What qualities do we look for in a leader? What does it mean to create good in the world? Why is Mentor such a powerful word, and why do we treat it as a gift? What is it that jumps us to judgment instead of truly seeing the layered, gifted, complex human being standing in front of us?

We’re excited to share a podcast that just dropped. The world is hungry for the kind of thought leadership that will take us into a different paradigm. We thought you might be, too.

Listen as Chiz unpacks some big questions with podcast host Denise Cooper on episode 48 of Closing the Gap. Titled “Reimagining Leadership for the 21st Century Workplace”, this 40-minute conversation explores leadership tools ranging from the practical to the deeply transformational.

Denise and Chiz talk about the qualities of great leaders, how we can best develop the next generation of leaders, why the word Mentor needs to mean something bigger, the key mistakes leaders make—including his own past habit of blowing up meetings with gunslinger words—and how, for leaders, mastering our ability to listen deeply and without judgment delivers a far greater impact on the world than having the right answers.

Catch a sneak preview here and the entire podcast here.

Key talking points:
  • You should be developing leaders everywhere. Every generation has the responsibility to identify and develop, in the following generations, those people that are going to create the most good.
  • Leaders must be self-aware. People create the most good by being highly aware of themselves and the impact that they have on others.
  • Leaders are able to occupy the ground. There’s something about the way they conduct themselves; even when things are moving sideways they’re always solid and steady, and can maintain poise under pressure.
  • Leaders affect the field. As humans, we watch each other—especially our leaders. The things they say and the things they do. We pick up on little signals about who people really are. Leaders sometimes forget how much people are watching them.
  • We call particularly potent leaders Mentors.
  • Mentor is a gift word. Somebody else gets to choose whether they refer to us as a Mentor. The word does stronger work  in the world if we keep it on the shelf with the other special gift words.
  • The goal is to build in others the capacity to do their best work as humans. This begins with listening, asking questions, and remembering that every human standing before you has incredible potential in their set of unique abilities.
  • Your conduct determines everything. It creates an atmosphere inside others, and they make this mean something about themselves—and you. If you aren’t present and attentive, if you’re tired or frustrated or otherwise not managing your energy, the other person’s brain will create a story around it.
  • Understanding is not the same as agreeing. From Anne-Marie’s work in conflict resolution, we’ve learned that we can hold space to listen without having to feel like we are in agreement. Ask yourself: Am I a big enough person to put the effort in to help my opponent be more articulate than they’ve ever been before?
  • You don’t need to be right. If you craft the kinds of questions that allow someone to explain their thinking, you’ll create the conditions for them to hold space for you to articulate yours.
  • You can’t rely on Bruce Willis one-liners for exemplary leadership. At least, it didn’t work out for Chiz.
  • There is no one truth. Instead, seek shared understanding. That starts with understanding others’ points of view, and not jumping to judgment. We can’t know the conditions of another person’s situation: their pressures, their fears, their worldview, the stories they’ve developed, the beliefs that drive their operating systems. Judgment is tricky territory full of flawed thinking.
  • Take all the information you can from success, and from failure.
  • Emotions are information. Emotion is not the enemy. Keeping the emotion out of leadership is never a winning strategy. Our emotions are the most amazing radar system that we have. And we should pay attention to that.
  • We’re dying to be seen and heard and understood. Life is really hard. It damages people. It makes them protect themselves from ever being hurt that way again. Mastering our tendency to judge helps us begin to understand that there’s humanity even in the people that you’re shaking your head at.

Skill up your listening in our Opportunity in Conflict™ open course, offered several times a year.

ian-chisholm-writing

By Ian Chisholm

I remember very clearly the moment when I first understood why someone would want to write a book. I was sitting in the audience at a lecture given by Dr. Gabor Maté at the University of Victoria. He had just finished writing In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, about society and addictions, and was giving us a glimpse of what it means to be a working medical doctor who decides to write another book.

“I start,” he said, “knowing that I never want to write a book that the world doesn’t need.”

It really put me in my place. Me, who had daydreamed on and off for years about eventually drafting The Book of All Time. You know the one. It flips systems wholescale, shifts centuries-old paradigms, leaves people whispering in hushed tones.

I think every would-be author secretly dreams of this.

But Maté’s words that evening dared me to think seriously. His conviction has stuck with me for years. It has even been part of holding myself back from writing.

Until now.

At my core, I have zero desire to add to the noise. I never want to write a book that the world doesn’t need. But it is exactly the clarity of Maté’s conviction that created the space for the book I do want to write — a book I think the world just might need, right now.

Writing. With my heart in my throat.

I’ve cleared my schedule every Monday with the idea that I can come out of my weekend well rested and at my creative best. I hired a writing coach who meets with me once a week, every Monday, at the end of the day.

And then, I’ve discovered, it’s about writing and writing and writing, until I can’t write anymore.

Our very messy and jagged emergence from the belly of the COVID-19 pandemic has made for an interesting backdrop for my writing Mondays — a meta-chapter for our planet marked by tremendous loss, pain, constraint and discomfort. Paraphrasing loosely from what I wrote to our clients in April 2020, “the meteoric nature of this pandemic is not characterized simply by the fact that it came out of nowhere, but by the impact that it has had in our external and internal lives. It has ruptured the bedrock of how we live our lives and how we understand ourselves. How we work and how we learn. How we take initiative together and what holds us back from taking right action.”

In the last year+, we have seen glimpses of humanity at its best. We dig down deep. We admit we need help. We connect with each other to get through. We mourn. We hit the wall. We find extra gears that we did not know were there. We adapt. We find meaning. We advance.

Or at least … that is what we are capable of doing. We know that this potential is there, waiting for us. Once we get out of our own way.

The pandemic has also exposed what gets in our way. We have seen, most remarkably, the world’s most capable and resourced countries fail to leverage their scientific prowess and logistical capability to move as quickly and as effectively as they could have. To take a close look at what got in the way of our potential to rise to this challenge is as interesting to me as assessing the damage done.

Because when the damage is done, we will still need to address what it is within us that tripped us up. For the inevitable next time.

