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.

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.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive at the place we started and know that place for the first time. — T.S. Eliot

I was reminded of this line from T.S. Eliot’s poem, Little Gidding, upon joining Roy Group. I had wound down a long executive career in the wholesale, retail and finance sectors, and was excited to join this team on what seemed to be an important leadership journey. My immediate impression was that these people were excellent leaders, as evidenced by their attitude, approach, and how they value people and the world.

For my magazine cover on our new Roy Group website, Chiz (Ian Chisholm) coined the headline 10 Things Golf Teaches Me About Leadership. I laughed when I first saw it, but I now realize that I can legitimately list most of leadership’s rules and follies beginning with my experience with my own Mentor. In fact, I believe you can learn almost everything you need to know about a person — their character and leadership style — during the course of a four-hour game of golf: how they approach leadership of self, and deal with integrity through challenge and change.

I can remember the summer days when it first occurred to me that I had a capital-M mentor — and I can still remember the day that I decided on the type of person and leader I wanted to become. That was when my “exploring”, as Eliot calls it, began.

It was my 14th summer — a hot, hazy afternoon — and my dad had dropped me off at the golf course. After introducing me to golf and playing a few rounds with me that year, he had recognized it was time to pass me off to someone who could teach me more than he could.

On my own for the first time on a golf course, I stood near the first tee. That was the day I first met and got to play with an amazing golfer. A champion.

My father’s friend approached. “Would you mind if I played along?” he inquired.

I smiled back and pointed at the first tee. To me, he seemed a very old man, a little stiff in body, but relaxed and light in his physiology and expression. I liked him immediately.

I was stunned when he took the tee and crushed his 4-wood, driving a high shot that seemed to stay in the air forever before finally landing on the back of the first green, a very long par 3.

My turn. I hit a good one with a going draw. I had an insanely strong grip in those days, and the clubface at impact always moved the ball left. Couldn’t hit straight, but I had good distance. My ball landed 25 yards short and left of the green — one of my better efforts.

He parred. I felt pretty good with my bogie 4.

“What if you turn right hand over a half-inch to the left on that grip?” he offered a few holes later. “Let’s see what happens.”

I did what he said, and immediately hit a fade. I watched incredulously as the ball curved from left to right.

He smiled. “You can make the ball do anything,” he said. “And it always starts with the grip.”

This time, he hit his tee shot lower. It moved left to right. Then the old man hit a punch 7-iron approach shot downwind to tap in range on the par-4 sixth hole. It was the first birdie I had ever seen.

I made a par 4, which was a breakthrough for me.

Right then I said to myself: Face it, Shep. You know nothing about this game. But maybe you can learn.

After eight holes he was two under par.

“I like your swing,” he said. “Tempo is not easily taught, but you have it.” He hadn’t said much during the whole round and I didn’t even know his name, but I felt better about myself and more confident about my game.

“I play most days,” he said when the round was done. “My name is Walter…Champion. Maybe see you again sometime.”

That was in 1972. For the next two summers, Walter Champion served as my golf teacher and mentor. During those summers, I visibly honed my game. What was less apparent to me was that Champion’s influence was also honing my leadership mind.

When I met him, Champion was 70 years old and a former provincial senior golf champion. I learned that he grew up near Troon, a famous Scottish seaside links course where they sometimes played the British Open. He had been a caddy there during the First World War, and had moved to Canada in 1927. He called me “laddie”.

Champion had a very smooth, relaxed approach to golf and to life. I never saw him become upset or show even mild concern, no matter what kind of situation he was in. He always looked very interested, whether it was in the shot he had to play or in the conversation he was having. Sometimes, when he had an “impossible” shot, he was downright excited.

Late that first summer on a drizzly afternoon, I learned what a true competitor Champion was. We were facing the seventh hole — a mean hole that featured a tall, broad oak tree smack in the middle of the fairway, maybe 175 yards off the tee.

A good drive could have flown it, but this day, Champion’s drive caught the top of the tree. We waited, listened, looked.

Nothing.

“Where is it?” he demanded.

“I never saw it get spit out,” I said. “It must have flown through.”

I hit a great drive past the tree, leaving just a short iron to the green.

