I had a tough wake-up call early in my leadership career. I guess it was about 20 years ago. Back then, in my mind I was bulletproof. I was unstoppable. I was amazing. All you had to do was ask me. I would have told you.

But actually, I was insufferable, arrogant and completely lacking in empathy. Nobody could be five minutes late for one of my meetings. (God forbid they had to get their kids to school — that wasn’t my problem.)

Luckily I had a mentor, a senior vice president, who had this really direct, stern, caring way of holding up the mirror. One day he said, “Todd, this is the way that you portray yourself to the world, and it’s how you’re being perceived by the world. How you’re being perceived by the world and your [work] results aren’t pretty. So figure it out.”

I called it the ‘magic mirror’ moment. He held that mirror up and I thought, “Oh my god, that’s how people see me? That’s how I am?” To me, that was the pivotal moment. Since then, I’ve said a thousand times to people that I wish we could borrow someone else’s eyes for an instant so that we could see how other people perceive us and how our conduct — what we’re doing and saying — actually lands for other people.

I hadn’t been taking responsibility for my conduct.

Leadership is about taking responsibility for yourself before anything else. Sure, it’s important to pick the right KPIs and hit your targets and pay your employees on time, but there’s a deeper responsibility that underlies all able leadership. This is the responsibility of stepping into one’s power and being intentional in every choice you make.

What would happen if a leader possessed a stronger sense of their “self” and was thus better able to harness the superpowers of the team? 

This is one of our key explorations with our clients.

Being present and intentional is a tremendous responsibility. As a day unfolds, we are invited into hundreds of moments of choice. Many people choose to step back from actively engaging with the myriad choices that appear throughout their day, and this choice keeps them in a place of powerlessness and blame. That isn’t very fertile ground; leadership can’t grow in that garden.

When you make your coffee in the morning, the amount of cream and sugar you put in is a choice. When you drive to work, the distance between you and the car ahead of you is a choice. Once you get to the office, the words you choose to communicate with your colleagues are a choice. So is your body language, tone of voice and countenance.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Everything you offer into the world is a choice. The difference between an accomplished leader and the rest of us is that great leaders have learned to be present with every moment, with every person, with every conversation, and to use that clarity to make choices that ultimately add to their experience of work and life. And, by default, these choices add to other people’s experiences. The burden of always and all the time may seem daunting and as such, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Progress, not perfection.

Leadership at all levels, in all sectors of society, benefits from this kind of true engagement. It is in those moments of presence that we are masters of our own conduct.

What would happen if society and leaders were held accountable for  their conduct? What if there really was a conduct barometer? 

This notion may seem old fashioned, but what if leaders were lauded for being wonderful teachers and stewards of societal values, as well as conscious, caring, trustworthy and selfless? How would we behave if we could all have that Jimmy Stewart moment from It’s a Wonderful Life, and see the impact we’ve had on our world just by being a stand-up person?

How is society impacted by the current climate of divisiveness and cynicism? What is the counterbalance? 

I notice that we can occasionally fall into the trap of  focussing on what’s going wrong rather than what is going right. The current climate of divisiveness and cynicism is shaped by our paying attention to negative outcomes, and by our habit of ruminating on that negativity. Whether it’s on the news, on Twitter, or at the water cooler, there’s a lot of bitching going on. We love to feed that wolf — but it never takes us to a place of strength.

Taking action, yes. Complaining, no. It’s tricky.

The counterbalance? Conducting yourself like a true leader, by searching first for the things you can honour in yourself, and then for the things you can honour in someone else’s conduct. Can you listen for the shared interests? Can you help them articulate what success would look like for them? Can you position others to perform at incrementally higher standards, to learn from their experiences, and to be increasingly engaged in their endeavours?

Imagine if we had the tools and the ability to engage in constructive dialogue with people who also have good intentions, but a different perspective from ours? 

On the whole, people haven’t been taught how to navigate tricky conversations. It’s not a skill that is taught in school, nor in university, unless it’s a specific class on conflict resolution. Yet it’s a necessary skill for leaders to understand, and to be able to expect from their team. How many of your people’s best ideas never come to fruition because they don’t have the tools to reach agreement, or to find a way forward?

How many of your ideas never do? Are you yourself in need of learning how to deftly handle a range of opinions, needs and desires, while simultaneously keeping the ball rolling toward the goalposts?

What would happen if we were better able to lead ourselves and others through a world where the pace of change continues to accelerate, and where life’s priorities constantly compete with one another? 

This issue of competing desires becomes even more significant when cast in the light of a fast-changing world. Your conduct as a leader — your ability to help others look for shared interests, work collaboratively and bring their own best selves to every interaction — is the skeleton key to managing change.

