Mentor Carole Cooper and Yolanda Moran

Conversations With Roy: We Often Don’t See Our Mentors Until We Look Back

Every now and then, a person you never suspected turns out to be a powerful Mentor. You walk beside someone on the path for a few years. Or a few decades. And one day, you turn around and look back over all the ground you’ve covered together.

And then you get the memo:

While you were busy looking to other people for your learning (or imagining that everybody was learning from you), you suddenly realize that this person you’ve crossed deserts and oceans with…was actually schooling you all along.

That’s a hallmark of mentorship. Sometimes, like that “Footprints in the Sand” poem, you can’t even feel someone holding you and pushing you until you realize you’re in a totally different place.

In this instalment of Conversations with Roy, Yolanda shares a story of one of her key Mentors as she was growing through the ranks at Flight Centre.

* * *

You have a great story of mentorship from your own experience. It’s a take on “the Mentor I never suspected”. Will you tell us more?

Yes, Carole. The funny thing with me and Carole is, I never realized she was a Mentor to me until about a year ago. When I was working for Flight Centre, I knew that she was a huge supporter of mine. And I was also aware that I owed many of the steps of my career directly to her. She was a good friend. But I didn’t really see her as a Mentor. I always saw a Mentor as being someone that you notice, but she was like the Mentor ninja, a silent Mentor.

How old would you have been when you and Carole began working together?

I started working with her when I was twenty-six. And we moved through our organization together. I followed in her footsteps.

Why didn’t you really notice her as a Mentor?

As we worked closer together, I had always felt that I was backfilling her shortcomings. Which, in certain ways, I guess I was. But she was a lot more strategic than I ever realized. And she was propping me up in certain ways when I needed it as well. Now looking back on it, I think to myself, How did I not see this clearly? She is my biggest Mentor. I learned so much through working with her.

How so?

With Carole, I feel like she almost fell into that role. It was this perfect storm that created a dynamic between us over 15 years working together. She opened many doors for me. She always saw much more potential in me than I ever did. I always had confidence, but she put me into positions where I was in way over my head, in roles I had no business having. And then I would figure it out. Just as I was about to drown completely, I would somehow find a way to stay afloat, and continue to move through it. At times I would think to myself, Why didn’t she prepare me better for this? But I know now that she had. She prepared me just enough to stay afloat, and the rest I needed to figure out on my own.

Take us back to those times when you would say, Why didn’t she prepare me better? Where was that coming from?

Yeah, I would have been in a state of fear and fluster, doubting my abilities and feeling like she should have given me more tools. Or better tools. Or a ladder or a lifeboat. Something! And, you know, we blame other people when we’re scared, or when we’re not taking full responsibility for ourselves. But of course, she knew I could cope. Even when I didn’t know it. Without her, I wouldn’t have even thought to go for the opportunities that I was given without someone going, You should go for this, and me replying, You’re crazy! She did that for me at least five times over 15 years.

That fits with the idea that a Mentor often can see a deeper and wider set of abilities in the person in front of them than the person themselves can see.

Yes, absolutely. I grew as her mentee and she grew as a Mentor, as I happened to be under or alongside her catching the draft of her own journey. I just showed up at the right time, in the right place to be there as she was moving into her own leadership, holding space as Mentor.

Will you share a story from those years?

One that comes to mind is when I was in a western Canada operations role. Carole ran the Canadian business and there was a middle-layer manager between my role and hers. That middle-layer position was held by someone I will describe as emotionally manipulative and psychologically abusive. When they said, Jump, I said, How high? I was permitted absolutely no boundaries.

Those folk are hard to deal with. It’s hard to even get the ground to stop moving underneath you.

Yeah. I was done working in that kind of environment. But I was hopeful, because our financial year-end was coming, and there had been discussion that the structure was going to change, meaning I would no longer report to this person. But that change didn’t come through. So when it was announced we were keeping the structure, I thought to myself, OK, I’m going to have to do something drastic. Am I going to have to quit? What do I do?

Because you knew you couldn’t stay.

It was not healthy. I was broken under that leadership. So I had a conversation with a trusted peer and she said, “You need to call Carole and tell her exactly what’s been happening.” Because she had no idea. Any of the stuff that was going on—it was pervasive—but she had no clue. We were all terrified of Carole at that time! She had been portrayed to us by this person in middle management as a tyrant.

Right. That’s classic manipulation. The fearful despot trying to get everyone onside, against their would-be opponent.

And so I called Carole and I told her everything, and she said, “Leave it with me.” And within a few days, that person had been given some options…and ultimately left the company. Carole had taken immediate action simply based on my word. And then eventually she promoted me. That’s kind of a heavy story, I guess.

It’s always heavy where culture festers.

She stepped in and she trusted me. She believed me. She heard me. Wow, I’m even a bit emotional about it right now. It was a really hard time, and I was so afraid. It’s easy to get scared of consequences within a corporate culture, especially when there is this tyrannical image perpetuated of a leader. I was so fearful of her and scared to expose the bullying that was happening.

You didn’t want to rock the boat.

I loved my job and I loved the company. And I was terrified of what might happen if I spoke up. But through that experience, she went from this person I was completely intimidated by to someone who…just heard me, and took care of me in that moment.

Let’s talk about trust, because this kind of story probably plays out in a lot of places. Carole trusted you…but you didn’t even know that could be possible. It took huge courage to take your problem to her.

