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.

To be powerful

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

– Audre Lorde

There is liberation in this quote: you don’t have to conquer your fear, you just have to make it less important.

How? By using your strength in service of your vision.

So then, if you want to quiet the voice of your fear, two other voices must be amplified.

The voice of your vision. Where are you going? Why are you going there? What is it that is yours to do?

The voice of your strength. How do you demonstrate your best self? What do you do that brings you fully alive?

Speak your vision. Speak your strength. Let your fear become a fading whisper.


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.

 

Feeling Lost is Not Being Lost

DSC_0069“If the path ahead of you is clear you are on somebody else’s path.” – attributed to Joseph Campbell – 

A quick search on the history of U.S. and Russian efforts to successfully land on the moon yields an overwhelming list of failures. It was as complex a technological problem as had ever been undertaken. The list of mistakes, disasters and just plain bad luck is easy to gloss over today because we know how the story ends. Imagine being a lead scientist in the middle of the effort. How frustrated must you have felt? How lost? My inclination is to idealize the experience by imagining that in the midst of what must have felt impossible those intrepid researchers were buoyed by President Kennedy’s vision that we would land on the moon by the end of the decade. I believe that clarity of vision must have mattered, it must have helped those who were asked to fulfill it.

I try to imagine the marchers preparing to go from Selma to Montgomery. I try to imagine their feelings of dismay that after the march on Washington and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act they must still engage in such a dramatic effort to ensure voting rights already guaranteed by federal law! Such was the intractability, the relentless severity, of the most complex human problem our country has ever faced. How frustrated? How angry? How lost must they have felt when their own government finally granted what should have been in place all along but did not act to ensure it? And, without a vision – a dream – described so powerfully, clearly and simply two years earlier would they have come to Selma in March of 1965? Would they have had the strength to endure the violence of the Pettus bridge and return just two days later to march again? For so many I’m sure that the answer is “yes.” But what a difference it must have made for those exhausted, beaten heroes to have Dr. King’s words to fall back on again, again, and again.

Lost is only a permanent condition if you don’t know where you’re going.

“Where are the Kennedys and Kings of today? The answer, I am convinced, is that they are among us. Out there in the settings with which we are all familiar are the unawakened leaders, feeling no overpowering call to lead and hardly aware of the potential within.” – John Gardner –