Navigating change is uncomfortable at the best of times, and can take a wrong turn if your team is not well grounded in methods of communicating and moving things toward the goalposts. The accelerating pace of life and business requires that we remain fluid and optimistic, that we step into our responsibility to be present and choice-aware, and that we coach others to do the same.

When my senior VP held that mirror up 20 years ago, I realized that leadership was about understanding the other person’s agenda and helping them get what they want, as opposed to me trying to push my agenda and using other people as a tool to fulfill my agenda. The key is to align yourself with people whose agendas are aligned.

You Are The Work

Even as leaders, the journey never stops. Leadership takes a lifetime to master — and the work is never truly “done”. What if, as a leader, you had a skilled guide in your corner? A guide whose agenda was to serve your agenda?

You would be that much closer to becoming your finest self, making your finest contribution.


Todd Walsh is CEO of Roy Group.

Helping people across the threshold from leadership to mentorship is our specialty at Roy Group. We were honoured late last year to work with teachers and administrators from Handsworth Secondary and Carson Graham Secondary schools in School District 44 (North Vancouver) in doing just that.

In the wake of the group’s participation in The Leader’s Discipline™, Handsworth Vice-Principal Mark Barrett wrote a reflection of his experience. (We’ve condensed it, redacted a few things that might give away the Roy Group secret sauce, and republished it below.) Mark, thanks for sharing your voice.

If you are an alumnus of one of our programs, we invite you to submit your reflections and stories of your leadership journey. We are all on this road together, and there’s richness in learning from each other’s lived experiences.

Until next time, remember: You are the work. And there’s no finer investment.


The Leader’s Discipline™ — by Mark Barrett

This month I had the privilege of participating in a professional development opportunity with a coaching and leadership organization called Roy Group. Twenty-one participants, including teachers and administrators, from Handsworth and Carson Graham Secondary gathered over an immersive three days to engage an experience called The Leader’s Discipline™. This work was facilitated by Roy Group founder, Ian Chisholm, as well as Carson Graham Principal, Ian Kennedy.

Much of what we were to discover later was shrouded in a bit of mystery, but the few instructions we did receive beforehand included to clear our calendar for the event, to plan to leave our cell phone off and emails unattended, and finally to make sure we came prepared to discuss a professional problem of practice. Oh, and to dress for activity!

We began with a Wednesday evening dinner that brought the groups from both schools to break bread and build relationships in anticipation of Thursday and Friday. Each participant introduced themselves and talked a little bit about their learning intentions for the experience. Ian Chisholm, or Chiz, as we called him, spoke a bit about his professional journey as well, and how it brought him to work with us today. A few of the aforementioned instructions were provided and we all left looking forward to the next day.

On Thursday morning we met at the North Shore Tennis Club. Although having lived in North Van for most of my life, I’d never actually been inside the facility, so it was neat to see. To begin the day we were each given a notebook, pen, and a series of custom stickers that included quotes, concepts and key ideas we would be working with throughout the day.

The first idea we played with was what it means to be a ‘mentor’; that a mentor is name you don’t give yourself – it needs to be given to you. Our first activity, without giving away the details, was designed to illustrate how being an engaged and attentive listener is such an important skill. And that way we conduct ourselves has real effect on those we interact with.

It was from this activity that I knew what we were learning was going to be absolutely applicable to my daily work; much of my day comprises brief five-minute interactions with colleagues, parents and students. And my ability to be dialled in for each of those conversations has a significant impact on my effectiveness as support in my school. How you conduct yourself is so important. We learned that conduct is where everything inside of you meets everything outside of you, and that the way you choose to conduct yourself creates an atmosphere in others.

With colleagues in the school, it’s important that the atmosphere I’m creating is one of safety… but not comfort. Particularly with all the changes happening in education, it’s more important than ever that educational leaders are encouraging movement from comfort through discomfort – but from a place of safety. High-performance professionals who are heavily engaged in their work are not comfortable.

Through our second activity we started to explore what meaningful feedback looks like. This is where we also began to examine coaching as a vehicle for feedback, mentorship and, ultimately, leadership.

In the afternoon this understanding was further refined. For the purposes of the first afternoon activity, we participants were arranged in trios, with a coachee (player), coach, and supercoach who would provide feedback to the coach on their performance. Coaches used something called The Question Funnel with their players — a series of questions designed to increase awareness and focus attention. Meanwhile, the supercoaches, who were observing the work of the coaches with the coaches, followed The Feedback Model. This model employs three simple but powerful questions that guide the conversation.

Once the coach had the opportunity to provide reflections of their own, then the supercoach was able to offer their thoughts. The ideas we had established earlier about quality feedback needing to be more informative than encouraging were also reinforced through this activity. We each had an opportunity to try all three roles, and from this activity I learned that as a coach/mentor it’s important to be highly attentive, to allow the student to define their own goals, and to remember that learning is a reflective process that works best when people feel safe.