Carole’s conduct through that time completely changed my internal atmosphere. And we talk about that idea a lot at Roy Group. I had moved from being afraid, feeling not worthy, feeling disempowered, to feeling totally valued, totally respected, fully empowered, fully trusted—literally in the course of a few days—through how she conducted herself. I think that was a catalyst to enable me to be open to all the opportunities that came in the years that followed. I shifted from a place of fear and under the thumb to a front-footed, confident place where I could actually see myself moving forward in the organization.

Can you say more about how Carole was the Mentor you never noticed—at least until much later?

I always respected her, but I was young and I thought that the areas that were not her strong points would be her demise. And I was so wrong. In fact, because those weaknesses were my strong points, I believed, Oh, to be a really good leader, you’ve got to have all this stuff that I bring. But actually, I needed to learn more of what she had naturally.

So humbling, those moments of clarity.

Totally. You can’t always see it while you’re in it.

You never really know who might turn out to be one of your greatest teachers. Yo, this was a great conversation. Thanks.

Thank you.


Yolanda Moran is Roy Group’s Practice Lead for Enterprise.

Share your stories of mentorship right here. Your stories will help us build research in this area.

The Roy Group Team takes a pause to build a sense of community at Bilston Creek Farm

Conversations With Roy: How To Build A Warm And Productive Community

We’ve been thinking a lot about pause over the summer. Our chief of staff noted hundreds of out-of-office emails when we sent out a recent announcement about the 2021 MacGregor Cup.

This is good news. After 18 months of discombobulation, it seems like people have taken a serious pause. What if—collectively—the world begins to understand, like never before, the value of pausing? The value of coming together again? To play, to relax, to wonder, to savour spending time in each other’s company?

Our practice lead for Education, Heather Gross, recently took a holiday to Alberta to gather with family. Since Heather is known for her gift of building community, Roy sat her down to talk a bit about how to do that.

This is the first in our Conversations With Roy series, where our team members gather to talk through our best insights on what’s important now.

* * *

What are you paying attention to these days? What are you noticing?

I’ve been thinking about building community a lot. I’ve just transitioned from a place that really prides itself in community building and has been a community I’ve been very engaged with. That’s Pearson College UWC. Transitioning into new communities of practice has been interesting. And transitioning out of COVID means thinking again about community and especially about gathering: How do we gather again?

I was anxious about visiting family in Alberta recently. My wife and I were ready for that unique pause that a holiday gives you, and were very keen to see family. From a scientific perspective, I was ready to go for it…and yet I still had all this anxiety. I noticed that we did a bunch of things that felt familiar and welcoming. That helped. Right? Sitting around a table really helped. Working together on food really helped. Calling each other by name as “Aunty”. Even how we gardened together. That was something we could do outside, and everybody could opt into that process. That opting-in is something I’ve been thinking about as we gather with groups.

What else?

I have my first in-person facilitation with Roy Group next week. I’m thinking about all the rituals of what we do in person around being in a circle, being ready for people, having things prepared. We do that professionally, but we do that personally also, like making the food that somebody likes, and getting things ready for gathering.  This was something I really missed this year. For sure we came up with inventive and virtual options, but many of them were ersatz solutions for the time-honoured act of convening around a table.

This idea of rituals…we had those taken away from us during the pandemic. How has turning back to a familiar way of doing things been grounding for people? What do rituals mean for us?

Well, definitely there’s something about “the things that make us part of the group”. So the things that we know how to do, and in showing that we know how to do the work, we’re aligning ourselves with community. I was experiencing it on our holiday with family for sure. And they’re not big-R rituals. They’re small-R rituals. Like how we load the dishwasher. How we roll the dough. The small-R rituals of deferring to grandparents, and making decisions based on the needs of family peacemaking.

I’m not sure two years ago we could have listed all of the things that we do, but it’s fascinating to notice what we’re recovering. It’s so grounding, being part of a community. Helping people be comfortable and to know what’s coming next, so they can worry about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking about rather than “what to do”. Rituals that come up in life transitions (births, celebrations, deaths) are really about members of a community knowing what to do, so they can get on with the work (care, rejoicing, grief).

What you were saying there, about when you’re gathering or doing more in person. Part of the work is to help people feel comfortable by helping them know what’s next. We’re always asking ourselves, What is it time for? How has it been hard for people in the last year not to know what’s coming next?

Yeah, this time was perhaps a gift of the ultimate “living in the present” moment. And yet it’s not really a gift when it’s because of a traumatic event. We were given this wonderful opportunity to live in the present: Today I’m going for a walk around the lake. This is what I’m doing. I don’t know tomorrow if I can go to the office or not. But also we had: Today, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this unseen, unknowable health crisis and pandemic situation. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the rest of the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty about that. I think the “not knowing what it’s time for” has been about what’s unknown, but it’s also been influenced by this being such a time of anxiety for people. It’s been an invitation to simply focus on what’s happening. What can I do right now? versus What can I control in the future?

Right. And we turn to each other in times of uncertainty. Can you talk about why a sense of community is important on teams and within organizations?

Community is the fastest way to build safety in a team. Feeling like you’re part of the mission. Like you’re part of what’s happening, that you have a role to play. I think building community—even in ways of sharing food and connecting across ideas and personal experiences—builds that belonging. That’s key for people being productive and bringing themselves to an issue.

There’s that important word, belonging.

Huge. It’s really important to look at how we build community in person, to look at how we build it in distributed teams, not only for the fun parts of it and the joy and the good feelings that can come from gatherings, but also so that we’re ready for when we face trouble. Knowing you can count on your community to step in and to help solve a problem, regardless of domain or sector or role, means a lot to leaders and to team members. And the time to build community is before you need to test its strength.

What tips can you give for building community? That sense of belonging?