Initially masks, and now vaccines — the very things we now know protect us the most — have become ripe and loaded symbols of how much we distrust any science that brings us face to face with inconvenient truths, any government that asks us to temporarily suspend a handful of personal freedoms for the sake of something bigger, and a polarized media whose integrity we cannot be assured of anymore. We would rather create, circulate and then believe our own alternative narratives that suit what we want, and not what is. And more than that, we are literally prepared to make offerings of human life to the altar of these alternative narratives.

The problem is, this sort of bullshit gets in the way of the life-saving, coordinated response we are capable of.

Now, at least, the opposing forces have shown themselves: the insatiable appetite for unchecked power, self-interest, pettiness, insularity. All the classics that surface if we are left to succumb to our worst tendencies, in the absence of some form of governance around us.

The question to me becomes: What opposing dynamics in our humanity give us a fighting chance to self-correct? How can these forces for good be distilled, increased and enhanced? What are some strategies that just might put us back on the path of moving forward? What whispers have millions of us heard in the stories of our lives but paid no attention to, until now?

There’s something that can get us out of this mess.

It is quite common for us to overlook Mentorship as a theme in the stories describing our lives as leaders and as the amplifier to our ability to learn, grow, adapt and evolve.

That is the way it works. It comes into our life almost unnoticed. Its spark is an introduction, a conversation, a presence that somehow we appreciate and would like to explore more with. It is a connection that we find ourselves counting on. Something that quietly readies us and steadies us to endure the discomfort, adversity and challenge ahead. Sometimes it becomes something quite akin to friendship or alliance. Sometimes we grow apart. Sometimes it ruptures and cannot be repaired — sometimes it can.

Sometimes it unlocks something exponentially more in us than we could have imagined.

Which is why I want to write a book about Mentorship. And what it means to cross the threshold from being a leader to being a Mentor.

The Gift Word of TEAM

In digging deeper into this dynamic, I’ve found that it is even more powerful when we become part of a team of Mentors, providing leaders with a set of human connections that holds them to account to bring a higher level of discretion to the choices that count in their lives — and impact others.

I want to look at what it takes to form these small but carefully curated collections of characters that ground leaders in their finest selves so that they can make their finest contribution, again and again — a constellation of governance around each leader that repositions them to be able to see their north star and navigate accordingly.

The dynamics created by a team of Mentors — think of it as a personal board of directors — invites us to be responsible for things bigger than ourselves. It supports our finest desires and challenges our most limited thinking. It jars us from our neurological ruts to find new connections and perspectives — and to reconnect all of us to what actually exists (not what we wish existed). We may not always like this dynamic. It is hard work. But we grow to respect it and trust it for what it brings out of us.

We need it. We always have. We always will.

When leaders are surrounded by a team of Mentors, those who look to them for leadership will not be let down.

Unless we weave people together in this way, we will keep making choices that are built on the dangerous myth that any of us are ‘self-made’ and not forged by, within and for a community.

***

The Mentorfesto (a working title) will be complete and published one way or another by 2022. Will it flip systems and shift paradigms? We will have to see.

 


Ian Chisholm is a founding partner of Roy Group.

Our convictions about Mentorship one decade ago stand strong, largely unchanged over time. Here’s what we had to say about the difference between the words “coach” and “Mentor” back in 2011.

tell-the-truth-global-warming-protest-rally

By Iain Duncan

Nonprofit storytelling is broken. It no longer tells the truth, and I think it might be my fault.

I think it might be yours, too.

It is both broken AND our fault because of how we as an audience engage with the complex work of the nonprofit sector. Our fickle engagement has been pandered to by charities in their efforts to wrest increasingly scarce charitable dollars from us.

It’s making things worse.

The Insidious “Empowerment Narrative”

For some time now, a shift has been underway in how nonprofit organizations tell stories. Thankfully, we’ve moved away from the guilt-inducing telethons and World Vision ads of the 80s—examples that Gen X will never forget. However, these were replaced by a new breed of stories. Stories meant to make people feel good about how simple it can be to play a role in solving the world’s ills.

These are stories of empowerment. They are very effective at motivating us to give money. Yet they can be extremely problematic for a variety of reasons. What I want to focus on here is the effect that a monoculture of empowerment narratives has had on the work of the nonprofit sector.

And before I go on, I want to say that I’m all for making people feel excited to be a part of the changes this world so definitely needs. I do, however, want to pay attention to what happens when this is the only way people engage.

I see three problems with the empowerment narrative.


1. Oversimplification of the problem

One side effect of the empowerment narrative is the oversimplification of a problem to the point where it loses its urgency and makes us lose sight of the real impact of the issue. The empowerment narrative takes complex individuals, communities and contexts and turns them into sound bites engineered not to tell their story robustly, but to drop a warm fuzzy into the life of a potential donor.

It’s the warm fuzzy, see, that opens up the pocketbook.


2. Resistance to telling the truth

Another effect is that, for fear of alienating their donor base and overwhelming an audience, nonprofit organizations often resist unpacking the complexity in which their work exists. I believe this diminishes our collective ability to grasp what’s at stake, and also to find new ways forward.


3. Fear of admitting failure

The empowerment narrative has a third effect. It shares stories of our successes, but not of our failures. The danger of focusing exclusively on success, however, is that it leaves much of the key information on the table.

Yet our ability to learn and grow from failure is precisely how we find a better way forward.

For the trickiest of issues, the sound-bite approach to storytelling conveys a false confidence that “we got this”. It avoids admitting, We’re not entirely sure what the way forward is. This is very unpredictable work. Nobody really seems to have the answers—including us—but here’s what we’d like to try.

And yet, this would be a way more authentic statement. It demands honesty about the nature of the issue we’re facing, what’s at stake if we don’t face it, what we know about the issue, a bit of what we don’t, and what our options are.

So how do we get to that authentic statement?

First, we acknowledge that “fear about the money” hamstrings good, honest storytelling.

Both of the historic approaches to storytelling in the nonprofit world — the guilt-inducing and the Yay-look-what-your-money-did! — have focused on raising awareness and money, with a growing emphasis placed on the latter (i.e., get on people’s radars and then get them to give you money).