For homework, we were challenged to carve out an authentic and meaningful pause: to take a break from the day, and to make a conscious effort to relax at some point between when we ended our Thursday and began our Friday. (Unfortunately for the Handsworth participants this also happened to be our Parent-Teacher Interview evening. But needless to say, we did our best!)

On Friday we moved locations from the tennis courts to a seminar room at a local rec centre. The focus for Friday was to take the theory and concepts we had learned, and bring them to bear on a real problem of practice we were dealing with. Essentially it was to bridge the theory with the real world and to make it explicitly applicable.

Our first activity was to form new trios of coachee, coach, and supercoach, but this time we weren’t refining tennis skills, but rather coaching our colleagues through real work issues. Ian and Chiz provided us with an exemplar to start, and then we broke out in to different spaces to work. It was a wonderful opportunity to practice using these new tools we had just been equipped with, in a real-world situation.

Another tool which was added to our belt to work through these issues was the GROW model. Each of the four categories includes a series of questions to be used to drill down into a problem and help work towards a possible resolution.

As a coachee, it was insightful to have a coach who could take my issue in unanticipated directions with their questions. It forced me to examine it from a new perspective. I also noted that I didn’t need my coach to have all the answers – the coach is not going to be the source of the solution; they are just there to facilitate my own reflection and to take it in different directions.

As we wound down the experience and debriefed some of our takeaways, we discussed how leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders. And that good coaching is really about having the right conversation before, and having the right conversation after.

We were challenged to identify ten topics we hope to be coached on, and by whom, and to write them down. Lastly, we set some tangible goals for ourselves, moving forward, and committed to practicing our new coaching and leadership skills in some way. For me, I’m pleased to say I’ve already brought these lessons to bear on my own practice by using The Feedback Model in conducting performance reviews. I also feel better equipped than ever to navigate some of the complex relationships and difficult conversations I regularly encounter in my role.

This was a wonderful professional development experience, and I would highly recommend it for anyone in a position of leadership, or who works in a highly relational industry. It was great to have the chance to work with the team from Carson Graham as well. I’m looking forward to integrating these skills even more into my daily work, as I know they’ll serve me well. Thanks to Ian Chisholm, Ian Kennedy and the Handsworth and Carson Graham teams.

Fall 2019 update:

Mark writes: We’ve been integrating the language and skills honed during that experience throughout our school. “What’s working? What’s tricky? What would you do differently?” have become staples in our conversations with staff and students.


Because I lost it…

My life would not be the same had it not been for taking on the CEO role at Columba 1400 on Skye. This assignment introduced my brand new family and I to lifelong friends; together we made a huge difference to an entire country; and it gave us the chance to be players in the early days of the social enterprise movement in the UK.

But it did leave a dint. 

Being only 27 when I took the job, I only had one gear: WORK. Grinding it out. No grace. No compassion for self. No discretion or mastery — just pure effort. Leaving it all on the field.

The heroic label I applied to this adventure was entrepreneurial — connected personally at a very deep level to the theme of exhaustion. And therefore, after nearly five years of riding with the throttle wide, I admitted, very privately, that I didn’t ever want to do this to myself or to my family again.

So we decided to practice.

Had a chance on Skye to work with some amazing practitioners. Their skill sets allowed them to engineer a different pattern of work. It wasn’t 9-to-5 — not that my work was. It wasn’t five days a week. It was project-based, as-and-when, leveraging a high degree of choice and using their unique gifts to multiply the impact of key projects.

They were the closest thing to Jedis I had ever experienced. Coaching, mediation, engagement, facilitation. The works.

The mastery.

And so when both Anne-Marie and I had the chance to work a different way — as practitioners — we took it. We launched Roy Group a few days before our kids started school in September 2004.

If we kept things simple, we reasoned, we could create the leanest of start-ups and share our practices to make our living. (Side note: Not all business owners are entrepreneurs by nature. As practitioners, we were tied to our personal involvement in the business — our offering was our time. If we ever stopped practicing, the company would stop, too. The difference between practice and enterprise is a lesson that took me 15 years to take on.)

We didn’t really have a business plan, because we didn’t need one. Instead, we had an equation of 100 client-facing days a year. If we could organize ourselves around that, everything in our life would work.

In any given week of the year, this system allowed us to learn, to earn, to be a part of the volunteer commitments we felt were important, and to do most of our own administration and billing, etc.

It was a good life.

Not without its challenges…  

Moving back to Canada after Skye meant we were starting something new without a network that knew who we were or what we had to offer. There was a lot to learn.

I was still pretty tired. Most of the initial calls I made to people to build our network and launch Roy Group originated from a lawn chair on our back porch, me sitting with a blanket over my knees. I was in entrepreneurial convalescence and had big questions every day about whether this was going to work or not. There was pressure, but there was also the genuine enjoyment of connecting with people who were trying to do important things.

