maybe it’s that, having landed on these themes, I recognize that the work never really ends.

I suppose that could be frustrating, even defeating. But I find it inspiring, an invitation to keep learning.

And what about you? What did you discover?


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.

Would that make you a better leader?

If you knew the core values of your team members, would that make you a better leader?

If you understood the personality dynamics of your team members, would that make you a better leader?

If you knew the defining strengths of your team members, would that make you a better leader?

If you knew the limitations or challenges that keep your team members up at night, would that make you a better leader?

If you knew the personal and career aspirations of your team members, would that make you a better leader?

No, no, no, no and no.

Knowledge is useless. It’s activation that matters.

If you don’t care, and have no interest in knowing these things please don’t act like you do. You will never see it through and your team will feel manipulated as a result. You’re better off leaving it alone because most people, most of the time would prefer no effort rather than a false one.

If you do care, and you are interested in this kind of knowing; if you are interested because you understand that this knowledge is the key that will unlock connection, commitment and engagement, then go for it. Just be sure to go all in.

Offer assessments, organize workshops, facilitate dialogue. Be a workplace that values the process of discovering and discussing these elements and commits to doing so again and again and again. Be a workplace that strives to connect the dots between the dynamics of the team, the business, the community and the industry.

Be a workplace that says, “Before we are anything else, we are human beings, and as human beings we are complex, interesting and powerful…especially when we come together to create something larger than ourselves.”


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.

Change at the Margin

At the edges, not at the center. That’s where real change begins.

We work from the outside in, a series of small but potent actions in service of our highest aspirations:

  • small gatherings of like-minded colleagues marked by a commitment to knowing the people for who they are, not just by what they do,
  • brief but sincere check-ins on values and culture to lead off every meeting,
  • brief but sincere recognition offered at the end of every meeting,
  • “below the line” conversations with customers about their aspirations for their own enterprises,
  • common sense support for healthy distance from work after hours, on weekends and on vacations,
  • regular, rich, candid and mutual conversations about performance that make “performance reviews” irrelevant
  • and how many more can you think of?

These acts do not require permission, nor do they require authority. They require initiative.

These acts, over time, lead to a more open system, a system that is learning how to learn and therefore, learning how to change.


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.

How to Test Your Culture

If your company has a mission, vision and/or values and you are curious to find out if your employees are living them each day, there’s a simple way to find out.

And for the purpose of this post let’s say that one of your company’s values is integrity. To find out if integrity is practiced in the way that you have defined it, try this:

Invite a group of 5-10 employees to attend a meeting at which you ask them to respond to this request:

“Please tell a recent, truthful and specific story about a time you saw a colleague practice integrity.

Give them a few minutes to think about it and then sit back and listen.

Stories are the fastest way to the truth of what’s going on. If there’s a compelling story to be told, you have compelling evidence of the existence of that particular part of your cultural aspiration. If not, it doesn’t exist…or at least not how you hoped it might.

And that leads to your second request of the group:

“What ideas do you have about how to bring integrity alive in our organization.What would make it more likely that you would have more stories to tell?”

Repeat the conversation with another group and then another and another, until all leaders share the responsibility for being collectors of stories and facilitators of the ideas that will bring your culture to life.


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.

 

Your Leadership Profile

You’re a leader, but what kind are you? What are the elements that make you, you?

To help my clients answer these questions with both clarity and authenticity, I guide them through a process of discernment in the following areas:

Values clarification…knowing what you stand for means you have a roadmap for the key decisions you must make as a leader.

Strengths identification…you can’t use them if you’re not sure what they are! And once you know you can build a team that complements you.

Development needs…we all have them and the sooner you own up to your common, recurring pitfalls the sooner you’ll be able to avoid them more often than not.

Accomplishments…look back and appreciate – in concrete detail – what you’ve done well so you can both celebrate and memorize what worked.

Goals…not the financial results kind but the personal effectiveness kind. What kind of impact do I want to make this year? How do I want to make it?

Key relationships…there are lots of people you support and who support you. Who are the two or three most critical people to focus on right now? How will they help you achieve your goals? How will you help them achieve theirs?

And finally, most importantly, this question: Why do you lead? (More on this one tomorrow.)

Whatever kind of leader you are – parent, foreman, teacher, project manager – completing this profile allows you to harvest insights that lead to impact.

It’s hard work. And for you and those you lead, worth every bit of 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.

Lead From Your Values

Attempting to lead without a clear value system to guide your way is like “sailing” without the sails. You can motor around the calm waters of the harbor all you want but you’ll be cast adrift on the open ocean.

January-9I recently led a workshop during a leadership conference. My presentation was about the central “voices” of leadership necessary to thrive in the face of complexity and change. I refer to these disciplines or practices as “voices” because leadership is very much an “out loud” experience. I am not referring to extraversion or charisma or any of the other stereotypes of effective leadership. Instead, I am talking about the emergent qualities of self-understanding, relationship building and continuous learning that we must access and practice out in the open if we are to sustain a confident and committed followership.

The first exercise I asked the workshop participants to complete was a reflection on their core values. Specifically, I asked them to share a story about how their value system was initially formed. I encouraged them to consider early school, family or work experiences that were instrumental in shaping what is most important to them. My premise in starting here was and is that if we are to articulate who we are as leaders, a clearly expressed value system must come first. Leadership without values is like language without vowels. It just doesn’t work very well.

The participants considered their experiences and shared their stories. The group discussion that followed revealed that many of them gained significant and useful insights partly through their reflection but primarily through their conversations. Their interactions brought to life memories and influences that were central in shaping their present value system. But not for everyone.

Just recently I received a summary of the evaluations for this workshop and one piece of feedback left me both disheartened and determined. A participant said: “Since I have no idea what my values are I didn’t get a chance to participate in the exercises.”

 Yes, I am disheartened that this individual does not know their values but I am even more disheartened that they were unable to use the opportunity of a leadership conference – a potentially profound learning experience – to begin the process of getting clear.

I am disheartened that they felt isolated and excluded and I can only hope that in their own way they will seek the counsel of someone who will help them learn to articulate what matters most to them.

I am disheartened that the “leadership industrial complex” continues to churn out leaders who have not done the most fundamental, most important work of getting clear on who they are.

I am disheartened that my implicit assumption that all of the participants had at least a basic understanding of their values made it unsafe for this person – and likely others – to fully engage in the workshop. That’s an assumption I will not make again.

Mostly, I am determined.

I am determined to speak to the importance of “first things first” and to challenge and support every leader I encounter to get clear about their own foundation – the values that shape their “voice of understanding” – so they will be equipped to thrive in the face of change.

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, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.