As the function of stories has morphed to drive revenue generation in a competitive landscape, the stories themselves have morphed to fit that function, telling only the pieces that will leverage open a donor’s pocketbook. This typically puts constraints on the messaging. But solving social problems shouldn’t be a competitive endeavour where we pit one organization against another in a race for a solution. It is a collaborative effort best served by sharing the hard-won knowledge that comes from both grit and glory, success and failure.

We as a donor base, and especially wealthy families and large foundations, need to show the sector that we are hungry for a bigger dose of the full picture.

That we won’t shy away from the tough stuff.

That we won’t punish organizations by withholding money when they’re transparent about the fact there is no silver-bullet solution to the hardest social issues.

And while there are groups that aren’t afraid to go off-script from the empowerment narrative — Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace pop to mind — most nonprofits don’t feel safe in taking that kind of risk.

By being honest about not knowing the way forward, we can become bolder in the things we attempt, ultimately spurring a stronger response to the urgent calls to change what we as a society are facing.

Short attention spans hamstring good, honest storytelling, too.

We’re increasingly aware of the value of our audience’s time. Yet this often means the complex problems most charities work on get communicated to the public via reductionist, feel-good sound bites.

Yet we as a society are better served when we share these complex problems honestly — when we can hear what’s hard about an issue, learn from what’s been tried in the past and forge new options that might just work as part of the solution.

This doesn’t mean we need to write 4500-word treatises. This does mean we have to stay creative. Innovative organizations like Story of Stuff show us how it’s possible to sketch a complex problem from end to end, and compel viewers to be a part of finding solutions.

Try hooking attention into stories that matter.

Have you been to a F*ckUp Night? This is a forum where successful entrepreneurs gather to tell their stories of how they almost cratered their organizations through hubris, a lack of foresight, hiding the gritty truth, or [insert universally dumb, disconnected-from-your-values human behaviour here]. The stories are huge, compelling, gut-wrenching. Sometimes you leave wondering how the storyteller had the audacity to keep going.

These stories are largely told by the business community. There’s something sexy about startups, especially when they’ve got a we-almost-screwed-it-all-up failure story.

Ian Chisholm at FuckUp Nights Victoria

But where’s the safe space for that kind of raw confession in the nonprofit sector? That’s so much less common. As a beautiful outlier, Roy Group co-founder Ian Chisholm kicked off the Victoria chapter of F*ckUp Nights with his own story of an error back when he was leading a nonprofit org on the Isle of Skye. It nearly cost the organization its life. We need more of these stories from social impact organizations in the mainstream narrative.

And we need the public to be okay with the fact that failure happens in every sector.

Tell more truth.

Let’s open up the dialogue in our storytelling to tell the public what’s hard about solving complex social issues, what’s been tried but hasn’t worked, and where we need to go. Such honest accounts, repeated over time, will invite the awareness, learning and creativity that will help us move more boldly toward new possibilities for a more harmonious and equitable world.

Sociologist Brené Brown has injected the words vulnerability and shame into our professional midst, and we’re now giving each other—and ourselves—permission to show up in a more real way. As part of donor education, I encourage people in the sector to always share something of what’s hard when telling their story.

F*ckUp Nights provide an example of what can be gained when we put our vulnerability and shame on the table and depart from the empowerment script. In those moments, there’s so much that we can learn from each other.

Some organizations have begun taking steps toward greater transparency with their donors and stakeholders. Every now and then you’ll hit a “Lessons Learned” tab on a website.

Uncharted cuts straight to the chase with a very clearly labelled “Failures” menu item under their “About” tab. Here, they talk about how they:

  • say yes too often;
  • have fired people in ways they aren’t proud of;
  • have forgotten to honour their part-timers’ contributions as much as the full-timers’ contributions; and
  • haven’t quite figured out a way to keep their community of entrepreneurs feeling connected over time.

And none of it makes us love them any less.

This kind of candour brings us closer to what we all know is a much healthier and productive state for organizational functioning. Transparency builds trust.

These approaches create forums that foster learning across the sector and among peers by blending stories of both success and failure. The pressing problems we face as people on this planet deserve this level of high-performance learning and honesty.

It’s the kind of truth we need.

 


Iain Duncan is Roy Group’s Practice Lead for Social Impact.

Work with Iain to strengthen your organization.

Get in touch.

grasses

By Anne-Marie Daniel

I was arriving late to a Roy Group strategy session. Cozy and small, our session was situated in a fishing hut by the beach in Port Renfrew. I found myself wanting to get my head in the game, but I was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of all the work that would come out of it.

I arrived in the middle of a discussion that sent my mind spinning within minutes. I knew I didn’t have the right focus, so I asked for another 20 minutes to myself before rejoining. I headed down to the beach to get grounded in the place and my mind in the zone.

The wild west coast stole my heart in seconds. The power of the December wind, the taste of the salt and the heartbeat crash of the surf changed the chemistry in my body to fresh in an instant. A new kind of chaos emerged within my being as my senses took in all of the dynamics around me.

Beach grasses thrashing around in the strong winds caught my eye. Some blades were as tall as me. I put out my hand to catch one, and studied it as it lay in my palm. This blade of grass has to deal with some pretty rugged conditions, I thought. Wind. Being covered in salt water. Getting hammered by pounding waves.

The whole intertidal zone is in a constant state of transition. It’s the place where saltwater meets sweet, or fresh, water. Older salmon return and young ones venture out. Nutrients from the land and the ocean are exchanged and complement each other.

 

These are massive forces that we’re having to take on and absorb, I thought. What can I learn from these intertidal grasses?

 

Science[1] shows that beach grasses and seagrasses absorb a lot of wave energy and protect the land that lies along the ocean. They hold the shifting sands while conferring numerous other benefits, like water filtration and a food chain, in addition to dampening big wave energy.

My examination of the seagrass led me to realize that the creatures living here need to have a strategy or two to thrive in such an intense transition zone. The seashore can be a tough place to live.

I started thinking about shock absorption in terms of our company, and needing a strategy to be resilient to all the different kinds of changes that we’re going through. The last year has meant big changes in workload, missing social connection, economic hits, waves of COVID, and heart-heavy social unrest. These are massive forces that we’re having to take on and absorb, I thought. What can I learn from these intertidal grasses?

As my mind relaxed, I started to recognize some of Nature’s strategies around me.