We had borrowed some money to get things started. Wasn’t enough. I went to my dad (who many of you know is a finance whiz) and explained that I needed to have a meeting with him to talk about cash flow. For any of you that know Mike Chisholm, you’ll appreciate the dry wit of his response: “I assume that this meeting is not because you have too much cash flow?”

But it started to work.

The balance in our bank account siphoned down to a sphincter-clenching few hundred dollars — but then our equation started to work.

For 15 years, we have loved Roy Group as a vehicle to do the things we want to do, and to become the people in the world that we want to be. It was as if a tight-knit group of us was powering along in a handcrafted rowboat. Life was pretty good. Growth came in the form of deepening our own capacity to learn from, respond to and gain credibility through our clients’ challenges. Our practices became more and more potent toward mastery.

We felt like samurais — loyal and self-disciplined warriors for leadership who could be sought out for special assignments. We met other extraordinary samurais along the way. It allowed us to focus on what we could supply, and to make it unlike anything else in the market. It allowed us the flexibility to spend time with our family and to enjoy our life. I don’t believe in static life balance; it was a dynamic equilibrium of everything that was important to us.

Until it wasn’t.

After 15 years in business, working each and every time to deliver the best offering for your clients that you possibly can, a LOT of people find out about what you do. And they call you up. That was our only strategy: do great work every time, and have the message spread by word-of-mouth between people who trust each other.

Things got a little hairy. We were practitioners trying to manage big growth but without a foundation for the enterprise we were evolving toward. Getting back to people, preparing for courses and travelling started to pinch into every evening and every weekend. Vitality started to ebb. Life on the road was dishing up the wear and tear. Creativity suffered too: it was easier to run the same plays that had worked before. I lost my focus on important professional relationships. Quality in our work was a compromise I would never consciously make, but even it started to dip. The rowboat was taking on water. And we needed to take stock.

Start by protecting the spark…  

A lot of people talk about the importance of choosing your values. But true conviction feels more like choicelessness to me. You either live it or you don’t. Along the journey so far, we have uncovered what means the most to us. They were the things that began to be compromised — quality, vitality, creativity, focus — and we knew it felt wrong. Everything we do now is grounded by our exploration of these core values. We have no choice but to live by them: it’s who we are.

In January of 2019, Anne-Marie and I hired Todd Walsh to serve as CEO of our business. Todd’s unique gift is his ability to create, align and advance an elite team toward a desired future state. In a relatively short amount of time, he has brought together a cadre of extraordinary characters. He positions each of us to use our unique gifts more often — and more powerfully. He believes in our values. He builds them into our operational processes, and brings us back to them when we’re not in line.

We will still be a small giant — a company that chooses every day to be great before we are big. We’ve shifted our metaphor from rowboat to zodiac: quick, tight, agile, adaptable. We will work with clients, colleagues and suppliers that we love. We will always aim at delivering client and team member experiences that are high-impact and indelible. We will create new offerings and build our supply. And together, we are going to meet a demand that we are humbled by, positioning a corps of extraordinary leaders as Mentors in their communities.

And tend the fire… 

When we left Skye in 2004, the team at the Centre gave Anne-Marie and I a silver quaich engraved with the Gaelic Bheothaich sradag bheag teine mor: From a single spark has come a raging fire. Entrepreneurship comes with some incredible potentials: to use our unique gifts alongside others, to innovate, to create value together that we believe deeply in. To work with who we want to work with. And to be as zealous about quality and improvement as we like: arriving is the enemy of thriving.

I am really happy to be thriving again.

It even feels good now to be making the inevitable sacrifices required of entrepreneurs. I feel the pressure that comes from holding a vision that is bold enough for us all to move toward. I am doing things that I don’t know how to do, masterfully. I am making a lot of key choices, and getting some of them wrong. I am holding all the inherent doubts and facing the natural fears that come with risk and growth. I am waking up early thinking about all the things that our business needs to be whole. I am working on myself more rigorously, and playing harder — knowing that I am playing for my teammates and that they are playing for me. I am holding myself to a higher standard of communication and of follow-up. I am protecting my energy and treating myself more gracefully when it comes to diet and rest and exercise.

And it all feels great this time.


Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.

By Bradley Chisholm

I think it is only human to look back on past experiences and feel regret about missed opportunities. I am pretty hard on myself, so I feel this way at times. I have also been able to see a common thread that binds many of these missed opportunities: I did not lean into conflict the way I should have. The situations, the people I worked with and my leadership would be much stronger today if I had saddled up some courage, believed in who I was and walked into more difficult conversations.