I think there’s something about setting the table, being ready, preparation. There’s something about checking in, having a time for people to bring what they’re bringing to the gathering or conversation, whatever that is. The emotional piece. Here’s where I’m at today, and to have that be okay. There’s something about conduct, and acting in a way that both holds confidence but also invites participation and invites space for others. So being careful about big claws.

Right. For readers who don’t have the background, the big claw is a concept we use when we’re talking about directive vs non-directive approaches to leading. Lobsters have a big claw for, you know, getting it done. It’s the crusher claw. It fights. It defends. It controls outcomes. And quite often we see leaders using the big claw, when actually, it’s the little claw that frees people on teams into their own power. This claw is called the cutter claw on an actual lobster. It’s about cutting ties with needing to be in control. Little-claw leadership asks questions. Leading with the little claw means you’re less concerned about needing to be right, or giving advice. Instead, you’re more interested in letting others have ownership of whatever they’re working on or grappling with.

I’ll add another tip for creating community that ties to leader behaviour: be mindful about your conduct as a leader. In terms of noticing when you’re the voice talking, noticing who else is gathered, noticing who might be missing.

So great. We have a sticker for that, too! It’s the W.A.I.T. sticker. Why Am I Talking?

It’s sticker day on the Roy Group blog! Yeah, W.A.I.T. is a tough one for people—especially leaders, who feel this pressure to always know the answer. But you can’t. Back to the theme of building community, I think there’s also something about doing something meaningful together. Working together for a common goal, maybe making something together, playing together or engaging in nature together. It distracts people from “having to socialize”…and therefore they socialize ever so much more meaningfully. Doing something together that’s meaningful often allows other things to happen. In my family, this shows up as travelling together, cooking and, most often, doing the dishes!

One of the things we’ve been noticing is that in the wake of the pandemic, people are much more inclined to show up in a transparent way. In a vulnerable way. What can leaders do to foster and encourage that?

I’ve also noticed that. I think it’s also the confluence of things happening. Thinking more about anti-racism, what does that look like? What does it look like to take these global crises, like the pandemic but also climate change, seriously? There’s a sense of urgency, I feel. Like: If not now, when? For people who are sincere in their work, I think that can be quite compelling for being vulnerable and transparent. For bringing their whole selves. If not now, when? It’s a reminder that we just can’t predict what’s around the corner. So we might as well try and do our best work now. And bring our best selves to that work.

Throughout the past two years, a major crisis I dealt with was walking the road of decision-making and then implementation around closing an international school in a matter of a week. We dealt with the acute uncertainty, fear, adversity, crisis and trauma that then resulted. I saw that bringing our whole selves to those issues allowed us to deal with them. We have evidence now that being vulnerable in that space can actually be productive.

What’s a leader’s role in that kind of situation? Because those aren’t going to go away, we all know that now.

Yeah. Well, noticing what’s going on, I think. Inviting all the voices in the room. Inviting all ideas. Because we were dealing with something we’ve never dealt with before. And so, really looking for who might have a voice in that? Who might we have forgotten or overlooked? How can we discipline ourselves as a community to consistently listen to more people? How can you create patterns of strong communication and a sense of belonging before you need to “close the school” or whatever challenge you are faced with.

What else jumps out around building community?

I think we were really creative about how to have fun for a while there, at the start of COVID. We need to exercise that muscle a bit more now! I noticed at the beginning of the pandemic in my circle of friends, we were really keen on doing trivia nights. And people were like, “Woo! What can we do online?” And we petered out of it. I think we have an opportunity now to revive some of that in person, and relax into some fun things with our teams.

So…have fun. Do meaningful things together. Pay attention to each other. Put the big claw away. Solicit a broad range of thinking. Be open and transparent. These are great tips for teams, Heather.

You bet. And one other thing: this is a time of big, rolling changes. Everyone knows we need to work differently now. With purpose, and focus. At Roy Group, I’ve been fascinated to join in with the facilitation of a method from our friends at Cognitive Edge called Future Backwards, where you sit down with your team and essentially write a script with two endings. You write about what’s happening now in your organization, and what led to it. And then you write about what would be your nightmare for the future? What would be your dream? And you work backwards to connect to where we are today. That really helps a group be intentional about a shared commitment to working for the dream.

That’s a very powerful exercise for a team to help keep its eyes on a shared vision. Interested folks can connect with any of our practice leads
to explore the idea of running a Future Backwards with their team. Thanks, Heather. This was a great conversation to share with you.

Conversation builds community, you know it.


Heather Gross is Roy Group’s Practice Lead for Education.

Work with Heather to learn how to build community with your team.

Get in touch.


Five Ways The Leader’s Discipline Made Me a Better Parent

By Vivienne Damatan

If I’m being honest, my transition into parenthood was a rough one. When I had my daughter, I was the VP of sales at a growing tech startup and everything was going really well. Through a lot of focus and consistent effort, I had invested in building an internal culture of caring for employees beyond “the work,” and had earned a reputation in the wider community of doing good business beyond mere transactions. I was incredibly proud of what I had a hand in creating.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but as a part of the leadership team, I was accustomed to people listening when I said something. I was never one to wield my title heavily, but if I asked someone to do something relatively reasonable, they would generally do it. I was also used to working with clients to understand their pains and craft solutions together. It was all very civilized.

I was a self-proclaimed high-achiever. And proud of it. I was able to drive results for my company and I fully expected that professional success to follow me right on into parenthood.

