By Ian Chisholm

This month we are proudly reposting a recent article published in the University of Alberta 2020 Annual Report for its ThresholdImpact Venture Mentoring Service (VMS). Read the entire report here.

Several years ago, Ted Kouri of Incite Strategy put Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, on my desk.

It was a punchy little work (as Godin is prone to write) asserting that with the dawn of social media, people who share a passion, a cause or a concern can find each other more easily and begin to coordinate a response.

Around the same time he handed me this book, Ted also introduced me to Ashlyn Bernier and Ray Muzyka at UAlberta’s VMS, on the off chance that Roy Group might be able to support the development of a remarkable group of leaders united by the desire to earn the word ‘Mentor’ in the lives of others.

The opportunity to work with a group of like-minded people with shared values and a common purpose to deepen its culture of mutual support and efficacy sounded great. We were a venti YES.

In his book, Godin explains a few concepts that are embedded into what has been built in the VMS community. This involves three key ingredients:

  • A noble promise: The uniting why, the reason for being and belonging, the conceptual spark that this group protects together—even if that requires time, effort and sacrifice.
  • Community leaders: Wise members of a community who embody the noble promise at a cellular level. You only ever need to spend a few minutes with these folks, and suddenly you understand the promise at a much deeper level. In addition to taking action when required, these special individuals provide an example of conduct for future generations.
  • Tools and rituals: These allow members of the community to have any conversation they need to have to keep the promise together, and to tackle more than one could do alone. By taking part in these rituals, participants experience a glimpse of a greater order and become part of a bigger narrative. These tools and rituals align us. The great paradox is that it is within these conversations with others that we discover who we are.

I hadn’t thought about this book in years when Lazina Mckenzie approached Roy Group to engage in a special summer collaboration called “Refinding the Future: Exploring the Role of Mentors in Emergence”. This collaboration would be in addition to the Mentor Orientation Training that we run several times throughout the year, and would specifically focus on the tools and approaches that Roy Group is using with entrepreneurs in light of the level of uncertainty that 2020 has presented.

It was only when 70 people entered the virtual “room” that I experienced the true nature of VMS. I realized then that so much of the momentum Ashlyn Bernier and Arden Tse have created since 2014, and the momentum that Lazina and the current team have been able to keep—and build, even —in the face of adversity comes from the fact that people feel a sense of belonging to this service. It is a community they represent, everywhere they go.

Your VMS is a group where each and every member has the chance to discover their unique gifts in the midst of real-world endeavours. You ask nothing more than that a person be themselves and remain open to all they can become. Here, they are given opportunities to develop their gifts and share them. Being a part of this community influences their livelihood, how they partner with the gifts of others, the way they parent, and what kind of neighbour and volunteer they are. It changes the kind of citizen they show up as—and the way they, in turn, show up for others.

It changes the world.

And at the heart of this community, a wise collection of Mentors: people who, in addition to leading their own endeavours, focus time and effort on honing their ability to see others, know others, support others, challenge others and invite the best from others.

Roy Group could not be more proud to be a part of your efforts, and a guest at the VMS table.


Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.


It’s September. Six months after the world fell apart from a fast-moving virus. Some tech businesses have been relatively unaffected. Some tech businesses are booming. Some have adapted what they do and now need to move forward.

The role of leadership in bringing people into this new world is key — and an elusive opportunity exists to bring culture back stronger than it has ever been.

Join Roy Group partner Ian Chisholm and Yolanda Moran, Roy Group Practice Lead, Enterprise, as they bring together tech leaders and founders from across British Columbia for a special four-part series examining leadership in crazy times. Pick up some new tools, learn practices to strengthen resilience across your organization, sharpen your coaching skills so you can lead powerfully and with everyone’s engagement.

Brought to you in partnership with Accelerate Okanagan and VIATEC, Leading In A Changed World begins September 30 and runs once a week for four weeks, from 3-5 PST. The links above will take you straight to each group’s registration pages so you can reserve your seat.