My story is not unique. We work with many senior and emerging leaders who, although fearless when it comes to taking risks, making a courtroom submission or designing an ambitious strategic plan, sidestep when it comes time to address uncomfortable, difficult situations with their colleagues. For many of those leaders who have just retired, their single greatest regret was not capitalizing on the value that these situations could have created.

Most of our clients have been introduced to a coaching approach to leadership at some point in their engagement with us. They embrace the practical tools and the underlying philosophy. The question they inevitably ask is, How does this approach work when emotions are high? When you have “skin in the game” and when an inevitable change of course is really, really uncomfortable?

We have been working a lot with this question. Over the last three years, we have been building an approach that will both help our clients navigate conflict in a more productive way but that also fits with the coaching approach to leadership they have already been introduced to.

Without getting into detail about the approach, I wanted to touch briefly on the thread that connects coaching and this powerful way of seeing and approaching conflict. The philosophy of coaching that resonated most with me was the idea that wisdom does not only exist within me, but in the system as well. Often what is needed are well-crafted, objective questions and the space to let the answers emerge.

I was excited about my introduction to conflict. I walked into the room with Anne-Marie Daniel and Alice Estey — both masters in the world of conflict resolution. I thought I was going to be learning the skills that would allow me to send the all-convincing message, to stand my ground and change the behaviours of others. Although that was part of the learning, it was only a small part. Most of the work, to my surprise, focused on changing my perspective, becoming more objective (even when I was personally entangled), listening for the gems, and crafting the types of questions that get to the heart of the matter.

Sound familiar? What I learned from Anne-Marie and Alice was that the foundations of coaching play a powerful role in not only managing conflict but finding opportunity in it.

I am practicing. I just wish my practice would have started years earlier.


Bradley Chisholm is a former partner of Roy Group now serving as the Chief Officer, Strategy and Governance for the BC College of Nursing Professionals.

For upcoming sessions of Opportunity in Conflict, see Open Courses.

By Ted Kouri

A few years ago, Incite was recognized by Alberta Venture as Alberta’s Best Workplace for Under 100 Employees. We are really proud of the culture, team and environment we have built at Incite over the last 15 years, and receiving this award was certainly a special moment to honour that. It was also a great opportunity to reflect on what helped us win this award.

In looking at what makes Incite’s workplace special, there are the easily identified things like our social events (i.e. Incite Alumni Reunion), our focus on family (i.e. Bring Your Family to Work Day), and our commitment to community (i.e. Annual Volunteer Day). However, I believe it is the not-so-easily-seen operating principles and beliefs that drive us.

There are three key lessons we’ve learned in our work with Roy Group that are critical to how we operate and are important reasons why Incite is a great place to work:

1. Leaders at All Levels

Everyone can lead. Leadership has very little to do with titles and roles, and a great deal to do with empowerment, engagement, and commitment. We have embraced the philosophy of building leaders throughout our organization, and firmly believe that every member of our team can and should have the opportunity to provide leadership.

We have seen huge personal transformation in people by fostering in them the idea that they can lead. Some of our best ideas have come from what traditionally would be thought of as junior roles, and we have witnessed firsthand what happens when you build a sense of self-belief in all people in an organization. On a regular basis, our newest team members coach senior management through complex issues, and members of our admin support team participate in client brainstorms. When you recognize that everyone can lead, you unlock the potential of your team.

2. Coaching Approach to Learning

We have pursued a more non-directive approach to personal learning and development. Historically, we defaulted to a “tell people what to do” mentality that, while seemingly effective in the short term, does not foster in people the sense of inquiry, understanding, or commitment an organization needs to really raise its game.

The idea that leadership is not about providing answers but rather asking better questions has changed the way we operate and is fundamental to our belief in the potential of our people. We have developed our coaching capacity with Roy Group’s The Leader’s Discipline. This encourages leaders at all levels to solve their own problems.

3. Accountability and Feedback

Finally, and likely still our greatest area to work on, is the idea that a great workplace is not simply one where people get along and have fun. A great workplace is defined more by people’s ability and willingness to provide honest feedback and to hold each other accountable to the highest standards. While not always easy or comfortable, a true friend tells you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.

We have seen that people’s job satisfaction is highest when they are learning and growing, and when they are contributing to impactful and significant work. People don’t just want a pat on the back, they want an honest critique of their performance in a way that helps them get better. To build a culture that embraces delivering such feedback as part of its daily operations is not easy because the truth can be ugly sometimes. At Incite, this is still a work in progress, but we know it will only make us better.

Roy Group has been a special advisor, partner and friend to Incite, and we thank them for helping us work towards our goal of creating a company that helps leaders achieve their greatness.


Ted Kouri is co-founder and president at Incite Strategy.

For upcoming sessions of The Leader’s Discipline, see Open Courses.