And then I had a baby. And she didn’t care at all that in my professional world people respected me and listened when I said things. She was completely unfazed by my long list of accomplishments and my track record of success. She had zero concern that I had planned on transitioning into parenthood with the magical ease of Mary Poppins. All she knew was that she had a strong set of lungs—and she used them to let me know that her needs were to be tended to ASAP.

Honestly, this was a big blow to my ego. Hadn’t I done everything the “right” way? Hadn’t I read all the parenting prep books and eaten mindfully while I was pregnant and exercised until three days before I went into labour? I had worked to set up the perfect environment for this little girl and I to be partners from Day 1.

But when she was born, all of those plans went out the window. I was frustrated at not being able to control this tiny human and I was exhausted by all the crying (hers and mine). I judged myself harshly for not Winning At Motherhood, the way I had planned to.

I beat myself up. I was upset with her. I compared her to other babies, and myself to other parents. I’m sure she felt my negative energy and the cycle went round and round.

Sometime after I had returned to the office after a tumultuous maternity leave, I was invited to The Leader’s Discipline™, a two-day Roy Group experience that explores what it means for leaders to use a coaching approach.

I jumped at the chance for leadership development, a chance to return to one of my pre-baby loves. Honestly, a part of me was also excited to just drink hot coffee without a clinging child for a while.

I got a lot more than hot coffee from that course. Over those two days, I was able to revisit so many beliefs I had about what it meant to be a good leader.

And it completely changed my parenting approach.

Although I took away a whole playbook of wisdom from that Leader’s Discipline, the core concepts continue to surprise me in their power to guide me in showing up as my finest self in any situation, be it work or family life.

1: Your conduct is everything.

The way you choose to conduct yourself as a leader has an outsized effect on your team. If I show up to the office flustered and distracted, unable or unwilling to be present with my coworkers, they may take that to mean that they’re not important to me.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like you weren’t important to your boss, but if you have, you know that it can affect the way you feel about yourself, the way you choose to move through the day, the way results unfold. The conduct of leaders touches every aspect of the performance of a team, at the most basic level.

On the other hand, if I show up and conduct myself in a way that shows my team that I care—if I truly listen when they talk and assume my role as an ally, my team knows that not only are they important to me, but they are not alone.

From that place, anything becomes possible.

This is true in how we conduct ourselves with our children too. When I show up for my daughter in a way that she can feel we are connected and she has my full attention, the parenting becomes easier.

2. Your team is capable. (Your child is capable too.)

Sure, when someone on your team comes to you with a problem that you already know how to navigate, it might be easier and faster in the near term to just tell them what to do. But over the long haul it’s going to serve both you and them better if you can stop yourself from giving them what you think the answer is. Instead, double down on building their capacity to find their own way forward. The most important leadership role you might play in a situation like this is to create a safe space for them to wade through the potentially uncomfortable process of learning how they will carve their own path.

Yes, of course there are times for instruction and for advice-giving. I wouldn’t expect my team to be able to use a brand new CRM flawlessly without providing instruction on how to use it, the same way I wouldn’t expect my 5-year-old to make a cake from start to finish without giving some direction. But more often than not, the most impactful thing you can do is give them ownership in finding the right solution for them.

The more opportunity you create for people to be capable, the more capable they become.


3. It’s not actually about you.

Even if you think you could solve all of your team’s problems, it’s not actually about you (or what you perceive the problem to be).

Early on in my career, I had a team member who wouldn’t meaningfully participate when we had our one-on-one progress meetings on Wednesday mornings. Sometimes I would have to ask if he had heard me, or repeat myself multiple times. I started to feel a bit disrespected and took things personally because I didn’t see him doing this to anyone else.

After a few such sessions, I shared with him the pattern that I was noticing and asked him what was going on. His answer surprised me. He apologized profusely, and explained that he was staying up extra late on Tuesday nights to take a coding course and was having a hard time focusing during our meetings because he was so tired. We moved them to Mondays instead and everything was smooth sailing!

The other day, my daughter lost a rock. Sounds trivial, but for a 5-year-old this can be devastating. She was sobbing to me, and my brain immediately went to finding a new rock to replace it. That should solve the problem, right? Thankfully I remembered that it wasn’t about my perspective. I asked her what was really bothering her about it. Turns out she was worried she wouldn’t have anything to bring to Show and Tell the next day. It wasn’t about the rock at all. We chose something else from her nature collection to bring in instead. Easy peasy!

Try to remember that it’s not about you. Ground yourself in curiosity and ask questions without assuming the answers. Allow the space for your team members or your kids to examine and talk about things from their perspective.

4. Humans ≠ robots

For better or for worse, you can’t program humans to complete a task and just expect them to complete it to the letter, the way you would a robot. This is true for all humans, including your teammates, your kids, yourself.

This means that sometimes things go sideways. Sometimes there are mistakes. Sometimes things don’t get completed just as you intended them to.

But then you have an opportunity to ask yourself, Do I want to get more done? Or do I need everything to get done perfectly? Take that moment to reflect on what’s important. How far can your team reach, how competently can they traverse the terrain of today’s uncertain environment, how much will they learn to rely on each other for ideas and feedback if you’re always demanding that everything be tied with a bow?

Keep compassion and empathy at the forefront of your leadership and parenting. Compassion for them, compassion for yourself. Period.

5. There is so much power in a pause.

As leaders and parents, we are pretty accustomed to jumping into action, to getting things done, to keep on moving. That’s great. The world needs you to act. But don’t forget to balance that action with a powerful, intentional pause.

Pause to restore your energy. Pause to reflect. Pause to allow space for the other person to work through a solution on their own before jumping in to help.

This pause away from the office and home to attend The Leader’s Discipline allowed for so much learning and it really allowed me to build my energy levels back up so that I could be a better leader at work and a better parent at home.