Coffee bean sprouts

By Ian Chisholm

Begin again. — meditation teachers everywhere

What does the future hold? It’s really up to you.

September 1st has always been a new start for teachers and learners. And January 1 is a new start, too: These are my resolutions… Spring, summer, winter, fiscal year-end, they’re all a bit arbitrary. Monday’s arbitrary, if you get right down to it. We call it Monday and it has a whole energy surrounding it. Friday has an energy. But it’s all just constructed.

We construct these arbitrary “new starts” in order to give ourselves exactly that: a new start. A clean slate. If you think of it like a paragraph, we need that full stop and the new sentence on the other side, beginning with a capital letter.

New starts are kind of awesome. We need them. We need to organize toward them. Oftentimes we need to change a few things so that our new start can be something different. It’s actually really necessary that we give ourselves that clean slate and that chance to start again.

This September, we are collectively engaged in creating a new way forward. It will look different for your organization than it does for ours, but it’s a collaborative movement toward something better. It starts below the surface. It’s time to take a look at beliefs that you’ve had up till now — beliefs that are driving your actions and are creating certain things in your life. A new start is a chance to ask yourself whether any of those beliefs need to change.

Our friend Kim Nemrava, retired from the Red Cross and an expert in disaster management, notes that this is an environment of massive change. She says if there’s one thing the pandemic has reinforced, it’s the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. COVID-19 highlighted the risks and vulnerabilities to our organizations and communities, but it also has shown us opportunities to respond, reset and move ahead differently. We’re now moving into phase four of the disaster response cycle, where we align more closely with our values and rise again — cleaner, stripped of the unnecessary, ready to serve.

I’m in a different place now coming into September than I was when the pandemic first hit us. A lot of us are going through a review of everything we’ve ever learned. There’s more information to fuel my intuition. We’ve got five months under our belt of seeing how people are behaving, both individually and as a system. My intuition is more informed — even though what is around me is still quite strange and ambiguous. I trust it. You should trust yours.

If there’s a theme today, it’s about giving yourself as many fresh starts as you bloody well want. It is time to make ground.

The moment of change is now. And now. And now.


Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.


As September nears and we dust ourselves off from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, our co-founder Chiz has the honour of being Douglas magazine’s first-ever guest editor. His editorial opens the issue in classic Roy Group style, with a reflection on what it takes to chart a new course out of yesterday’s rubble and make a fresh start.

Chiz also goes deep with Royal Roads University President Dr. Philip Steenkamp, talking about the courage it takes to keep moving forward, the courage it takes to change directions in mid-career, and the beautiful growth that happens when you lean into the hard stuff. Check out his podcast and app picks, too — we bet you’ll get a giggle from his first recommendation (page 11).

Heading into the fall, we want to wish you health, balance and good energy, plus a whole lot of hopeful for the better world we now have the opportunity to create.

Read the August/September issue of Douglas

At a time when many leaders, teams and organizations are emerging from a disorienting few months, Roy Group has found an opportunity to celebrate by announcing our 2020 recipient of the MacGregor Cup.

The MacGregor Cup is inscribed with the motto Ex Eximio Eximia (From Your Finest Self Comes Your Finest Contribution). It is conferred upon individual client champions whose leadership development activities have made a significant impact on organizational practices. In specific terms, the awarding of the Cup reflects the achievement of the following competencies:

Mastery. Someone who is able to carve out space, in the heart of their responsibility, for practice, practice, practice — and it shows.

Leadership. Someone who invites, challenges and supports others on the path to practice, to grow and to lead.

Character. Someone who is emulated as an example of being a damn fine person — a character in the stories of other people’s lives.

Our abiding belief is that leaders like these create the kinds of cultures that elicit the best from others, and the kinds of stories that the world needs. Leaders like these stir their teams and their organizations to emerge from something like the last few months stronger, more focused, and hungry to undertake what the endeavour demands.