At the green, Champion’s ball was nowhere to be found. I grinned to myself. Looks like I got you, old man.

Champion looked around on the edge of the fairway, left and right, considering his situation. Then he walked back to the tree and stood beneath it. The first branch was about seven feet up.

He peered upward through the foliage. “I thought so!” he said. “Give me a boost.”

Give you a boost? I thought. You’re 70 years old! And it’s raining. And that branch is way too high.

Of course, I gave him my knee.

He clambered up onto that first branch and surveyed the situation.

“Nine iron,” he ordered.

I flipped it up and he grabbed it.

He one-handed it like a tennis volley. The ball rattled down and ricocheted clear of the tree. Then he hit a low-iron shot to about 15 feet. Although I had a shorter putt to equal his 4, once he’d jammed it in the back of the hole for an impossible par, I knew that I was not worthy, and missed mine.

I was stunned for the remaining holes we played that day, astounded that a 70-year-old could climb a tree and save a par from a real “bird’s nest” lie. He always liked a challenge. Whenever we played that hole again, he would smile at that tree.

It was the middle of the following golf season when I finally beat him. On the final tee, I was one up on him. I figured I would need a par to hold the thin margin and take the match.

In my desperation to win, my old snap-hook showed up. I watched, heart in my throat, as my tee shot sailed into the trees.

As Champion had shown me how to do in similar tricky situations, I searched around and found an opening. I thought I just might pitch it through and up near the green, and still have a shot at par — and a win.

My shot flew past one, two, three trees and caught the fourth dead centre, sending the ball back toward me on my left.

Champion spoke to me from the fairway. “You’re going to have to hole this one.” His own approach shot sat maybe ten feet from the pin.

“See the shot,” he urged.

I released my frustration at my first failed attempt. Champion would go for it, I said to myself. He would at least give himself a chance.

I pictured the shot in my mind’s eye: through the trees, maybe two bounces through the fringe, then up onto the tilting green, breaking maybe two feet to roll toward the hole.

A feeling of focus spread throughout my body. I drew the club back and accelerated through the vision I had had. I watched, mesmerized, as the ball followed my detailed instructions and curved into the middle of the hole for a 3!

Champion waved, smiled and, not seeming too surprised, walked onto the green, quickly stroking his putt to the back of the hole for his 3.

“Congratulations,” he said. And then: “If you really want to, you can win from anywhere.”

I never forgot it.

My game improved over the rest of the summer. I won only very rarely, but we always talked about that first win.

After my teenage years, I went back to that old course where I had learned the game and so much more, but I never saw Champion again. I never mentioned him to my parents, or even my friends, for many years. Now, all these decades later, I still remember his deliberate accelerating swing, the clarity with which he focused on each moment, for each shot. I can hear his laugh, and see those decisive putts dropping into the hole. And I can see him climbing that tree as clearly today as I did all those years ago.

How you play teaches by example — and that quality of character is a significant part of what Roy Group imparts to our clients. Can you let a bad shot go? Are you making the most of yourself and your opportunities, or do you prefer to wallow in the crashing surf of “bad luck” and “bad bounces?” Are you a risk taker? Can you think with inspiration and even audacity? Can you be decisive and committed? Do you appreciate your fellow fairway travellers and affirm them? Can you win and lose without being particularly attached to either outcome?

Champion was a great leader because he was genuine in everything he did. He was purposeful at all times, yet relaxed while being focused and aware of everything around him. He was also a great role model because he often took the time to appreciate my play, or to mention something seemingly innocuous that inevitably turned out to a superb bit of teaching or redirection. To be affirmed and appreciated made him a hero to me.

During my mid-teens, I had thought I, too, would become a teacher. And although my life later flowed toward business and leadership roles after university, I always kept those special summer days and experiences in my heart. And so, coming to Roy Group as a post-career vehicle did feel a little like déjà vu — like arriving back where I had started all those years ago — but with the awareness and clarity of knowing where I am now.

 


Chris Shepherd is a Roy Group Special Advisor.