Intertidal grasses’ strength comes from their flexibility and resilience.
They’re not big and strong. They’re thin and flexible so they can bend with the wind and the waves. When they get flattened, they spring back because of that flexibility. They are buoyant and filled with air. So, flexibility and the atmosphere inside them is key to their resilience. What does our business need to do to be flexible in structure and maintain a buoyant atmosphere inside?


No one blade of grass tries to go it alone.
The grass in my hand was just one part of a clump of blades of grass, all being flexible and working together with several other clumps. Together, they hold the sands from moving, and provide a safe haven that protects a much bigger community of shorebirds, animals and insects, allowing these creatures to live the good life close to all the riches of the intertidal zone and the coastal wetland ecosystem.


Coastal wetland ecosystems are networked in partnerships that create value for the community and that share the abundance
. The intertidal zone is a place that is rich in nutrients flowing down from the rivers and coming in from the sea. The coastal wetland ecosystem captures these nutrients with a network of critical partnerships, holding strong together and sharing what they have. Human examples include when businesses team up with not-for-profits to provide greater benefit to the economic ecosystem — or when a municipality partners with an outside expert whose services are useful across several streams of municipal functioning. This networking of partnerships is what makes it possible to withstand bigger hits. What are the ways that we can stay connected, create value, and share what is needed, so that we can engage evolutionary change — even in the face of disturbance?


Seagrasses create a safe place to be and grow.
Just under the water’s edge, seagrasses create safe harbour for new salmon who have just come down the stream. This is where they’ll remain for a while, growing strong and mustering up the courage to head out on their three-year journey to the deep ocean. On the other hand, returning salmon, exhausted from their trip back inland, rest in these same communities of grasses, gaining sustenance before heading up the stream they were born in to start the next generation. How does our network of partnerships create a safe space for new arrivals to gain confidence and for experienced talent to recharge before they take on the next big piece of work?


We need each other and we should work together.
Probably the biggest piece of work we share with beach grass is about creating a good life and a healthy world community. Coastal wetlands, especially when not interfered with — i.e., given the space to do their work — employ crucial strategies to reversing global warming by capturing vast amounts of carbon, known as blue carbon.[2] Nature balances the atmosphere through living communities like coastal wetlands — essential natural communities that work synergistically to remove certain ingredients from circulation, like excess carbon, and make important resources, like oxygen, more available to us all. Doing our part to work with Nature on her global blue carbon strategy is essential to our survival and quality of life. What are we doing as a business community to keep helpful resources and learning circulating while safely retiring unhelpful materials, models and ways of thinking?


Returning to the strategy session…

I closed the sliding glass door behind me and entered the silence of the fishing hut with its crackling fire and deep-thinking people. I threw a couple pebbles on the table along with my two cents of strategy. “We just gotta stay flexible, keep a good atmosphere, remember our partners, share the good stuff, and make time and space to watch the grass grow.”

beach-grass

 

How can we work together with coastal wetlands to reverse global warming?  Roy Group donates 1% of its profits to organizations that work directly for the planet, such as Sea Change Marine Conservation Society, which engages communities along the BC coast in restoring coastal ecosystems with a focus on beach and seagrasses.

 

Footnotes

[1] In 2019, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Heidi Nepf and doctoral student Jiarui Lei studied the scale of a seagrass meadow relative to its effect in dampening wave energy. They found that submerged aquatic vegetation, including seagrass, provides an overall value of more than $4 trillion globally every year in preventing beach erosion, protecting seawalls and other structures, improving water quality, providing habitat, and sequestering carbon to help limit future climate change. Read article

[2] Project Drawdown, a book of 82 solutions to eliminate 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050, enough to prevent the dangerous climate tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius. These solutions would cost less and produce more jobs than “business as usual”. The strategy of protecting and restoring coastal wetlands is #52 in this comprehensive plan to put the biosphere back on track by 2050.

 


Anne-Marie Daniel is a partner at Roy Group and lead of NatuR&D, a consultancy that helps people create the solutions they want to see in the world, as guided by Nature’s wisdom.

By Anne-Marie Daniel

A few years ago, the executive director of a well-known social impact organization called me for a coaching session. This individual had received an email from a loyal volunteer of 20 years who was quite upset about recent events. The email outlined how the volunteer was thinking of ending her relationship with the organization over her perception of how things were being run.

Naturally, this ED felt panicked. Who wants to lose a strong supporter regardless of the why?

By the time the ED reached out to me for coaching, they had been sitting on this email for a couple of weeks, in a state of total paralysis. They didn’t know how to move forward.

This is not an unusual state of affairs — and exactly the point at which we get into trouble.

Making matters worse, the volunteer wrote again, asking why no one had got back to her. She was even more upset than she had been in the first email.

This executive director’s desire to find the perfect words and protect the relationship … was ruining the relationship.

In avoiding the situation to try to figure out a plan of how to handle it, the ED had actually made it worse. The time lag allowed this volunteer to create a story in her mind, and get fully bought into it.

I imagine many of you are nodding your heads. Problems compound when, in the heat of a conflict situation, we go dark. It’s not that we go dark for any sort of vengeful reasons, either; usually it’s just that our bandwidth is low, we’re not sure what the right course of action is, we’re worried that we’ll weaken trust, or we’re afraid of making it worse.

Waiting often makes it worse.


1. Pick up the phone.
Research backs this up, telling us that if it’s a conversation of any weight — if you’ve got any sort of knot in your stomach about it—having the conversation live is the best option. Email is a limiting form of communication because it lacks so many cues: tone of voice, gestures, pauses, sequence of messages. It’s so much easier to get upset about an email — and then to sit and stew.

To improve the quality of the conversation, take it a step further than the phone, and connect in person or by video. This way, your conversation partner can pick up as many cues as possible — not just your tone of voice, but the look on your face and a sense of your surroundings. These are just some of the small cues our brain looks for as we build understanding with another person.

If you need a record of the conversation, then you can follow it up with an email that shares the new understanding — not where both parties started from.

 

Being aware of what is driving our actions and having the ability to help others get clear too is key in creating the change we want to see in the world.

 

2. Name your intention.
We tend to think that just because we’ve got these great intentions, the impact of those intentions is going to carry across. But intentions are only helpful to others if they can feel them or hear them.

