Three Leadership Lessons I Learned from Berry-Picking

Often at my leadership events, I’ll ask the audience “Does anybody remember berry-picking?”. I either receive blank stares, low-level laughter, occasionally a few hands go up.

Perhaps my generation did a bit more berry-picking in the summers. My parents would drop me off very early where an old worn-out school bus would pick us up (a dozen or so of us kids), then it was off to the berry patch for a day of picking.

I remember…

  • berry fights
  • sitting in the dirt picking strawberries
  • sack lunches with sandwiches, a coke, and twinkies
But I did learn three valuable leadership lessons:


I was and still am competitive and I remember setting specific goals around how many berry flats I would fill daily and one overarching money goal for the summer’s work. I wanted to buy that Schwinn bike (classic stingray, high handlebars with a banana seat).


It was in those dry, hot summer days that my success (sticking it out) only intensified. I noticed a lot of kids quit. We called ourselves “berry bums”– those that hung in there during the heat.

One thing I learned during those hot, berry-picking afternoons is to “just make it to the bus that day”. I plan ahead but also learned to live one day at a time in life and leadership.


I pretty much wore the same outfit each day: a pair of old jeans and a college football t-shirt. Both were stained but there was a certain satisfaction in getting your hands dirty and fingers stained. I know it sounds old school but I learned many timeless lessons I still practice to this day: work ethic, personal drive, showing up, and being willing to get dirty.

Sometimes, it’s good to revisit specific goals and write them down, let the heat and pressure intensify you, and get dirty– show some grit!

Here’s to berry picking!

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About the Author

Steve Gutzler is the President of Leadership Quest, a Seattle-based leadership development company. Steve is a dynamic, highly-sought-after speaker who has delivered more than 2,500 presentations to a list of clients including Microsoft, Starbucks, the Seattle Seahawks, Pandora Radio, Boeing, Cisco, Starwood Corporation, the Ritz Carlton group, and the U.S. Social Security Administration. He recently was voted #1 by the readership of Huffington Post as the Most Inspirational Leader on Social Media.

A published author on leadership and emotional intelligence, Steve resides near Seattle with his wife Julie where they enjoy time with their three adult children and six grandchildren.