I was standing at a podium in front of a room full of people. My stomach was churning, my heart was pounding and the survival part of my brain was focused on getting off that stage. I had been in my new role as Road Ahead Champion for about a month. I was a forester, an analyst and a writer, experienced at supporting decisions from the background and offering up my thoughts when asked. I was in no way a public speaker or a group leader! How had I gotten myself into this situation? And what was I going to say?

It was my first major deployment as part of my new role and I was at an all-staff meeting. I’d been invited to speak about the large organizational leadership initiative we had embarked on. The initiative was critically important, spanned several years, and in the end, carried that ministry well into the future in terms of built resiliency and leadership development. I had been one of several who had applied to the opportunity and was the fortunate soul chosen from the front lines to connect with and be the face of the people as they navigated and participated in this initiative. They had given me an hour on the agenda.

I had not prepared adequately.

The gathered crowd – public servants, whom I greatly admired and wanted to both connect with and inspire – looked at me expectantly. I stumbled through the speaking notes I had written. Although I was well aware that members of executive conducted their engagements with Powerpoints and detailed, printed speech notes, I had prepared neither. I had maybe five index cards with bulleted themes I wanted to cover.

I managed to scrape together some thoughts to link together the main themes, told a couple of personal stories that extended the presentation to 10 minutes, and then turned myself over to questions. Before the session even ended, I knew.

I had not given myself sufficient time to prepare. I had not practiced. I had failed to give the session the importance and attention it had deserved.

Being Prepared Signals Regard for Self And Others

That was nearly 15 years ago, and it’s still carved in my mind as an epic failure. As my mentor and then-boss, Shelley Sullivan, who knows both my strengths and weaknesses well, later suggested as we embarked on a new project together: “This is not the time to fly by the seat of your pants.”

With grace and wisdom, her words acknowledged my previous gaffe. The inclination to wing it was a part of my practice. My last-minute planning had usually served me adequately enough, and until that point I had flown along with grace. But not always, and not in the most difficult assignments. Addressing that crowd — my peers and Mentors — marked a point in my career where I had to shift in order to continue to develop as a leader.

Happily the best learning often transpires from our epic failures. From that first deployment on, preparation became a critical aspect of my practice and I worked hard to honour the time and attention of others. Together, through that initiative, we created something that made a tremendous impact on hundreds of communities, thousands of leaders and the BC Public Service for many years.

Public Service Is Hard Work

Being a public servant is no easy task. It is critically important work creating or maintaining services for citizens in important realms that many of us don’t think about day to day. Public servants figure out how to make sick people healthier, how to handle freak ice storms, how to keep children engaged in learning, how to build roads and bridges as quickly as possible, how to plan for climate change, how to very suddenly regulate and sell previously forbidden drugs, and how to deal with dogs that bite.

When services are well designed and delivered, no one attributes it to the public servant behind the scenes. But when services go sideways or timelines slow, everyone loves to hate and blame. This requires that public servants cultivate a thick skin and hold a steady belief in the value of the work. Scapegoats in good times and bad, public servants lean into their work with heart and soul because they believe in the outcomes being delivered. How many news articles have you read where the hard work of public servants is praised? The public’s expectations are high — and rarely if ever met.

In addition, public servants are sometimes at the whim of political shifts: a project once important to citizens and their representatives is suddenly turned on its ear and the hard work of a government team is halted and shelved, not because the work done wasn’t good, but because the time wasn’t right or the torch was passed from one side of the house to the other in an election. These shifts can also include turning work units upside down in an attempt to align projects or processes, tearing apart teams, and leaving a trail of disruption.

Despite this, good people enter the public service because they are driven to make the world a better place. I have rarely met a public servant who was not passionate and committed to their work. And those who appear to be no longer committed — those with an attitude of sarcasm or anger — generally find themselves in that state because at some point their hearts have been a little bit broken by an abruptly shelved project or an unexpected shake-up. They have adopted a learned behaviour to protect themselves, which we are able to slowly peel back through our work.

Roy Group loves its work with public sector organizations because of the quality of the humans who choose that path. These people are committed, intelligent and thoughtful, and driven by many of the same passionate values that we carry in our work. We have seen participants in our programs lean in, eager to glean whatever is possible to harvest from our time together. The attitude and intentionality of the people compels us to work with these leaders – leaders from all levels of the public sector.