Going back to our ED, after our coaching call, the first move they made was to call up the volunteer. “I received your email,” they began. “There’s so much in there. I want to have a meeting with you about it. But I just want to let you know I need some time to collect my thoughts. When would work for you?”

For the ED, naming their intention served as an acknowledgment that they should have responded earlier, but that because this was such an important issue, it was essential to carve out some time to think. Intention-naming heads off unintended impacts (like the volunteer fabricating a whole story inside that vacuum of silence).

Naming intentions also helps us identify what’s bothering us, within our own mind. Being able to figure out what is at the root of a difficult situation for us makes all the difference. Being aware of what is driving our actions and having the ability to help others get clear too is key in creating the change we want to see in the world.


3. Disarm your own bomb.
When we butt heads, our minds default to: “I’m right.” If we stay in “I’m right and you’re wrong,” then necessarily the blame is all yours … and I didn’t do anything. But then we end up painting ourselves as a victim.

In that victim stance, we’ve got no power to do anything, including the power to change the situation. If, instead, we can ask ourselves a series of questions, take honest stock of how we may have contributed to the situation and get our minds figuring out a strategy that protects what’s important, then we are part of the solution. Sometimes it is about just avoiding conflict and moving on, but making that choice, after having surveyed the territory and dealing with the tripping hazards, saves you from walking on eggshells in the future.


4. Call a friend.
While it’s great to sit with ourselves and ask the questions, asking a friend or coach to be a sounding board and help us see past our blind spots can be really helpful. Make the time for that pre-conversation, and really let that person know what’s needed from them.

It’s so easy to keep putting those tricky conversations off. But we’ll feel so much more capable of handling conflict if we put in the effort to get some perspective. Explore the alternatives, too: What is the best possible outcome if I ignore this? What’s the worst possible outcome if I do nothing?

In the case of our ED, doing nothing was not an option, and likely would have compounded the problem. People talk — especially when they’re feeling wronged. There is a grapevine effect at play: If it’s not coming to you, it’s going somewhere else. Believe that.


5. Write it out.
If finding an objective friend for this exercise is not an option, try journaling about it. For myself, I find that if I write it out, I at least find out what’s going on in my own head. This is not journaling to write a beautiful piece! It’s targeted journaling around the central question: What is my problem?

Even if my writing is disjointed, I find that if I write a couple pages stream-of-consciousness style, I usually start to find the nugget.


6. Let the story unfold.
People typically stress out more than they need to over conflict because they think handling a problem is a one-shot deal: You get one chance to fix this thing, and if you don’t, you’ve blown it. But that’s not true. We don’t have to wrap it all in a bow in the first session. You might just open it up with a suggestion like, “Let’s take a specific amount of time to just talk about what’s going on for us, and then figure out from there what steps we might want to take.”

Those steps don’t all have to happen at once. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to wipe up the mess with one swipe of the cloth, but that’s not always realistic, especially with complex situations. Realizing that real change takes time and checking in on progress lets you pivot and stay flexible. Scheduling a time to follow up can make all the difference to resolving a conflict in more than just words.


Back to the story of our executive director.

Knowing they had time to take it slow helped them re-read the volunteer’s email with fresh eyes. Once the ED had deconstructed the issue, they were able to figure out what part of it they wanted to work on, and draw a roadmap for how to do it. In the meeting that followed, they were able to acknowledge what the volunteer was saying, pinpoint the things that the ED could do something about, and identify the things that they couldn’t do anything about. The ED also acknowledged what was important to the volunteer, and acknowledged that the volunteer herself, as well as her relationship with the organization, was important.

Everyone experiences the world uniquely. Conflict is a given! It is a signal that something is not working and needs change or clarity. By learning what to listen for, we get better at figuring out how to protect what matters most, and how to choose a strategy that has the best chance of making things better.

This is the stuff that’s worth learning. Because there is usually a hidden Opportunity in Conflict™.

 


Anne-Marie Daniel is a founding partner of Roy Group and the Practice Lead for Conflict Resolution.

Register now for the upcoming session of Opportunity in Conflict™ for a deeper dive into how to decode our experiences and help others to do the same.

Raft going through Sabre Tooth Rapids

By Heather Lehmann

You’re paddling the Kicking Horse close to the BC border. Group of 30. Things change quickly up here: Class III, IV rapids around every bend. Sometimes you have to eddy out and discuss how to approach the next set. Now and then, there’s a humdinger where you can’t see a safe line. You actually have to pull out and walk downriver to scout the hazard. And then? You have to outline a plan and get everyone clear on what they need to do.

This is what happens on a river. But the 2021 business landscape is not so very different. Change lurks under every rock and around every corner. As your people’s leader, you are the architect of change. It’s on you to calm their fears, help them see that they’ve got what it takes — and run the first line yourself.

Here are five rules to orient you as you guide people through the coming shifts.

Rule 1: See It. Say It.

You’ve scouted a nasty keeper up ahead. If you don’t paddle like a monster, you’re going to get sucked backwards into the weir. You’ve got to communicate this well to ensure everyone clears the rapid.

Same principle applies with organizational change. When a shift is coming, people need to understand what you’re trying to do, why, and how it will affect them. How does your proposed change connect to the larger strategy? Why should people care?

Overcommunicate. Confirm again and again: Are we on the same page? Everyone know where we’re going?

Common pitfalls:

  • Not communicating the what and the why clearly, so people go off in different directions.
  • Assuming everyone gets it because you’ve talked about it a few times.
  • Failing to communicate Why now? so people don’t see it as urgent.

Rule 2: We’re All In The Same Boat.

No way you’re getting to the other side of the widow-maker without everybody pulling in the same direction. You need to get your strongest paddlers setting the cadence so that others will follow.

I’ve seen organizations spend literally millions of dollars that went nowhere because their executive team wasn’t on the same page about what they were trying to accomplish. The research is clear: You can’t skip over layers of people to go faster. There is huge strength in leveraging different levels of leadership.

Treat your key leaders as a change audience from the get-go. Be open and transparent with your plan. Give them the opportunity to ask questions. Engage relentlessly.