Most significantly, these are the kinds of leaders the world needs right now. Our confirmation of their existence in our midst serves, we hope, as some measure of faith in the way forward. That there are such skilled, compassionate and inspiring people at work in our circles gives us certain hope that everything will be all right.


And the 2020 MacGregor Cup Award goes to …


Chris Turchansky

Chief Experience Officer
ATB Financial

Roy Group, The MacGregor Cup Badge

“Leadership is one of the hardest and most rewarding opportunities anyone can be given, and it takes practice and commitment no different than if you are a professional hockey player, actor or Olympian. For me leadership is a journey that doesn’t have an end date but is about constant growth.”

Inspired by a fierce belief in helping others pursue their greatness, Chris Turchansky understands that part of his role is to help leaders look for the big picture. When he took over as CEO of ATB Wealth in 2015, Mr. Turchansky engaged Roy Group as a partner to assist with the growth and development of his team, beginning with a custom retreat and threading through The Leader’s Discipline™, Opportunity in Conflict™ and annual custom retreats. Over the intervening years, Mr. Turchansky has worked diligently to take Roy Group concepts and encode them as the senior team’s operating system, guided by his strong convictions around the fundamental importance of feedback and the practice of coaching. Mr. Turchansky now continues his commitment to leadership development as Chief Experience Officer (CXO) of ATB, ranked as the #1 Best Place to Work in Canada for 2020. A consummate practitioner, Mr. Turchansky recognizes that every challenge is a chance to coach and be coached, to find opportunities in conflict, and to engage the team further — an understanding that has stood his organization in excellent stead as they navigate the strange and turbulent events of 2020.


Click here to read more about Roy Group’s MacGregor Cup recipients.


When a chef creates a new dish, she samples it several times along the way to ensure it’s turning out the way she envisioned. This is a simple example of seeking and receiving feedback. When a teacher works with a student to improve his essay writing, he provides feedback to the student around the content, structure and organization of the essay. It is through feedback that we learn.

Systems collapse in the absence of feedback. In this post, Accelerate Okanagan’s Joanna Schlosser reflects on the learnings her team extracted from The Leader’s Discipline™. She captures the value of providing rich feedback in the workplace, and the profound impact that feedback can have on other people.

When you keep the question centered on: How can we help each person thrive and excel? you quickly see that encouragement, paired with specific feedback, goes much farther than criticism. Telling people what they do well generally has the happy result of drawing forward more of the same, while providing feedback around how to hone those behaviours that are still in development offers a framework for growth.

Joanna’s post is a great reminder of how feedback can facilitate people working toward their full potential. Roy Group is honoured to be on the journey alongside Accelerate Okanagan on its quest for excellence.

Read the story

This whole dilemma has exposed a lot of things that are not acceptable in our community, in our province, in the world. It is time for smart people to question everything, and really see if we can extract as much significant change from the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. It’s time for people to think very civically and big-mindedly and generously to figure out: How will we look back on this years from now and say, ‘That was the moment when we realized we could do better.’?

— Ian Chisholm,
Obstacle Course podcast episode #65

Maybe it matters that these words were spoken just days before the world flared in agony over the death of George Floyd. Maybe it doesn’t. What does matter is that they ring heavy in their truth: The recent upside-downing of the status quo due to the pandemic has thrown everything up for re-examination.

Businesses, educators, non-profits, governments — all are looking at each other around the table now, asking an entirely new set of questions. What are we doing? Why are we doing that? How have we become complacent in our thinking, and how is that not serving us anymore? What were we aiming for, anyway? And what’s a better thing to aim for now?

In this episode of Obstacle Course, Chiz returns to the podcast to chat with hosts Andrew Langford and John Close about what it takes to be an effective leader in a time of utter chaos and fog. Insightful and inspiring, the trio tackle vulnerability and emotional signals, the difference between reaction and response, the danger of trying to paint truly difficult issues with positivity’s breathless brush, and the importance of cultivating an appetite for adversity.

We are not built for easy. We are built for the obstacles.

Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.