That moment of truth all those years ago revealed an understanding that I now carry with me into the work I do every day. From my career in working with public servants, I’ve learned that if something is worth doing … it is worth doing well.

After all, each of us is the most important piece of work we will ever undertake.

 


Donna Horn is the Roy Group Practice Lead for Public Service.

You’ve heard of Fuckup Nights? Of course you have. It’s vulnerable, it’s raw, it’s funny, it’s a gift of learning from someone else’s screw-ups.

In Episode XLVII of Obstacle Course, our co-founder and president, Ian Chisholm, gets vulnerable and raw. Tune in for this audio version of Fuckup Nights, as Chiz opens up to show hosts John Close and Andrew Langford about his incredible learning journey, from growing up a Saskatchewan farm kid to working himself to exhaustion running a startup to — the big surrender — realizing leadership is actually about helping others find their light and letting them shine.

Together this hilarious trio crack jokes, discuss Chewbacca suits, talk about the hero’s journey, debunk some pervasive myths about entrepreneurs, and sharpen the edge between leadership and mentorship. Humble, self-reflective and cuttingly honest, Chiz will have you reflecting on your unique ability, what it means to work smarter, and how best to help other people discover their finest selves.

A Jedi for our time: Ob-“Ian” Kenobi at the Star Wars IX premiere.

We were sitting in our tiny rental car facing off with a herd of elephants. A herd of very large elephants.

My 18-year-old daughter Sydney and I had only just crossed the border into Hluhulwe Imfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa when we developed a sharp awareness of how vast and unpredictable game reserves can be. The roads are narrow and unpaved. There are no road signs, towns or fences to keep the wild animals contained. It was just us, our little car and a questionable map. We did have a vague idea of where we were going, so weren’t operating completely without our senses, but I later came to think of this first day as not unlike a child’s guileless first encounter with a fuzzy large bear. We were wide-eyed and innocent, not quite awake to the immensity of the wilds we were entering.

So far we had spotted groups of immense, graceful giraffes; warthogs skittering frantically through the brush; water buffalo (which looked perpetually pissed off); and zebras — lots and lots of zebras. As we rounded a curve in the one-lane dirt road, we were surprised to see five enormous elephants lumbering steadily toward us.

“Mom. Turn around!”

“Don’t worry. They’ll move.”

“No, this is scary,” Sydney said. “Let’s turn around.”

“They won’t hurt us,” I said. “We’ll just slowly drive toward them. They’ll get off the road.”

I crawled toward the elephants, hoping like hell my guess would turn out to be right. As we approached, I grew increasingly unsure of the wisdom of this strategy, but at the last minute the group veered off the road. As we passed the herd, a large bull turned in our direction. I held my breath. The bull flared his ears and stamped his enormous foot. Clouds of dust rose with the tremor.

My daughter was uncharacteristically quiet for the remainder of the afternoon.

The next morning, over coffee in our thatched hut inside the park, I pulled out the map and started to lay out my plans for that day’s drive. As I was excitedly outlining our route, Sydney interrupted.

“You go ahead and go. I’m staying here today.”

“What? Go by myself? We’re in Africa!”

“Mom,” she said, “I’m not going with you. When I asked you to stop because I was scared, you didn’t listen. I don’t trust you.”

These powerful and painful words were spoken quietly and without emotion. I might say even without judgment. They were simply stated as fact.

I took that day’s trip by myself. It was a sad, scary, lonely journey. Not so much because I was alone, but because I had carelessly let something quite precious slip from my grasp. I had to travel halfway around the world to learn a most important life lesson. Trust is a powerful thing, not bestowed casually. Trust, once lost, is an enormous bridge to rebuild.

I committed myself that day to rebuild that trust. It didn’t come with long discussions about what happened or apologies and promises to do better. It came with months — even years — of being different. I not only had to change the way my daughter experienced me, but I also had to change the way I experienced myself. You can’t compel someone to change their perception of you without making some changes yourself.