Pitfalls:

  • Different leaders giving conflicting direction to the team.
  • Not ensuring your leaders have the skills to help people through the change process.
  • Delegating the change to your direct reports and not staying visible as part of it, yourself.

Rule 3: Feel the Fear.

You can see everybody’s nervous. Fear of the unknown does that. There’s no certainty at the top of this here waterfall.

Humans are wired to resist change. The brain has five times more space devoted to finding threats than to finding opportunity. Even when you’re introducing a change that you think will have a positive outcome — or one that people have been asking for — our brains are attuned to looking for the threats in any situation. Change removes choice; resistance grows especially strong if it also comes as a surprise.

The emotional cycle of change closely resembles the grief cycle. It includes the initial stages of shock, denial and frustration, continues through experimentation, and finishes with integration. Understand the norms of how people go through change, and stay open to addressing their fears.

Pitfalls:

  • Ignoring people’s emotions around change.
  • Assuming that even if people respond positively to change, they won’t at some point have a negative reaction to it.
  • Viewing doubts and questions as push-back instead of energy you can engage.

Rule 4: You’re Digging Too, Hoss.

You can tell your crew how to run the rapid, but what they’re really paying attention to is how you paddle your own boat — and whether you fawn over Martin-the-maverick when he takes a much more dangerous but impressive line.

What you say is powerful, but what you do is exponentially powerful. And whatever you’re reinforcing … that’s where you’re really telling people what’s important. Ask yourself: What are the behaviours that are required of me and others in this change? What do I need to shift personally — in what I’m acknowledging, recognizing and rewarding in other people?

Your every interaction is an opportunity to model and reinforce the change you’re trying to make in your organization.

Pitfalls:

  • A distinct break between what you say and what you do.
  • Claiming to be open to two-way dialogue … but then sanctioning people when they share their doubts.
  • Forgetting how powerfully your actions speak.

Rule 5: Wrap Up Before You Race Ahead

Looking behind, you can see the first few groups have made it through. This is not the time to take off on the next section. You need to watch how it all goes down — in fact, you should be cruising the bank with your boatmates, throwbags in hand.

As a leader, it’s natural to want to move on to the next thing. Make sure you stick with the actions of the change you’re driving to ensure said change achieves the goals you set out for it.

Remove roadblocks as your leaders encounter them to ensure they stay engaged and unified. Remain visible and active yourself, until the new becomes normal. Keep asking: Are we there yet?

Pitfalls:

  • Announcing a change, delegating it, then roaring off to the next thing.
  • Installing change versus implementing it.
  • Overloading people with too many new initiatives.

Change isn’t easy. It removes people’s sense of certainty, threatens our status, diminishes our feelings of autonomy. Compounding these emotional effects is the fact that we’re wired against it. To be a deft change architect is to master the small things that help folks feel a sense of control in the middle of swirl.

Order of operations: Leader grasp self. Leader grasp team. Team grasp task.

Paddle on.

 


Heather Lehmann is Roy Group’s Learning Lead for Change. With almost 30 years of cross-sector experience working with executives to position their teams to not only cope with change, but to get the most out of it, Heather uses principles in psychology and neuroscience to coach leaders in the fine art of guiding people through transition. Contact us to work with Heather.

Leadership development is an investment—and you want to trust that your investment will pay dividends. Knowing that decision-makers are actively engaged in researching their options, Roy Group is producing a series of case studies to share our clients’ experiences of working with us. The case studies highlight organizations in all four of our verticals. Here is the story of our journey with Fountain Tire.


Fountain Tire is one of Canada’s strongest national chains, with $650 million in annual revenues and 160 store locations across the country. But this is not your average corporation. Each of those 160 stores shares joint ownership: 50% by Fountain Tire, and 50% by the local store owner. On top of that, each store, embedded in its own community and geography, has its own niche in its community.

When Fountain Tire retained Roy Group in 2005, it was with the hope of somehow developing a way to honour and articulate its unique 50/50 business model, and to get everyone working inside the organization showing up as their finest selves. Below, you’ll find some of the highlights from our case study with Fountain Tire.

The goals

  • Evolving leadership within an intentional business model based on partnership
  • Creating a shared language and operating system for leadership conversations
  • Shifting from directive leadership to a coaching approach, where leadership is invited from all levels of the organization

The approach

  • Senior leadership immersion in The Leader’s Discipline™
  • CEO immersion in Opportunity in Conflict™
  • Headquarters management immersion in The Leader’s Discipline™
  • In-house delivery of tools for creating a feedback-rich culture
  • Annual opening of Fountain Tire’s three-week DRIVE training sessions with new store owners

The results

  • Shifted a patronage-based culture to a performance-based culture
  • Honest, respectful conversations supported by a framework for giving succinct feedback
  • Stores perform better because partners have simple tools to keep their teams connected, engaged and empowered

Read the case study

roy-group-sticker

Don’t Underestimate Just How Much the World Needs Us

For everyone at Roy Group, Christmas 2020 feels a bit like the break after a first period of a hockey game. We sense we are 1/3 of our way into this challenge and that there are 2/3 of this test left. We sense things might get harder before they get easier. We are hoping that it doesn’t go to overtime. And we feel the responsibility to share whatever we have to help everyone in this dressing room have what they need for what lies ahead.

When we started Roy Group in 2004, we knew that the world needed leaders who knew how to coach, leaders who had ways of working with conflict, leaders who deeply engage those around them and leaders who were as much committed to inviting greatness from others as they were great results.

What we did not know was that in 2020–2021 our world would need these things more than it has since we started.

What’s New in 2021

  • Open Offering expanded to position leaders for this new reality
  • All offerings available in a high-quality virtual format

1. Refinding the Future 2021: A Leader’s Discipline Recharge

Created for those of you who have been with us through The Leader’s Discipline™, the Refinding the Future 2021 Recharge will re-ignite your practice of coaching in light of the current circumstances.

  • 8 hours (4 sessions x 2 hours)
    Thursdays, 2021 January 14–February 4
    11:30-1:30pm PST / 12:30-2:30pm MST
  • Core precepts from The Leader’s Discipline anchor new and innovative methods for inviting human potential at a time when we need it in play.
  • Offers some useful new tools that Roy Group has been deploying with leaders, helping them to stay resilient while leading through complexity.