By Keith Driscoll

A little over six years ago, I and my colleagues on the management team at St. Michaels University School (SMUS) participated in a Roy Group experience called The Leader’s Discipline™. This two-day experience was the gateway to both a personal and organizational journey that is still continuing today.

It was during this experience that I began to see how my own philosophy could be best aligned with our organization’s to help foster high-performance teams — teams that utilize the many strengths of their members while honouring them as individuals. The foundation of the work would be implementing my particular coaching approach to leadership.

We recognized that, although our function is to lead and educate, it is our teams and students that ultimately have to perform — similar to a coach and a sports team, where the players play the game; or a conductor and an orchestra, where the musicians play the instruments. The success of the team hinges on its ability to execute in those moments that count: it is their actions — not the leader’s actions — that will affect the field around them. Therefore, as both leaders and teachers, we have some choices as to how we work with people to position them best for these moments.

Consider Roy Group’s definition of coaching as “the intentional positioning of others to perform at incrementally higher standards, to learn more from their experiences as they emerge, and to be increasingly engaged in their endeavours.”

When applied to one’s working relationships, this process not only helps in achieving the stated goals of a position or role, it also intrinsically creates a culture of ongoing learning and collaboration between both leader and team, and among team members. It does so by creating a space for dialogue that is growth-focused and low in judgment. The elegance of this approach is that it simply can become the way that we lead — every day.

At SMUS, we began by providing workshops on coaching and providing feedback to those who were interested. Management team members were allotted two Roy Group coaching hours per month that they could use, gift, swap or collect to use later for whatever they needed.

Gradually, leaders began to incorporate scheduled feedback meetings with their teams and to employ the principles learned in these workshops and through their coaching sessions. At first, efforts felt scripted and at times even artificial. However, as we practiced together, we honed those formal meetings into sessions conducted with ease and elegance, now comfortable with the beliefs, language and approach. Over time, we began to use coaching tools more informally, with people asking colleagues for coaching on the challenges, problems, idea and aspirations that landed in front of us.

This six-year coaching experience with Roy Group has provided SMUS with a foundation for better facilitation, leadership development of student leaders and improved interactions with our stakeholders. Ultimately, we have learned that leading means helping others be their best.


Keith Driscoll is Director of Residence and Student Life at St. Michaels University School in Victoria, BC. Keith is also the winner of the MacGregor Cup, Roy Group’s highest honour, which each year acknowledges a remarkable individual whose leadership development activities have made a significant impact on their communities and organizations.

For upcoming sessions of The Leader’s Discipline, see Open Courses.

By Vanessa Braun

To be a coach for children is to see the individual potential and to create the space for them to rise to it.

In February I attended The Leader’s Discipline™, a two-day training presented by Roy Group in Victoria, BC. One of the many things I took away from the training was how applicable it was not only to leading my teaching team but also to my work in the classroom with the kids. Though I hadn’t thought about it this way before, a vast majority of our time is dedicated to “coaching” or empowering children to be the best they can be.

As the founder of Storyoga, I can proudly say we believe in asking children the right kinds of questions so that they may draw their own conclusions. Rather than giving them answers, we believe that their ideas and understanding of the world is of equal value and that their voices are meant to be heard. We believe in giving children the tools to problem-solve and the skills to stand up for themselves. Rather than stepping in to fix something, we see conflict in the classroom an opportunity for growth. Essentially, we believe in supporting children to be their own advocates and to know their place in the world.

How incredible it is to be gifted this kind of an opportunity at such a young age. To be valued, to be supported, and to be heard.

What I also realized after taking this training is that we hold our children to a high standard. We expect a lot of them, and in return, we see them grow by leaps and bounds. To be a coach for children is to see the individual potential and to create the space for them to rise to it.

To be a coach for children is to ask questions that encourage reflection and may even challenge their thinking.

Often children will ask why things are the way they are in the world. Rather than simply giving them an answer, keep the conversation alive. Put the question back to them and ask why they think it is so. Not only does this create a shared dialogue rich in learning, but it also opens the doors to possibility while fostering creativity and imagination in the process of doing so.

To be a coach for children is to hold each child accountable to being their best self.

To foster the dispositions of kindness, compassion, truthfulness, and to see the good in one another. Recently we had a child speak negatively of another child in the class. One child commented on another child as always being mean. Seeing that the child who had made this comment had the qualities of being a leader herself, I asked, “Is this always true? Is this child always mean?” I then followed with, “Is it true today?” She stopped to consider my question and after some back and forth, answered by saying no. It was a powerful moment for both of us, which changed the course of her thinking and action in the class.

To be a coach for children is to help them trust their own wisdom — what they already know.

