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
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.
By Sir John Daniel, O.C.
I commend Roy Group for choosing Open Badges to certify the skills and knowledge acquired at its learning events. Open Badges expand the ways that we can recognize the outcomes of continuing professional development to keep pace with the diversifying learning needs of today’s organizations. They are part of a wider trend, sometimes called ‘post-traditional’ higher education, to open up opportunities for learning on new dimensions.
One dimension is to open up learning content: open educational resources are making material on every imaginable topic freely available on the internet for copying, sharing, modifying and re-mixing. Another dimension is to open up teaching: massive open online courses (MOOCs) now available free worldwide, give informal training opportunities to millions. The third and vital dimension is opening up certification and recognition.
Most people, when they learn new skills and knowledge, want their extra expertise to be recognized – by their colleagues, by their employers and by the wider society. Traditional frameworks of certificates, diplomas and degrees provide such certification at many levels of education and training. But today these traditional frameworks no longer provide suitable recognition for many of the outcomes of the diverse processes through which people learn new knowledge and skills.
One reason is that traditional qualifications usually require people to study for longer than they really need to learn many important contemporary skills. Today’s trends are toward more intense learning experiences and breaking down long courses into short modules.
A second key issue is that the best body to certify the successful learning of many modern skills is not an academic institution, but rather the community of practice that uses those skills on a daily basis.
Third, the papers that come with traditional qualifications (certificates and transcripts) don’t give much information on the competences learners acquired and how they were learned and tested. In pre-internet days this would have made such papers long and tedious. Digital technologies create new possibilities, as they do for learning generally.
Open Badges address all three of these weaknesses in traditional qualifications systems. First, they can provide recognition for learning events of any duration, from a single lecture to a multi-year program. For example, the DeTao Masters Academy, a pioneer of Open Badges in China, uses them to certify its learners after events ranging from a lecture by one of its Masters (subject to a successful examination) to a three-year program in film animation.
Second, any individual, group or institution can issue badges. The currency of the badge depends on the credibility of the entity issuing it. Open Badges began in the software industry, where the best people to assess competence in a particular programming skill are those who work with the software involved. This allows newer organizations, such as Roy Group, to issue badges. The badges can include endorsements from organizations that have found the learning events covered by a particular badge useful for their staff. Such endorsements give badges added credibility.
Third, Open Badges are based on web technology. Mozilla developed it as an open-source platform combining consistency and flexibility. By clicking on a badge that an individual presents, you can see who issued the badge, what content/skills it covers, how they were taught and assessed, how long the training lasted, which organizations endorse its value, and so on.
Badges serve many purposes. Some well-known universities, such as Purdue University in the United States, award them to motivate students for acquiring particular skills within a longer traditional credit course, as well as to interest children in subjects like veterinary medicine, that they might study later.
Roy Group has gained a high reputation for its practical way of developing leadership skills that people can retain and use successfully for years. It is now demonstrating its own leadership by using Open Badges to recognize formally the skills and experience that its clients acquire.
Sir John Daniel is a 40-year veteran of Open, Distance and Online Learning whose career has focused on the meeting point of technology, education and development. In recognition of his efforts towards “educating the world,” each of the three countries in which he has lived and worked have distinguished his achievements with national honours: France – Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Chevalier–1986; Officier–1991); United Kingdom – Knight Bachelor (1994); Canada – Order of Canada (Officer–2013).
Among Sir John’s 340 publications are his books Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education (Kogan Page, 1996) and Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All (Routledge, 2010).
For more information about Roy Group Open Badges, visit badges.roygroup.net.
By Brent Hesje
About a decade ago, a bunch of tennis balls, some fascinating stories about The Isle of Skye and three questions made Fountain Tire an even better place. The impetus for this change came from what I had learned through a Roy Group course, The Leader’s Discipline™.
During this experience I was offered useful and portable tools to create safe conversations back at work. The tools gave me insight on how I could learn to improve from anyone. My improvement in conversation, true listening and stronger focus on the end result nudged other Fountain Tire leaders to seek out these tools from Roy Group.
Over the years, I have wandered away from The Leader’s Discipline, yet only temporarily. The learning is so portable. It sits in my head and the memories of its effectiveness haunt me.
Recently I found myself back, this time for the Opportunity in Conflict™ experience. As expected, I was taught powerful concepts through wonderful storytelling, and left the experience with useful tools to help me personally and professionally.
Perhaps of equal importance, I left with that familiar Roy Group inspiration: that despite all the complexities and fears that are part of a leader’s life, we should all be grateful that we have the opportunity to lead.
Brent Hesje is CEO of Fountain Tire, a nationally recognized tire dealer based in Edmonton, Alberta. Fountain Tire is a member of the Platinum Club, a category reserved for companies that have been winners of Canada’s Best Managed Companies for seven consecutive years.
For upcoming sessions of The Leader’s Discipline and Opportunity in Conflict, see Open Courses.