LEARN MORE


2. The Leader’s Discipline: A Coaching Approach to Leadership

If you haven’t yet taken The Leader’s Discipline, join us for the upcoming session.

  • 21 hours (9 sessions @ 2-3 hours per session)
    2021 February 9–March 11 (Tuesdays and Thursdays)
    Early Bird Discount ends December 11th
  • Experience practical models to increase employee performance, learning and engagement.
  • Practice and build ability in coaching emerging leaders and teams.
  • Increase confidence in giving and receiving honest feedback.

LEARN MORE


Further Call To Action

If you have taken The Leader’s Discipline … you understand that your conduct with others can be a gift. The world needs you now more than ever.

As a graduate of The Leader’s Discipline, please consider referring the LD Open Course to those in your network for whom this experience will be perfectly timed. We cannot underestimate how much of a lifeline is provided when a leader understands the power of coaching – to connect, challenge and care for the people that they work with. We want to equip organizations and communities with these kinds of leaders.


Click here for a complete list of our 2021 offerings
Contact us for special pricing for teams

shirt-with-stain

By Iain Duncan

For my last leadership assignment in the charitable sector, I was tasked with leading a small team responsible for community development initiatives in different parts of the world. My first order of business was to gather this team together and establish a culture of trust, honesty and high-integrity work. We had two hours.

In that two-hour session, I spent the first hour emphasizing to this group how deeply I wanted their honest ideas, opinions and feedback. I wanted their help knowing when things were working and when they weren’t.

Before the second half of the session, we took a break. As I washed my hands in the washroom, a healthy helping of my lunch’s pasta sauce stared back at me from my shirt.

Sigh.

I kicked off the second half of the session with a question. “Before now, how many of you saw the stain on my shirt?”

About a third of the team raised their hands.

“This is exactly what I’m asking for,” I said. “If there’s sauce on my shirt, you can tell me. In fact, this doesn’t work unless we can tell each other.”

That night I was still truly baffled. Why, in an hour-long session about honesty, trust and integrity (that included a break WHERE ANYBODY COULD HAVE PULLED ME ASIDE), did nobody tell me about the pasta sauce on my shirt?

I suspect that part of the answer comes down to speaking truth to power – a fear of saying something that might embarrass the new boss. If you look underneath that fear of embarrassment though, there is an interesting assumption that failure is bad: that it is somehow shameful.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to the social change sector, but it is very instructive to it, because it shows that our ultimate success as a sector is fully dependent on resetting our relationship with failure.

Resetting our relationship with failure is critical to addressing the crises that civilization is facing.

Let’s take a drive-by of just some of these crises. Income disparity. Climate change. Mental health. Even if there’s a clear solution for any one of them, the way forward for widely implementing that solution is not so clear. Many of these crises have persisted for decades, resistant to the best resources, data and technological innovations that we’ve deployed against them.

Our approaches to solving these problems are not having the right effect. We’re in a position now that begs leaders of social change to try something new. Something different.

We’re going to have to try a lot of new things if we are to find a marriage between a bold enough solution and its catalyzing vector.

To solve these problems, we need to play with the dials of what we do and how we do it. One way is by shaping a barrage of intelligently designed experiments, and sending out a series of tests — probes, if you will — into our surroundings, without knowing exactly what might come back. Some of those experiments will work. And some of them won’t.

Some things might have to get worse before we can make them better.

I don’t mean we’re not going to act until the crisis worsens. What I mean is that each experiment becomes an opportunity to learn. From success of course, but also from failure. Thomas Edison, whose repeated experimentation eventually handed us the light bulb, reportedly quipped, “I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Our priority needs to be learning from both success and failure so that we can create the next series of experiments, repeatedly iterating until we establish a virtuous cycle of learning and change that enables us to find our way through these most complex of problems. The faster we can learn, the sooner our emergence into a better world that we all sense is possible.

If that approach feels risky, that’s because it is.

There is a natural tension between innovation, experimentation, risk and failure: innovation is stunted without the other three. And my hunch is that a lot people speak of a desire for innovation while simultaneously fearing the implicit risks and failures that are so necessary to the learning. One result of that fear is to sweep failure under the rug and hope that nobody sees it.

This is the death knell of innovation.

Leaders of social change will need to form a rock-solid relationship with failure if we’re going to find a new way forward. We must build an appetite and an aptitude for guiding teams through learning from both success and failure in equal measure.

But I’ll let you in on a catch-22. For very good reasons, many people passionate about making a better world shudder at the thought of causing any harm, even for a moment. It makes us incredibly cautious at how we approach change. But playing to this sense of caution holds us back from the bold actions our thorniest issues demand.

Raising our tolerance of risk does not mean we move forward irresponsibly. Our probes must be intelligently designed to minimize unintended, damaging consequences. We should make it as safe as possible to fail. Even so, like all good experiments, much of the best learning will emerge unexpectedly, in the experiments over which we have the least control.

Unintended consequences are both inevitable and desirable as we strike out into new territory.

Some of our efforts at change might make things worse before they can make things better. Making things worse certainly isn’t the goal, but it is a possibility we have to open ourselves to, so we can talk about what isn’t working, learn from it and, in the process, uncover the things that do work to transform ourselves and our communities.

I’m not advocating for reckless abandon or a lack of care. Our deep caring and connection to each other and the planet is our one shining hope. Rather, I’m advocating for a new kind of courage to help us break a hopelessly repeating cycle and create lasting change. I’m advocating for a new relationship with failure, one in which a primacy of honesty, feedback and learning allows us to be bolder in what we endeavour — and in what we accomplish.

Keep doing what you’re doing, but in the meantime, pick a few experiments. Make them small. They aren’t THE solution, just some first steps in testing a hypothesis of change. Let your team know that this is an experiment in which learning is the priority. Run the experiments out there in the world, and then come together as a team to evaluate their impact. Then take that learning and craft the next round of tests.

Take some risks. Watch the impact. Talk them through — openly, without defenses or fear. Don’t worry about how the guy is going to feel if you tell him he’s got tomato sauce on his shirt. You’re not in the game to hide the tricky things.