By Ian Chisholm

This April, Douglas magazine reached out to Chiz for some wisdom around leading during the massively disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. With most businesses and non-profits finding their workflow, operations and sources of revenue shattered, leaders are facing incredible demands on their capabilities. In this extended version of the published article, Chiz outlines six fundamental practices to help leaders plot their course forward, illustrated by examples of how Roy Group is applying those same practices.


We heard a lot of feedback after our Conversations in Crisis interview with CHEK News (watch it here) and Douglas magazine (read it here). I’ve been invited to go a little deeper into some of the key themes that came up in the interview, to share with our community some high-level ideas for bringing organizations back to a state of robust health.

The Best Thing?

A few years ago, Roy Group did some work with Jason Dorland, a Canadian Olympian who now specializes in high-performance coaching. One of his key ideas is to respond to any destabilizing blow, whether personal or organizational, with the most counterintuitive of questions:

“How might this be the best thing that ever happened to us?”

The question is quite constructive in the way it focuses your attention. It takes you into territory where you can begin to identify some steps going forward. Where will you put your focus? Where will you invest your time? How will you deploy your cash? And how will you come out of this stronger?

We use this question a lot when we’re coaching leaders in crisis. We’ve seen our clients in Alberta ask this question when their economy began tanking a few years back. I myself have used this question myself over the past few weeks. It creates the space for some very insightful reflection and imagination.

On one hand, it sounds ridiculous, right? Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic and all of our postponed work is not a good thing. Or … is it possible that years from now, we might look back and see this summer as the time that helped our organizations evolve more than anything else?

It is possible. It all starts with being brave enough to ask the question.

The complexity of COVID

By definition, the difference between a complicated situation and a complex situation is that there are experts in first, but not in the second.

The economic recovery will be complex, meaning there are no experts to give us clear direction, like there have been for “flattening the curve”. In a way, your guess is as good as mine. Therefore, don’t take this list as a prescription, but rather as a reflection of what has worked to date for our company.

1. Zealously Assess.

No one knows what will work to get your business to solid ground. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t figure out ways forward. In a complex system, the most important thing for a leader to do is to constantly assess. What is required in the midst of complexity like this economic recovery is for leaders to sense what is … and then experiment. Great sailors learn how to read the wind on the surface of the water.

Create little experiments that just might work … and then zealously assess what experiments are working and what experiments are not. Fuel the experiments that are working. Put a bullet in the experiments that aren’t, so they don’t distract you any further. Then experiment some more.

To illustrate, Roy Group had a two-and-a-half-day retreat planned with ATB Financial when coronavirus intervened. The timing of the retreat, however, was really important to our client. So we poured some serious focus into creating an experiment, and created very clear measurements for what would make this experiment successful.

We proposed a series of online episodes to work through the material and the conversations ATB wanted to have — and then we delivered. It wasn’t polished. It was very experimental. It scored a 9.6/10 from the participants.

And our whole team now knows that we are capable of doing this for all of our clients.

Note: intelligent experimenting is not the same as flailing around trying different stuff. Be rigorous in your assessment of whether your experiments are working. Like we’ve learned from FuckUp Nights™ and other explorations of failure, you might have to try five experiments to find the one that works. Prepare “probes” that just might work. Ready yourself and your team to fail lots. You must cleave yourself from the idea that an effective leader always succeeds. Destroy that mental model.

This concept of zealous assessment is CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge David Snowden’s theory. Assess whether your experiments work or not, and KEEP MOVING.

2. Entangle yourself with new and trusted networks.

But is entangle really the right word?

Yes. It’s the right word. Entanglement, because we are in the realm of complexity, and in an acknowledgment that solutions to complex problems arise from a multitude of points, you are going to spin a wide-ranging web that crosses sectors and boundaries.

Nobody knows the right answers for where we find ourselves right now, so you need to surround yourself with four or five people whose ways of thinking you trust, and who can share the kinds of ideas that will allow each of you to gain ground. Some will work; others won’t. An idea that works for one company won’t necessarily work for another.