* * *

There is a virtuous cycle at work here. Being intentional about your conduct…leads to focus in your practice…leads to results and feedback…leads to reinforcement that your conduct is the most powerful lever for doing great work.

The more I develop as a leader and a coach, the more clear it becomes to me that I don’t know all the answers. And that it’s actually not my role to know all the answers.

My role is to help others learn and expand. To create a space where they feel safe to try things, to celebrate their part in the results when they succeed, to help them tease out their learnings when they don’t.

This understanding informs my role as a parent, too. When I view it from this lens, I’m able to be more patient, more solid and steady, more joyful (even in the hard moments), more present, less judgmental of my child and myself.

And that makes for a pretty good mom.


Vivienne Damatan is Roy Group’s Learning Lead for Women and Emerging Leaders.

Learn how to show up as your finest self in any situation.

Register now for The Leader’s Discipline™.


Choosing The Best Way To Have The Conversation That’s In Front Of You

In the moment, we think we need to know it all. We worry that if we don’t have the answers, then we’re not really leaders. And when we do have the answers (or think we do), we want to save some time by straight up sharing them with other people—delivering everything in the binder, so to speak.

In this episode of Leading with Curiosity, podcast host and Roy Group Learning Lead Nate Leslie talks with Chiz about the art of observation and discerning ‘what it is time for’—whether that’s advice, direct instruction, a briefing on key information, or coaching somebody to learn from their own experience. The conversation ranges from the board room to the locker room to the savvy streets of Glasgow as these two unpack the habits of inquiry we see exemplified by the finest leaders.

Pro tip: Your conduct is everything.

Listen here.

Key talking points:
  • We need to tap mentorship as a force to move us forward. COVID-19 sidelined us all, but what really set us on our heels was watching the US—one of the world’s most capable nations—falter in the face of something it should have been able to deal with.
  • Some titles need to be earned. From our seasoned Learning Lead Bob Chartier, we’ve learned that team, leader, Mentor…these are words you shouldn’t throw around. They represent hard-won value. Use them deliberately.
  • The more options you can sense in advance as a leader, the more effective your steering. When you can clearly discern what it’s time for and act accordingly in any given conversation, you’re better able to position people for making the most meaning from the next stretch of their road.
  • A leader’s work of self-mastery begins with their conduct. Conduct is where everything that’s going on inside us meets the rest of the world. It is the last outpost of sovereignty, where we get to choose how we show up in any given situation. (Yes. You actually have the ability to pause…and choose. Great leaders cultivate this with ferocious focus.)
  • Self-awareness is key to mastering your conduct. Self-aware leaders learn to ask: What about my conduct is creating value? And what about the way I’m conducting myself is getting in the way of us being able to move forward?
  • You don’t need to be an expert to coach people well. Throughout the 1990s, the Gemini Project in Scotland showed how true this is. When street-smart youth from Glasgow can coach emerging leaders from Edinburgh’s finance sector—without knowing a thing about portfolios or profits—you know you’ve got a formula that works.
  • Your labels don’t define you. Just because someone is using words like underprivileged or disadvantaged to describe you, it doesn’t mean they are right. Look for the steel forged by your challenges.
  • There is too much for leaders to know. It’s 2021. Who on Earth can keep up? Let go of having to know everything. Know your stuff—and honour that others know theirs. Understand that conduct and curiosity will move a group forward—even into territory that is unfamiliar to everyone.
  • Good coaching is in all likelihood not what you experienced as a kid. Few amateur sports coaches are trained in coaching. But once you dig into the discipline, you realize there’s a powerful history and set of practices to help people tap their gifts.
  • You’ve got to focus on learning if you want to be masterful at coaching. It’s not about the quality of the teaching. Not at all.
  • Leaders who are masterful at coaching are comfortable with risk. Feels counterintuitive, but letting go of control increases organizational capacity. Position your people to find the answers within themselves.


Learn how a coaching approach can free you from having to know all the answers. The Leader’s Discipline™ open course runs several times a year, or bring Roy Group in-house to work with your team.

Full transcript:

Ian Chisholm speaks with Nate Leslie on the Leading with Curiosity podcast, May 2021

Nate: Hello listeners. My guest today is significantly impacting my career in leadership development and executive coaching. It’s my honor to share him with you today, and his courageous views on what it means to be a Mentor and why we can’t call ourselves one. He’s been trained by members of the British SAS and spent years leading a program on the Isle of Skye where at-risk teens from tough parts of Glasgow and around Scotland had the opportunity to coach and be coached by executive leaders. Ian Chisholm is the founder of Roy Group Leadership in Victoria, British Columbia. I’m proud to be a learning lead and executive coach on his talented roster. If you care about the way you choose to show up as a leader and are curious about its impact on the atmosphere it creates in your organization, team and family, stay with us. Ian, welcome to Leading with Curiosity.

Chiz: Hey, Nate, thanks for having me. And thank you for such a nice introduction.

Nate: Well deserved. Let’s jump right in, Ian. Tell me about your convictions about the word Mentor.

Chiz: Well, we have a lot of them in that this concept of mentorship is really the north star of our firm, Roy Group. And so…where to start? I think my number one conviction these days is that it’s really relevant. In the last year, we have seen the most capable country on Earth falter in the face of something that it should have been able to face. It has all the science and medical capacity. It has the logistics capacity to keep its citizens safe and to be an example for the world. And they didn’t. They were not able to rise to that occasion. So what got in the way? That gives us a glimpse into what we’re up against in terms of this modern era. And I guess my biggest conviction about mentorship is that mentorship is a force that we’re going to need if we’re going to address all of the issues that Covid-19 has as exposed as part of this modern world. So I think it’s something that leaders need to pay a lot of attention to.

