How does one explain Bob Chartier? Storyteller, game-changer, songwriter, author. Cantankerous badger. Blue-collar dude. He is an extraordinary leader. Some would say “seasoned”; we say “marinated”. Insatiably curious about life and the characters that surround him, Bob shares a remarkable ability to listen and learn gleaned from a long career leading and teaching in the public service, where he prepared thousands of leaders to take on a leadership practice. Armed with tough love and a big voice, Bob embodies our belief in everyone’s ability to practice leadership from wherever they stand.
Like many others on the team, your first connection with Roy Group was through Ian. How did you end up working together?
I met Ian 15 years ago at a learning organization seminar in Toronto. Our shared Saskatchewan history and a common quest for the heart of practice-based leadership led to friendship, and to more opportunities to work together. My work with Roy Group has always been centered on building engagement communities of practice in the BC public service.
How did your formal education and training set you up to work with Roy Group?
My master’s work was in Education, focusing on the emerging studies of learning organizations. My early practice was working with First Nations as they began their historic journey to self-governing educational authorities. I was fortunate to have been involved with over 50 communities as they began this transition. My early work with environmental studies public participation (Churchill River Study), leadership training (National Managers Community) and First Nations education (Prince Albert Tribal Council) gave me the street cred that helped to open my mind and heart to more innovative leadership models. And in more recent years I did systems-based work with the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre, working with police, nurses, counselors and other people who band together to serve children. These learnings and practices serve me, and Roy Group, very well.
When you look back across your career trajectory, what would you say is your gift?
I guess my gift is that I came from an early blue-collar world of workplace practicality. As an apprentice plumber, sawmill flunky and smelter worker, I saw the values in working with a crew, building strong workplace relationships, using good tools and making the whole system work. This was a gift that I was able to carry into the white-collar world of public service, small business and social impact organizations. That lens of tool-based practicability still informs my work of helping organizations break down bureaucracy, practice systems thinking and create leadership opportunities — from the file room to the board room.
You have a thing for engagement. Makes sense: that’s your “zone” with your Roy Group work. When you say people need to be brought in, not bought in, what do you mean?
Oh yeah, nothing made me crazier than our boardroom heads deciding it was time for them to do the annual strategic plan. Off they would go, with a little help, to a very nice place and get it drafted. Then they would invite the 220 of us into a big room, present the strategic plan, and suggest that all they needed now was our “buy-in.” I humbly suggested that perhaps next time they might try inviting us into the big room first, use a great system tool to mine the room for some good intel and then head off to the nice place to make the plan. When an organization takes an inclusive approach, everyone is able to see their own voices in the plan. There won’t be any need to sell people the goods, because they helped make them!
What do you believe in most?
My core values are reflected in my life and work, and they are many, but a few of the most important to me include:
- The core of leadership does not lie in position but rather is a choice that can be practiced by anybody, anywhere, any time.
- I believe workplace engagement to be the most critical measure of workplace success.
- I am certain that our work must, as much as possible, return to the artisanal. Big work such as learning, leadership and system engagement require us and our clients to get out of our offices, unplug once in a while and learn how to have big, often difficult conversations that may require us to get our hands a little dirty again.
- I believe we should always look for what is working and not just focus on what is not.
Wow, we could go on for pages. You’re right on the money with that last one, too. It would change everything. That’s so great that you can live your values through your work with Roy Group. Talk about being in that sweet spot.
Yes, I love the way these values are embedded into how this team works, especially around relationships, possibilities and action. Roy Group has the heart to reflect these values with its clients, its partners and each other. Roy Group thrives in the “creative moment” — creativity is one of our values, after all — and all of us know how to open the space for unlimited possibility, and in the end get it done with each other and those we serve.
Most important for me, Roy Group has influenced my own thinking and practice around the importance of quality. When you create that space, it should look, feel and be a great space to have that “creative moment” and get some great work done.
You take a stand against being “busy”. Can you build that out for us a little?
Yeah, how about a story to illustrate? So this guy was our busiest little dude ever, scurrying around with paper and self-righteousness flying around him like rice at my wedding. Comes right into my face apologizing for not coming to a Service Standard Workout because he was…busy. I was impressed the first few times, then tough love stepped in, and I told him — rather frankly — that he wasn’t working smart. (I might have called him an idiot. I might not do that now, if I were to go back and have a do-over. But anyway.) He was all hurt. I said to him, “You’re missing some great family time being here late every night, right?” He said he was. I asked him if he knew what I was doing, and he said yes, he knew we “had these little meetings.” I told him it was him who was having all the little meetings. We had working sessions where we learned tools to eliminate the bad meetings, ubiquitous committees and dreary presentations. “You’re telling me that you would rather be busy doing stuff badly than investing some learning into doing things smart,” I said. He walked away mumbling that I still did not understand his busy, busy world.
You’re pretty passionate about your city.
Three things in recent years have received my energy and focus: first, my legacy project, the Music Mile. It’s a civic engagement program around the arts that actually grew out of my own story about music. For 50 years I never sang, because way back in my childhood, a teacher had told me “just to mouth the words.” That all changed one night on a stage when I was 60. Over the past decade, I have sung every day and written 100 songs. It changed my life. When I retired, I headed south, busked Nashville, cut a song on the Johnny Cash spot in Memphis and had a big vision in New Orleans: to return to Calgary and create a music district like the French Quarter in my own neighbourhood, and to do it from the street rather than through City Hall.
I’ve also been really pleased with the work I was able to do with the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre; it was a workplace engagement process for a high-stress, high-impact, trauma-based workplace. And finally, I implemented a new approach to strategic planning with the Inglewood Business Improvement Area. All of these mark my love for and engagement with my community.