Comb through your LinkedIn and think of people you’ve enjoyed amazing and/or disruptive conversations with. Reach out and ask for a half-hour call. Choose conversation partners from different sectors and backgrounds — even people with whom you disagree. In complexity, a valuable thing for a leader to do is entangle yourself in those conversations, to pick up on weak signals of those things that just might work going forward in your organization, and to be openly sharing what you’re doing in case something you’re doing might work for somebody else.

Invite some disruptive thinkers into this group: people who aren’t typically in your social circle, or of your ethnic or gender background, or from the same socioeconomic strata. Convene conversations you wouldn’t normally have. Challenge your thinking so you don’t get stuck in a rut. Having set everyone back on their heels, coronavirus has given us the time — and the shove — to do that.

Resilience is not something we can snap our fingers today and HAVE. Resilience is a by-product of past habits, patterns and rituals that we have set up for ourselves so that we can be strong in the face of challenges. Begin developing the rituals now that will build your resilience over the long term.

3. Protect your momentum.

When things started to get serious, I flew back from Edmonton. It was a Friday afternoon. The very moment our government made the decision to cancel gatherings of 50 or more, our business model was rendered null and void.

Our leadership met for an early breakfast the next day. In a few hours of deep reflection and planning, we went from frazzled to focused. As a foursome, we laid out all of Roy Group’s achievements over the past 12 months. It was a huge and rewarding endeavour, and it put us in a confident state of mind. We definitely had the team strength to make the turn.

As a leader, it’s vital that you take an objective look at what your team is capable of. Put that information in front of your team to keep your momentum. If this COVID-19 event represents a dip for your organization, the last thing you want to do is to hit the brakes. This is not cheerleading. It’s not pumping people’s tires. It’s giving undeniable evidence of what they are capable of. It’s saying to your people, Yes, the reality of what we’re facing is daunting, but let’s not forget what our team is capable of.

For us, we drew forward 3o major accomplishments in the last year that we were able to share with our team right when things looked their hardest.

From there, get honest about where your organization is at, and what’s getting in the way of your momentum. We put together a survey for our team, asking what they love about working with Roy Group and soliciting honest insights about what’s not working. Crisis tends to free a certain amount of prior constriction, and in the case of our team, we found that people were willing to be super open. (Another factor that created safety for people to be honest was knowing that I would be the only person to see their feedback.)

Your job as a leader is to protect as much as possible those things that your team loves about your organization. It is also your job to eliminate the friction points — those things that are getting in the way of your team’s momentum.

4. Focus Your Team

Gallup did a recent study that showed people have four universal needs in crisis when it comes to their leaders: trust, compassion, stability and hope. It is urgent that leaders help people focus on how their work connects to the bigger purpose or mission of the endeavour.

“In times of crisis, there are two directions human nature can take us: fear, helplessness and victimization — or self-actualization and engagement,” writes Gallup author Jim Harter. “On the latter, if leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient. There is a documented ‘rally effect’.”

Focusing your team also means recognizing where individuals are at, mentally and emotionally. People respond to crises differently. Figure out who on your team needs to call a ‘time out’ for themselves, and who’s doubling down with a serious appetite to work. Don’t judge any of it. People are signalling to you what they need. Your work is to be conscious of where they’re at, and then provide them with opportunities to reengage when the time is right.

Watch for decision fatigue. In our work with incident commanders in the BC Wildfire Service, we know that after 14 consecutive days of being switched on, people’s decision-making capabilities start to fray at the edges. Vision starts to be compromised. For those on your team who are doubling down and getting their hands dirty, you’ve got to help them be conscious of where they are, and that they’re not taking on too much. Every person on the team needs something slightly different. Focus on that — and help your team get focused for you.