Nate: And I love when we call it a gift word. Let’s go there.

Chiz: Yeah, that was a concept that was shared with me by a Mentor of mine named Bob Chartier, who, if you haven’t met yet, Nate, you will.

Nate: I have.

Chiz: He’s our Learning Lead for Engagement. And he just introduced me to this idea of gift words, that there are some words that you can’t call yourself. It lessens the value of the word if you throw it around and take it on yourself. You actually have to earn it. Other people gift it to you, if you’ve earned it in the story of their lives. And I think there’s a lot of gift words. Like leader, to me, is best used as a gift, or team to me is a gift word. We might be working together, but it actually takes somebody from the outside coming in to say, “Wow, you guys are really a team. I feel it.” And one of the most misappropriated gift words of all time is, of course, Mentor, which, we throw that word around a lot. And it’s actually one of the most valuable gift words out there in that it’s a very important moment when somebody refers to you as a Mentor in the story of their life. That’s a moment really worth earning for a lot of leaders.

Nate: I can’t help but notice you led with talking about how important Mentors are in the world and that it’s a gift word. If we’re lucky, a couple of people might call us a Mentor when this is all said and done.

Chiz: Yeah, and that’s actually one of very few ways to measure leadership. Leadership is a very tough thing to measure across sectors, around the world. But to me, the number of times you earn that word Mentor in the lives of other people tells me a lot about your ability to not only get challenging things accomplished, but to design that work in a way that develops the capacity of other people along the way. So I think the number of times you earn the word is in an important measurement to keep track of.

Nate: And if we could explore just a little more without diving into, you know, the entire block of our courses, just this idea that there’s a time and a place for different behaviours as a leader that lead to becoming a Mentor. And today, let’s say, you know, coach[ing] being one of them and, you know, putting away that desire to tell people what to do.

Chiz: Yeah, and underneath all of those options, I mean, we can choose to conduct ourselves in any way that we want in any given situation, but the discernment to know what it’s time for, that’s kind of right underneath the plot line…that once a leader… And I think it takes time and I think it takes lots of experience; it also takes an openness to learning about all of the different options that you have. But when a leader can very clearly discern what it’s time for and act accordingly in any given conversation, maybe it is instruction, maybe it is advice, maybe it is, you know, a very clear briefing of key information. Maybe it’s coaching somebody and positioning them to learn from their own experience…that gear-shift is kind of underneath leadership more now than it ever has been in terms of choosing the right way to have this conversation that’s in front of my face.

Nate: Let’s…I introduced you mentioning that you had been trained by members of the British SAS and we talked about conduct in coaching. What was your biggest takeaway through that experience? And maybe let’s set it up as a bit of a story for the listeners, because it’s compelling. Tell us about that experience.

Chiz: Yeah. So now, the way you said it sounds slightly dramatic. So I just want to make sure that…I hope that got people to listen to the podcast! But let’s just qualify this for sure. I came to my office one morning and there was an envelope on my desk saying that I had been accepted to a program called Foundation. And I thought that was odd because I hadn’t applied for a program called Foundation. As soon as I opened it up and went online to find out what this program was, I suddenly realized that a gentleman named Rod Stuart Liddon, who had been one of our faculty members in Scotland, he worked as an instructor with a lot of our groups of young people. He had been in the SAS and this program was actually designed for former members of the Special Forces. Their careers are so steeped in leadership and teamwork that when they come out of the military, there’s this desire to continue learning, but also to share what they had learned about leadership and teamwork. So suffice to say, it was a very challenging, rewarding and memorable program that I was able to take part in.

Nate: And you’ve talked a lot about conduct, the way we carry ourselves, just the impact that the way we show up can have in all parts of our life. What can you share with our listeners about conduct?

Chiz: I guess first of all, until recently, it was a very old-fashioned word. We didn’t talk about conduct nearly as much as we talked about misconduct. But I think in terms of the political adventures of our neighbours to the south the last four years, all of a sudden people are talking about, you know, presidential conduct. And is it important the way a person conducts themselves? Or can they just be, you know, totally free and say and do whatever they think they want to do in that moment? Conduct is where everything that’s going on inside us meets the rest of the world. And therefore, it’s kind of the last outpost of choice where we get to choose how we show up in any given situation, a good situation or a bad situation. And so after 25 years of doing this work, I am just convinced that that is actually where a leader learns how to master themselves. It’s being aware of the way that they conduct themselves in any given situation and choosing a conduct that will not only influence the situation, but will actually influence the people involved. The biggest mistake that I see from doing this work is that leaders underestimate the impact that their conduct has in any given situation. Therefore, it deserves attention and focus so that that’s where mastery can begin.

Nate: Nice. And hence our conversation about the turtle on that learning through foundation [“the turtle” is a graphic Roy Group conceptualization of what’s necessary for working well with a team; if you’ve taken The Leader’s Discipline™ you’ll know the turtle]. This idea of: there is all sides of us, there are many dimensions to us, and we need to choose which we’re bringing to the table. What can you expand on that for the listeners?