The Emotional Underpinnings Of Conflict

I think the best definition of conflict is to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition. Seen in these terms, conflict is value-neutral, which means it isn’t inherently bad or good, it just is. It would be quite surprising to encounter a person who has never experienced personal conflict of some kind. If we accept the proposition that conflict is a fact of everyone’s life, we can either see conflict as a glass that is half empty or a glass that’s half full. When viewed as a half-empty glass, conflict often casts us in the role of victim: someone is trying to make our life difficult. When viewed as a half-full glass, we can see conflict as an opportunity to take control of a difficult situation and actively try to make it better.

Conflict is scary to some people because it’s often steeped in negative emotion such as anger, anxiety, and frustration. If we don’t have some skill at handling communication when there is high emotion, our tendency is to try to avoid it or to lash out. I imagine we would all feel similarly out of control if someone put us in a raft on a wild river and we didn’t know anything about how to manage the oars or handle the boat.

Learning how to handle conflict is incredibly important for leaders. It’s important for anyone, really, unless they’re living in a cave on a mountaintop, but significantly so for leaders, as they set the tone for their team’s engagement and ability to work in harmony. My suspicion is that most leaders feel they are already pretty good at managing conflict in their work environments. Many of them, however, are shielded from conflict by virtue of their position of relative power, which allows them to delegate conflict resolution, ignore it, or sometimes even overrule it. The same may not be true in their personal or private lives, where conflict may be harmful or unproductive.

Conflict must be faced, and it always goes better when one has the proper tools to navigate well.

Where To Start

Learning skills to deal with conflict reduces fear and anxiety. Conflict resolution tools give us the ability to calm a highly emotional situation, focus the interaction in a positive direction, articulate our needs in a way they can be understood by the other party, manage our own emotions, and ultimately help the other person feel heard and understood.

The single most important question we need to ask ourselves is: Do I want to have this conflict resolved? Some conflicts have a long lifespan because the people involved are getting some energy from being in conflict. This happens more than you might think! We humans have a tendency to hang onto our pain, alternately poking at it to justify our walls, or avoiding it altogether. But if a conflict is not serving your highest purpose and you need to get it resolved, then approaching it as a mutual problem to be resolved is the best place to start.

The best tools for managing conflict well are to: 1) listen carefully and try to understand what the other person is saying before you try to convince them of anything and 2) before you even engage, have an honest conversation with yourself about what’s going on for you. Not what you think is going on for them, but what is going on for YOU. What is the story you’re telling yourself? Start there.

Building — Not Burning — Bridges

Figuring out how to navigate conflict well goes a long way to shaping the way you see yourself and the way you conduct yourself. In turn, this shapes the way others see and respond to you. Dealing capably with conflict builds trust. There is a useful quote by some wise person — the internet can’t agree on who — that goes something like: I am not made or unmade by the things that happen to me but by my reaction to them. Through the conflict I experienced with my daughter in Africa, I was reminded to listen and understand Sydney’s hesitation, to examine my own story around it, and to look for a strategy that would help us move forward. That strategy was to work on rebuilding the bridge of trust, one truss at a time.

 


Alice Estey is a Special Advisor to Roy Group.

No one has ever achieved peak performance without a coach.

— Verne Harnish, author of
Scaling Up: How A Few
Companies Make It And Why The
Rest Don’t

One of the pivotal moments where I wished I had had the understanding, practice and grace that coaching offers is when I first moved into the vice-principal role at a local middle school. I was a teacher at the time, and overnight was asked to move into the VP role. This was an unexpected offering. It came with a whole load of doubt and insecurity, and one of the steepest learning curves I have ever experienced.

I wasn’t long into the position, maybe six weeks, before I began to feel very lonely. I felt like an impostor. I was so out of alignment with how I was experiencing myself that I really began to believe I had made a terrible decision.

One of my previous students dropped by my office one afternoon and asked me how I was doing. She said I looked stressed. I was caught off guard that a Grade 8 student would notice that.

She went on to ask me what was stressing me out. As I began to share a bit about the challenges of being in a new role, she interrupted me. “What has happened to Miss Bond?”

I asked her what she meant by that.

“Well, how would Miss Bond handle this?” she asked.

It was in that moment — with two simple questions and a kind invitation by this young human — that I realized I had been approaching this new role from everywhere but within and of myself. I experienced an instant shift in perspective. I began to feel more aligned internally, enabling me to move forward in my new role with excitement and a deep sense of ownership.