To move through the crisis, Roy Group broke our calendar year into chunks. We marked off the first two weeks to reassess, to connect with our clients on what they’re needing, to handle the booking changes, and to decide how to use April. We structured April as an investment of time and money to work on things we haven’t had a chance to work on, because the nature of our business is that it’s full-on. We distributed leadership among our team around developing priority projects, with two days at the end of April earmarked for showcasing those projects.

Focusing your team means breaking your plans into manageable pieces to make ground little by little. Zealously assess how to use the weeks in front of you. That is how you will make sure you come out of this better than you were before, both in terms of your team dynamic and what your organization is capable of delivering.

5. Focus on the Horizon

Crisis mode is compelling — even addictive. Be careful.

This insight arises from our coaching conversations with our most senior clients — people whose job it is to make important decisions that impact the lives of millions.

Regardless of what COVID-19 is asking of you, remember that you were hired for a reason — to deliver on a promise — and that mandate still exists. No matter how tempted you are to jump into the trenches with your people and “save lives” 24/7, you have an important mission to lead.

Part of our urge to put down our hammer and take up the sword is biological: our nervous system becomes fired up in crisis. It’s gripping to see a team galvanized by urgency. Intrinsic collegiality leaps to the fore. It’s enjoyable to see each other this way, and it’s important for us to recognize how important the team is at this time — to demonstrate care for one another and to find ourselves linked anew by our common humanity.

But as leaders, we were responsible for big things two months ago. The context has changed but those big things that we were tasked with before this all hit are still our responsibility. The fact that we are still responsible for progressing those things may not be as compelling as responding to this crisis, but that is the work we must do.

6. Control the Controllables

Another fantastic Jason Dorland phrase. You can’t control the pandemic; you can’t control the economy; you can’t control the future. But you can control a few key variables:

  • Where you place your focus. Put somebody on your team in charge of your organization’s COVID response. Someone who’s nimble and a good communicator and who likes looking at evidence. Let someone else deal with the crisis. You stay focused on your team’s wellbeing, and on your big work.
  • How you spend your time. Make calls to your most important clients. Reformulate your offering so it meets their current needs. Be risky and ambitious that way. Ask yourself: if you were starting your company from scratch, how would you take what you have to market in light of the needs that you see now? Develop partnerships by reaching out and asking people for help that you might not normally talk to. Spend time in the back room coming up with ideas for solutions to the new challenges you’re facing.
  • How you manage cash. Take a look at cash flow and cut anything that is not required. Renegotiate anything that can be renegotiated while still keeping partnerships strong. Apply for government grants. Figure out financing, whether it’s your reserves or something you’re planning to borrow. If your business was fully functional over the last five years, it’s going to be relatively easy to secure a loan with a bank because you have a track record of how your business performs under normal circumstances. Lower your expectations about how much money you’re going to put in the bank this year. (You’ll be surprised by how freeing it is to call 2020 an investment year, and to suddenly not have to hit those daunting revenue targets.)

COVID-19 has been a little like showing up at the doctor’s office with an unfamiliar ailment and learning that it’s a warning sign for something bigger. We’ve been given the gift of a wake-up call — an opportunity to course-correct. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable — for many, it’s downright scary. But without the early symptoms, we’d have raced right past the warning signs and straight into the arms of full-blown disease.

Just might be the best thing that ever happened.

Read Douglas article 

Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.

“In a time of crisis, it’s very important to communicate authentically and responsibly. And right now, organizations are really conflicted as to what is the right thing.”

COVID has thrown everybody a curveball. As an organizational leader, you’ve probably had to address hundreds of questions … without even knowing the answers yourself.

Roy Group connected with Melissa Orozco of YULU PR (a certified B Corp) for a few tips around crisis-based communication so that we could share them out with our clients and partners. Anne-Marie and Chiz first connected with Melissa at the Social Impact Summit hosted at Fogo Island Inn in 2018, where she was facilitating a communications workshop. When COVID-19 struck, Chiz realized Melissa’s expertise represented something of value to our Roy Group network.

“In a time of crisis, it’s very important to communicate authentically and responsibly,” says Orozco, who started her PR career in corporate communications in New York City. “And right now, organizations are really conflicted as to what is the right thing.”