Chiz: One of the key learnings from that program—and that program, I mean, that was 20 years ago now, and a lot of the learning is still with me—a big part of it was about self-awareness. What is it about the way that I’m interacting with my team, whether I’m the team leader or whether I’m a team member? What about my conduct is creating value? And what about the way I’m conducting myself is actually getting in the way of us being able to move forward? And if you’re not aware of something that’s on that ladder, lest somebody else will make you aware of it, a big part of the program was getting feedback at the end of every day, but also at the end of the session. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this part of the story, but all of your other team members, when the week is over, sit and talk for 45 minutes about you. And they don’t hold any punches; they’re probably never going to see you again (we came from all over Europe). And you just get a recording of a conversation that your five other team members have about you and the way you conduct yourself and the things that you do that represent a positive contribution and the things that get in the way. I’ve still got that cassette somewhere here in my desk 20 years later. Now, the only problem is finding somewhere I can play it.

Nate: [laughs] I was just thinking that.

Chiz:  It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. And the big take home was: “Are you aware of yourself and are you able to get a hold of yourself and make whatever changes you need to if what you’re bringing is not helpful?”

Nate: Yeah, it seems to me that if you described for us today a little bit about that program on the Isle of Skye and the impact that at-risk teens had coaching senior leaders of organizations and vice versa, it might shine a light on how Roy Group has come to be and the work that you, and we, are doing now. Can you just tell us a little bit more about that program?

Chiz: Yeah, you will know that there are just some experiences in life that, you know, really shape you and shape your philosophy about what leadership is and what incredible teamwork is. The Gemini project—which I co-created with a gentleman named Mark Bell, who’s still a wonderful friend and a Mentor and somebody that I learn a lot from—came from a place of economic necessity. We had created a really great program called the Leadership Academy for young people from tough socioeconomic backgrounds. And we were finding sponsors for groups of 30 kids at a time. And we were, you know, kind of a summer camp that ran all year round. They would start the program in the city, come up and spend a week on Skye, and then we would follow up with them down back in the city with a community partner. That was super rewarding work. But in terms of the organization, it wasn’t giving us a lift. We weren’t making any ground in terms of coming out of some debt that we had acquired during the startup. And so the Gemini project came about, like so many things, because of an economic necessity to innovate. And Mark was working a lot with the banks in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a huge financial centre, so there’s a lot of headquarters there and he asked me point blank one day on a walk if I would ever feel confident putting, you know, ten of our participants, young people from tough backgrounds in Glasgow, kind of toe-to-toe with financial executives. And I just had zero doubt that that would be a worthwhile enterprise. I didn’t doubt our participants at all. So much of the work that we were doing was taking labels like underprivileged or disadvantaged and asking some questions about that to say, “If you grow up in a tough situation, what are the results of that? Does that make you disadvantaged or underprivileged or does that actually hone something in you that’s incredibly valuable? That’s incredibly resilient? That’s incredibly resourceful?” Which, of course, the latter is true. So, yeah, we started taking groups of 10 financial executives and 10 young people who had been through our programs, introducing them to the discipline of coaching. And in addition to the learning that they did beforehand, we would take the community stream through a process and then the corporate stream through a separate process, same exact material. They would come up to the Isle of Skye together for a week, and every morning they would go through exercises or simulations together, you know, cracking some problem, debriefing that, finding out what they had learned about themselves. And then every afternoon there would be a chance to practice coaching. So the executives would coach a young person from Glasgow and get feedback on that from somebody from our team. And then after a coffee break, we would turn the tables and the young person from Glasgow would coach the financial executive—and coach them very well. Because if there’s one thing about Glasgow, it’s there’s not a lot of fear when it comes to asking people some tough questions. And so the kids from Glasgow were actually incredibly challenging, incredibly honest and incredibly effective in, you know, challenging the thinking of these financial executives. It was just an amazing piece of work. And we ended up doing it several times over my last few years there.

Nate: What came to mind for me there was the power of creating new ways of thinking about something. That clearly was a new perspective. Whatever challenge that leader of a bank was facing, these teenagers brought a new way of thinking about it. And the other, which is something you and I wanted to talk about today, is the power of letting go of the need to have the answers for somebody. Coaching. And when I try to describe to friends that haven’t heard much about what is executive coaching? and how can you help someone in another industry? it’s those two things: creating an opportunity and challenging someone on a new way of thinking about a problem that they’ve been…the hamster’s been on the wheel for a while. And the other one is the liberating feeling of saying, “I don’t need to have the answer for that person in the industry that I’ve never worked in. I need to hold space and ask the right questions.” Story is such a great metaphor for what we do as coaches, eh?

Chiz: Yeah, I think it is. It was almost like an exaggerated experiment to put some of those concepts to the test. The impact that it had on both streams would say that there’s something incredibly valuable about not knowing. Which, of course, we spend our lives getting to a place where we do know and can offer value to a system because of what we know. That’s why we go to a lawyer or to a doctor. It’s because they know so much.  Increasingly, we’re in a world where that idea of a leader knowing the answer in any given situation is so far gone. In any industry, in any sector, there’s too much to know. And so rather than knowledge, what we’re doing is, is understanding that experience is very rich and it seasons people to be able to address whatever is in front of them without necessarily knowing what the answers are. And can we get good at not knowing? That’s a big question. And the answer is yes. There’s some people that can get very, very good at not knowing, but understanding what conduct and what questions and what processes allow a group to move forward, even into a territory that they don’t understand.

Nate: The art of coaching, of helping someone move from where they are now to where they want to be. That’s the art and the process of it. And every time you do it, it’s completely unique and different.

Chiz: Absolutely.

Nate: Yeah. Just maybe explore your experience in… With our courses, the Practice of Coaching and The Leader’s Discipline™, just the journey that you’ve seen some of your past participants go on in the course of a program or over the course of your time working with a certain organization.