Little did this student know that, without judgment, she had helped reconnect me to the resourcefulness and strengths that lay within. She had set me on the path to genuinely finding my way into the VP role and its responsibilities.

Coaching is very much like this experience. Our inner knowing is such a rich resource for our own situations. When someone can help us access that knowing and make meaningful connections, we are able to see the possibilities and keep moving forward. I love Warren Bennis’s quote about this: “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.”

Shining A Light On What’s Already There

When I began my coaching training, I remember saying to myself, “Ah, this is what this is.” My sense at the time was that I had been doing this coaching thing all along, in my role as an educator and as a school administrator. There was some truth to that, however there were also some clear distinctions that I became aware of.

Coaching is more than listening. Coaching is a clear intention to create space in a conversation for someone to explore and fully own what the path and outcome need to be for themselves. It requires us to listen without judgment, setting aside our own opinions, advice or direction. When coaching, we ask questions to create awareness within the reality of that person’s experience. We ask questions that strengthen how that person connects with the rich resources and possibilities that not only surround them, but also to those that are within reach inside. The magic of coaching helps to identify and transform the limitations that are at play, propelling us to move forward with increased clarity and purpose.

I often think about coaching as a way to “light up” or “reignite” that which is already there. Think old-fashioned lamplighting as we walk the streets together.

We Travel Farther Together

There is a path to ourselves and our capacity that we cannot see on our own. Parts of the view are limited. There are only so many perspectives our mind will allow us to have access to through our own filter. Having someone who can intentionally reflect back to us our truths and tendencies, all in the spirit of continuing to grow and become our finest selves, is an incredible gift and builds capacity for what is needed in our roles, our relationships and our organizations.

Great leaders engage in personal work at this level. Working in partnership with a coach supports a leader to strengthen and develop their own capacity. When leaders pay attention to their beliefs and actions, and are willing to explore what else might be possible or accessible, they amplify the level of influence their leadership can have to impact the culture and performance of their organization. When a leader invests in and pays attention to the inner world at play, greatness emerges.

The Benefits of Coaching

Coaching creates a space for the practice of reflection. This practice allows a leader to explore thoughts, feelings, information, patterns and considerations so they can choose the best way forward. Clients often will comment that they emerge at the end of a coaching session clearer about the right action for moving forward.

Coaching is relational and empowering. When a leader values the coaching process and adds a coaching approach to their own leadership practice, they invite and influence a culture of practice within the organization. Many Roy Group clients who have integrated coaching into their own leadership practice have noticed profound shifts in their organizational culture. Without directly talking about trust, they discovered that trust among their team grew. Without directly addressing motivation levels, performance and accountability strengthened. Without directly addressing retention, the way people began to feel and how their contribution was being valued dissolved the issue. Each of these organizations invested in a practice of coaching, sharing it not only with the top tier of leaders, but throughout the entire system, developing capacity across the organization.

Coaching Unlocks Possibility And Positions You In Choice

When we enter into a coaching relationship, our sole aim and responsibility is to be intentional with positioning that person to be the best version of themselves possible. Each time we meet with someone, that possibility will be different and will grow. Coaching requires us to work in partnership, to be curious and skilled with powerful questions, creating the opportunity to understand ourselves better and heighten our self-awareness.

Awareness creates choice. Choice creates possibility. This is really what I see not only work being about, but life itself: the unfolding possibilities on a moment-to-moment basis, considering how we want to experience ourselves and how we want others to experience us.

As leaders, we have an opportunity to pay attention to more than just our tasks and outcomes. We have the opportunity to create a different kind of experience for the organization, for the individuals who make up our team, and for ourselves. Coaching invites and strengthens the existing capacity to position others for increased performance, deepens levels of learning and fosters new levels of engagement.

My Grade 8 student had no formal coaching training, however she approached my issue with inquiry and she cared. Although she may not have been able to articulate it, she wanted me to understand myself better, to stand in choice, and to dig for those capabilities that I already possessed — the capabilities that would guide me in the task ahead.

Imagine the power of that for everyone in your organization.


Anna Lisa Bond is the Roy Group Practice Lead for Education.