On another occasion during journal writing, one of our students asked me to draw him a heart. I put it back to him and said, “What do you think a heart looks like?” He smiled and asked again for me to draw it. I was honest with him in my response, “I’m not going to draw it for you. I think you know how.” I asked him to close his eyes and imagine a heart in his mind. Then to open his eyes and draw what he saw. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was stuck on wanting it done right and for me to do it for him. While it would have been very easy for me to draw the heart, I simply wasn’t going to. By not drawing it for him, what I was really saying was, I believe in you and your abilities. I was rooting for him to trust in his own wisdom.

Too often we look outside ourselves for validation and for answers. This starts at a young age. It makes me wonder, where would I have been in life if someone taught me at an early age to trust myself? If someone created the space for my own knowing to come through? This doesn’t just apply to drawing hearts. It applies to knowing how to stand up for what you believe in, to be brave, and to have the courage to be who you really are.

Whether it’s learning how to draw a heart or how to walk across a balance beam, we must give children the space to rise to the occasion. We must challenge their thinking and their comfort level, and present opportunities for them to reach new heights. When we do this, not only does their confidence increase but their level of self-efficacy and overall belief in their abilities starts to permeate.

Ask questions that provoke a sense of wonder; keep the conversation alive. Encourage reflective thinking, and foster the dispositions of kindness, compassion, truthfulness, and a loving heart. We all need a chance to shine. Be the spark that ignites the light in children and allow them to shine bright.


Vanessa Braun is the founder of Storyoga.

For upcoming sessions of The Leader’s Discipline, see Open Courses.

By Bob Chartier

Leaders need to be careful whenever they hear themselves saying the words “buy-in” . . . very, very, careful. The people they are talking to just may be having a strong allergic reaction to that phrase.

As a “lifer” on the front lines of organizations, I always felt that buy-in was somehow an obligation or even worse, my fault. If organizational initiatives did not work, it was because we did not buy in deeply enough. Inevitably, it felt the worst on those days when management called us all together for an all-staff meeting to present us with the new strategic plan or some other important “thrust.” (How’s that for a piece of cool retro jargon?)

In my imagination and the imaginations of those sitting next to me, the management team had been off to some island with a facilitator, a five iron and a flip chart, and were now ready to announce the new plan. Oh, how we lived in rapturous anticipation of — once again — having something rolled out over the top of us.

There they were at the front of the room, sitting in a row, addressing the masses while pounding through a 36-page PowerPoint deck, and almost always wrapping up with a perky exhortation of, “Now, all that we need to make this work is your buy-in!”

It always made me feel like one of those old dudes in the balcony on The Muppet Show. All I could think was, “How about taking me along to the resort next time if you really want my buy-in?”

Ten years later, I discovered systems thinking. One year after that, I had the amazing opportunity to facilitate a process with our entire organization in a community hall. Everyone from the summer interns to the director general was there. With the right design of the day and practitioners who knew how to run it, we hosted hundreds of small and large conversations across classification lines, across departmental lines and across long-held mental model lines.

We wound up the day with over 120 recommendations, ideas and possibilities covering a wall at the end of the hall. Our Director General closed the day by saying, “I have been going through these recommendations. Some are brilliant, some might be possible and some are never going to happen. Three weeks from now, we are heading off to the island to do our annual planning exercise. I am taking this valuable intelligence with us and we are going to use it to have the conversations that we need to have.”

And he did.

When management returned and called us together, we could see elements of our day together in that new plan … not everything, but enough to know they had listened and used the most timely and relevant suggestions that we had offered. We had been invited in at the front end of the work, instead of trying to be sold to, out the back.

We didn’t need to be bought in, because we had been brought in.

We should be asking some hard question these days. Are we still using a tired old model where the senior team gets to design the future and everyone else just needs to do what they are told? Or are we the kinds of leaders that co-create, that create space for the conversations that need to happen, and who actually believe that every single person in our organization has seen glimpses and heard whispers of what we could yet be?


Bob Chartier is a songwriter, organizational myth-buster and committed Canadian public servant. He is also Roy Group’s learning lead on engagement.

For upcoming sessions of Tools of Engagement, see Open Courses.

By Bob Chartier

It’s the reward-and-recognition season again. Chances are high that mugs will go once more to individuals and teams who lead the charge during one crisis or another. Listen for it: fires, floods, and disasters (literal or figurative) are often the focus for our award ceremonies.

In your work life, if you have ever had the opportunity to take part in any sort of crisis response, you will know that people say, “It was our finest moment.” There is just something about blatant adversity that brings out the best in us.

I would also bet that, a short three months after the crisis, the same folks would say their workplace was back to the same old, same old. Oh, sure, people are still working hard, doing a good job and getting the work done, but with nowhere near the spirit, energy, and personal accountability that arose during the crisis.

So, the question becomes, How do we invite the same engagement that appears during a crisis into the everyday?