Your first wave of communications should already have gone out, says Orozco. That’s where you’ve communicated your how-we’re-dealing-with-COVID-19 plan internally to your team, as well as externally to your investors or stakeholders. You’ve shared with people your position, your immediate response, and your willingness to be proactive / your desire to wait for government regulation.

All of this is communicated clearly, honestly, and in alignment with your vision, mission and values.

The next step is the second wave of issues management. This means communicating what’s next, including:

  • potential layoffs, cutbacks and closures;
  • an honest communication of your wait-and-see approach as the crisis unfolds (you won’t be alone in this — it’s new for all of us);
  • avoiding stating that you’re going to maintain X, Y or Z of your offerings as “business per usual”, because there’s nothing usual about where COVID-19 has sent us.

“Organizations should be talking to their communications agency or team about this,” says Orozco. “There are going to be several waves of what this is going to look like. Even when the dust starts to settle, there’ll be new things to think about. How are you going to recoup some of the customers you may have lost? All businesses are going to be suffering in the wake of COVID. So how do you recover business and stay resilient?”

For more, head to YULU PR’s page on how to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to Melissa and her team of communication strategists for their insight and teachings on how to lead through the fog.

By Ian Chisholm

The last time I sensed such a global whisper of “what does this all mean?” was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

I say afternoon (not morning), because Anne-Marie and I were in Scotland at the time — four hours ahead of Eastern Time — when we heard that planes had gone into the Twin Towers. It took several days to comprehend what was happening, let alone how these events would change the way we live our lives — at first dramatically, then slowly but surely becoming a new normal.

Much has been shared in the last few weeks about the uncertainty, fear and impact of COVID-19, and we are once again asking ourselves how to make sense of what this means. What does this mean for those who are vulnerable? What does it mean for those countries who have not found right action in time? What does this mean for our family and our friends? What does this tell us about our sudden ability to “see” the people we do not personally know who are taking serious risks for us every day — the people who stock shelves at the grocery store, clean windows on buses, and administer throat swabs? The unsung heroes who are in contact with hundreds of people every day, knowing that statistically, this probably means they will contract the virus.

What does this mean for the way we work, create value and structure our economies?

What does this mean for us as a society that has, for almost five years, markedly turned down the volume on facts in order to fill our hearts, minds and airwaves with the salacious shock of populist, polarized and antisocial media-fuelled vitriol?

I think COVID might be Latin for to giveth one’s head a shake.

I sense that underneath our logical and methodical response to this pandemic, we have all been stopped in our tracks. In some ways, it has made us feel the way we did when we heard thunder or tried to comprehend the loss of someone special for the first time, or found ourselves in a situation that was bigger than us: we are suddenly looking around for a better way forward. And looking to each other to figure out a way that is safe.

We debated whether our newsletter was valuable at this time; we have no need to add to the noise. The more we connected with each other, though, the more it seemed that some of the things we’ve been noticing are hugely heartening and deserve to be shared.

We’ve been heartened by the fact that Science is chairing this meeting. That as a society, we are listening to what experts and trained authorities are saying. And what’s more is that we are modifying our behaviour accordingly. Suddenly, intellect and lifetimes of practice and expertise are valuable again.

For those of us living in a country where retreating to our homes for the sake of protecting our families is new and uncharted psychological territory, it is hard not to suddenly feel compassion for so many of the global socio-geographic dynamics that have swirled around us in the last decade: war, abuse, mass migrations, drought, wildfire, contaminated water, racism. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been heartened by the countless examples of leaders bringing their finest selves to the rapidly evolving situations they face to create a better future.

From our very first days at Roy Group, the core conviction that we hope haunts our clients for the rest of their lives is about the choice they have — in every moment — of how they conduct themselves. The way each of us chooses to conduct ourselves creates an atmosphere inside others.

And, as it turns out, it also creates the potential for a safe and healthy society.


Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.