Lead with courage — and accept that it will evoke change. I suspect you’ll find some surprising results.

 


Iain Duncan is Roy Group’s Practice Lead for Social Impact.

trucks on the highway

In an open letter to the Roy Group Team, Chief of Staff Jonny Schwartz shares some personal thoughts…

Some of you may know that July 31st was Roy Group’s year end. It’s been one interesting year and I’ll leave it at that here in this email. I tried to capture some thoughts on the past 12 months to share with the team. It started as notes on 2020 and I decided to take a page from Mitch Ditkoff from the InnerGame Conference (as well as Ian and Bob!) and share a story to help capture my feelings going thru the last 6 months and some insight into what will anchor me as we move forward.

Please indulge me and give it a read. It’s been a roller coaster, but we are starting to build some momentum heading into the new calendar year.

I was 28, a young accountant about a year into trying to be a manager. You’d probably expect me to say leader there, but honestly, I had no idea what that word meant back then. I was trying to survive by working long hours and proving to my staff that I had any idea what the hell I was doing. Most of them were older than me, and I’m not talking a few years. More like 20 or 30.

One of the three areas I was responsible for was pricing. In trucking, pricing is like one of those aptitude test questions you came across in high school: If truck A is in Vancouver and has to drive to Delta to pick up 1200 lbs and take it back to the terminal, while truck B is going from Calgary to Vancouver and then back to Calgary and then to Saskatoon and it picks up the 1200 lbs and gives it to truck C to deliver in Regina, how much fuel did it take to deliver the package? Add that this happens tens of thousands of times a month, and throw in a few dozen more variables. Some variables you have the data for, some you don’t, and some you have no idea if you can trust the data. It makes me slump in my chair just thinking about it. Where the hell do you start? How do I solve this for my meeting with the bosses next Friday?

Needless to say, I was pretty lost, smack dab in my personal go-to place when I am stressed out: paralysis by analysis. Finally, the president threw me a lifeline. His name was Ron.

Ron had almost 40 years of pricing experience. He not only reminded me of my dad, they were also the same age. Ron had been my boss for about a week right before I finished my student job at the company almost 10 years previous. Now he was going to be reporting to me, the accountant. Ron didn’t like bean counters. “They don’t know how to think,” he’d say.

All I was thinking at this point was that this couldn’t get any worse. Best I could do was to be open with Ron. “Let’s start having some conversations and see where our ideas meet,” I said. “Let’s see where they diverge, and what we can do to get a handle on this.”

Those conversations turned into something else for Ron and me. I’m not entirely sure what all Ron got out of them, but I must have done something right. By the end of our time working together, he had no problem telling me I was “the only good bean counter he ever met.” For me, whether he planned it or not, Ron was becoming my Mentor. He used those conversations to teach me about pricing, he advised me on what I should consider doing next, and he coached me out of my analysis paralysis so I could take my next steps forward.

Our talks usually ended the same way. I’d jump out of the chair in his office with the answers to all our problems; all I had to do was get a few dozen other people to see it the way Ron and I did. I’d be halfway out the door ready to cause a ruckus before Ron would stop me and say what I’d heard him say hundreds of times–something I still say to myself almost every day: “Jonny, it’s an evolution, not a revolution.”

It was a tough thing to accept back then, and I can say quite confidently it’s just as hard today. He was telling me there wasn’t a singular thing I could do that was going to change everything instantaneously. It was going to take many fractional changes and a lot more conversations. Some of these would feel significant; most of them would not. There wasn’t going to be some magic moment where the trumpets would be blasting, the parade would be marching, and the feeling of accomplishment would wash over me. There was no final destination, only incremental changes to be made to get us from one goal to the next.

That realization is when you discover one of the true powers of pause and reflection: taking a moment to look at the progress accomplished, instead of the lack of perfection experienced. Taking the time to reflect on the evolution you have been through to get here, and the changes needed to continue forward and get ready to act on the next goal.

I guess this is a long-winded story to set the stage for a moment of reflection on our fiscal year 2020, and to look at some good things and a few issues coming up for us in 2021.

Looking at what happened fiscally in 2020 isn’t good news and it’s certainly been a hard year for all. We have had team members deal with loss of loved ones, personal health issues, isolation and the inability to see our families. We’ve all been dealing with the mental stress that comes with living in a pandemic.

Given everything we faced, it would have been easy to divert course and change directions. It’s fair to say we’ve all been wrestling with frustration on some level, both inside the Hub and within the wider group. The world is changing, and we are getting new information daily, weekly, monthly that can take our best-laid plans and flip them on their heads. We’re all swimming in this new current. Todd built up the team with plans to hand it off — and then a global disaster flipped it upside down. We’ve been forced to recreate a foundation that took 15 years to build. Something we didn’t see coming when Todd, Ian, and Anne-Marie decided to grow the team. I could get on the phone with you and tell you what the plan is, but we both know it’d change soon anyway.

We’re finding the flow. And we feel super grateful to be wading this river with the outstanding people on this team. Your insights, wisdom, grace and willingness to dig are what give us so much stamina. Through it all, Roy Group has been committed to keeping the team together with plans for reaching the other side and coming out of this better than ever.

Looking toward 2021, the evolution isn’t close to being done. We have added Nina to the team to help us get the best out of Chiz and support the Hub in its changes; we’re establishing our rhythms as a team, continuing to evolve our offerings and facilitate them online; we’re looking at new technologies, adapting old ideas and creating new processes; and Anne-Marie is getting set to launch the new NatuR&D website and offerings.

As I look at the year ahead, I feel that same urge I used to get upon leaving Ron’s office. To find that one thing that will fix everything, hoping it will turn it all around. But inevitably I always hear that same voice in my head: “Jonny, it’s an evolution, not a revolution.” It won’t all be fixed at once. It will take time and work for the changes to take effect, and for the answers to become clear. When we think of an evolution, we understand that it’s small changes that add up to one big shift. For us this year, it will more than likely be a combination of small changes and big changes. And as big and revolutionary as some changes might be, they won’t be as big as we think in the grand scheme of things. We will evolve together as a team, one step at a time.

Much appreciation for everyone’s patience and time as we work through the stress.

 


Jonny Schwartz is Roy Group’s Chief of Staff.