Lately, I have been working with an interesting leader who has been wrestling with this question. Ryan Jestin heads up the roads department for the City of Calgary and was front and centre with Mayor Naheed Nenshi during the devastating floods in 2013. In any crisis situation, transportation becomes a key factor, and Ryan’s team of over 1,000 frontline public servants responded to that flood with an ingenuity and focus never before seen, even by them. Engagement was through the roof. People felt that what they did was important.

In returning to business as usual, Ryan and his team expected that this “high” might wane a bit. What they did not expect was a complete return to the engagement levels they had before the crisis.

Ryan is ex-military and has an ability to lean into the punch of a tough conversation. He opened up the discussion, engaging in an after-action review, and decided to challenge his leadership team with the question, “Where did our extraordinary teamwork go?”

Using a collection of engagement methods I had shared with him, Ryan convened the conversation with his entire team. Here are some of our key findings that the conversation unearthed:

People capable of high performance can be engaged less than 50% for all sorts of reasons. Multiply that across your entire team and you have a seriously compromised capacity to deliver something excellent. This dynamic is presented very clearly in a one-year study conducted by Gallup around employee engagement that found 28% of employees were engaged, 54% were not engaged, and 17% were actively not engaged.

In other words, well over half of the workforce is either underperforming, or actively undermining productivity.

What we came to understand through our conversations with Ryan’s team was that if an organization was typically around 40% engaged during regular times, in a crisis situation the engagement scores would spike into the high 90s. Not magic — just people being fully engaged, counted on (a nice way to see accountability) and aware that what they were noticing and contributing was important.

How do we maintain the levels of engagement that we see in crisis situations in our everyday work affairs? Crisis is by its very nature unsustainable; it is temporary. Real engagement has to be fully sustainable, built into the everyday, and is best done through the everyday practice of those leaders who know how important it is. Engagement work must be more purposeful than serendipitous, more strategic than tactical, and more cultural than policy.

It’s a long game, not a fast hit. And if you are not getting stronger and stronger, you are going to lose ground.

Sustainable engagement is about having rituals that people can count on that allow them to have the conversations that they need to have every day — exactly the way we do in a crisis situation. Good intelligence, no-nonsense feedback and status reports, coordination of resources, a suspension of silos, and maybe most of all (around the edges): personal check-ins with people about how they are really doing. Regardless of the content that we need to tackle, we know that the processes exist for us to make sense of it together in real time and act accordingly.

The slow and steady leader wins the long game, using tools and practices every day, developing their own people to convene these conversations in a cost-effective way, and quietly but firmly building systemic engagement where the lasting difference is made — in the everyday.


Bob Chartier is Roy Group’s learning lead on engagement.

For upcoming sessions of Tools of Engagement, see Open Courses.

By Alice Estey

May, 2014

Most everyone would agree that good communication is key to any organization functioning effectively. And yet, good communication is harder to accomplish than we think. Here are three common communication errors and some quick fixes to consider:

Error #1: “Sure, I understand.”

More often than not, we have no real idea whether we accurately understand or have been understood.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.”

We are all familiar with these phrases and occasionally the second statement might be true. However, in my conflict work, when I ask my clients, “What is it that you think you have understood?” the message received is rarely the message that was being sent.

Try it yourself. Next time you are trying to communicate something important to someone, ask them to repeat back to you what they think they heard you say. If they missed your message, it’s no problem because you now have an opportunity to clarify. Everyone wins.

NOTE: Avoid using the phrase, “You weren’t listening.” It’s a guaranteed listening killer!

Error #2: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”

Too many words will kill the message.

Making an excellent point and then emphasizing it by repeating it five different ways doesn’t make for a better point. It usually has the opposite effect and causes people to stop listening. A typical human capacity for absorbing a clear message is about five to six sentences. Beyond five sentences, people’s attention strays or the message begins to get muddled.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. A message delivered ONCE in a concise and simple manner is quite sufficient. Two or three sentences are more effective than a paragraph or two. And, it takes way less time!

Error #3: “I’ve talked myself blue and nothing changes.”

A common communication mistake is to complain to the wrong party.

Just because you feel strongly about something and have possibly complained to your friends about it, doesn’t mean you have communicated it to the right people. This mistake is easy to make because taking a problem to the source can often feel scary. We may justify our avoidance by saying, “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings,” or, “I don’t want to risk making someone angry at me,” or, “Nothing will be done about it anyway.”

These things might or might not be true, but one thing is certain: if we don’t address the problem directly, it’s pretty much guaranteed to remain a problem.


Alice Estey is a mediator and conflict management specialist. She also serves as an Alternate Dispute Resolution Advisor for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is deployed throughout the country to assist in conflict management at FEMA disaster sites.

For upcoming sessions of Opportunity in Conflict, see Open Courses.