Chiz: Yeah, and there’s such a huge range of experiences that people go through. That’s the nature of learning about coaching, is that you actually realize that you’re a pretty unique learner. But some of the patterns I see is that people, you know, when we start, they will say things…and they’re being honest, they think they’re being honest. They’ll say, you know, “I’m interested in brushing up my style a bit. But I’ve actually been coaching people for several decades.” And then we dive into it and find out what coaching is really about, as opposed to other options that leaders have, like instruction or advice or sharing information. And normally at the end, people will say, you know, “I started by saying I thought I knew that I had been coaching for quite some time. And I actually don’t…I realize now that I may not have realized what coaching was and that actually this is kind of brand new. But I’m excited to go forward knowing what it is.”

Nate: Yeah.

Chiz: I just think that’s a very natural outcome from the fact that our mental models about what coaching is are shaped from a very young age. We go and play minor league baseball or soccer or hockey…and somebody’s dad or mom is the coach of the team because they want to spend time with their own kid, and they’re totally winging it. If they do do a course, it’ll be about the rules of the game. But we don’t prepare coaches. And so people just kind of wing it and they “be themselves”. And so that becomes what people believe coaching is. And expand that out to whatever level of sport. And then add a nice big slice of Hollywood movies that want to make it exciting and want to make it dramatic. And so it needs the great dressing room speech! I think of Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, right? “Life’s about inches” and all this bullshit. And so we’re pretty sure that we know what coaching is. And once you dig into it, you just find out that there’s a whole discipline there. There’s a whole body of knowledge and a whole history of where this came from. And suddenly we realize that we didn’t know really what it was all about, even though we’ve convinced ourselves we have.

Nate: Yeah. And as you know and some of my listeners might, that’s the world I came from in sport and hockey and developing volunteer coaches. And a number of years ago when I kind of stumbled upon this other type of coaching—and I when I saw the definition and I witnessed it kind of happen, I’m sort of looking around and thinking, “What have I been doing for fifteen years?” And I think I’ve shared this story with you: the day I decided to start asking more questions to children than telling them what to do, it was in a Roy Group workshop when we were together in Kananaskis. This idea of: “But I still need to instruct!” OK, a couple of teaching points, then ask them about it. And that was that was the game-changer. And I was just sort of stopped in my tracks thinking, “Wow, I’ve been carrying the weight of …”

Chiz: All that knowledge! [laughs]

Nate: This knowledge is heavy!

Chiz: Uh huh. It’s true.

Nate: It’s heavy, it’s in my head, it’s on my shoulders, it’s in my backpack. And then, you know, of course, suddenly all the hundreds of volunteer coaches we’ve worked with in hockey over the years, suddenly realizing that they bring all this other great human experience from other parts of their life. And, you know, just because they’re wearing jeans and didn’t bring a whistle and have a full cage on the ice and, you know, haven’t quite figured out how it might benefit them to “look” like a hockey coach when you’re trying to coach hockey (the kids look at you a little differently when you when you look the part). But they had all this other knowledge from the rest of their life, you know, that they can bring in and apply, but that the pressure release valve, and my own fork in the road to never go back the other way has just been so awesome. I suddenly have more space available for lots of things.

Chiz: It’s so easy, whether it’s a classroom teacher or a principal or a leader in an organization or a hockey coach, you can immediately tell if someone’s focus is on the quality of the teaching or the quality of the learning. And I think for most of us, we spend our lives thinking that those two words are interchangeable, when in fact, that’s a very different focus. I want to teach well versus I want to create really deep learning. Those are two very different focuses. And you’ve got to a focus on learning if you really want to be masterful at coaching.

Nate: And I have a strong bias there that just keeps coming up. When we are challenged or questioned about, well, when is it time to instruct? I have to do this training, right? Whether it’s participants in our programs, having my master’s in education from the IB curriculum of inquiry-based learning and a mother who spent 30 years working in an international school after 15 years in the Canadian system….great teaching is about letting kids explore an idea and ask their own questions. And so many adults that happen to be in an important instructor role / training role in their organizations kind of glaze right over that and go to delivery of everything in the binder, you know. It’s just so intertwined and it has an opportunity to surface many times a day. And to kind of connect the conversation we’re having today brings that all back to this idea of Mentor, of: there’s a time for a little instruction, there’s a time to say nothing and see what they figure out on their own, there’s a time to give feedback or ask about how that experience went. And none of that has the pressure to be right all the time.

Chiz: No. And it takes it takes a high level of awareness to make that choice. To be like, “I’m actually going to choose to play it this way for the next little while to see how this goes before I just go to my unconscious default.” Yeah, that that’s big work for people. That’s a lot. It takes a lot of energy to be that wide awake to what’s actually happening and what’s required.

Nate: As it applies to entrepreneurship, for any small business owners listening right now, I love Tim Ferris’s idea in the Four Hour Workweek, which is not about how to work four hours a week necessarily, it’s about “If I only had four hours in a week, how should I be spending them? What should I do?” And as we talk about…very coachable people have a high degree of skill and a high degree of will, he talks about risk as well, in that: What’s this going to cost me if this goes wrong? Hundred dollars. Five hundred dollars. It doesn’t matter. Everyone has a threshold depending on what, you know, what the project is. But what’s the worst that can happen if I let someone go for it and try to figure it out?

Chiz: Right.

Nate: And so I’m always sort of drawn back to that degree of risk. And of course, over time, the more we can help people learn to think critically…it’s critical thinking skills is really what this—whether education or coaching—comes down to…the less they come knocking on your door for more answers, right?

Chiz: Well, and the less risk in the long term. The less risk you’re actually taking because you’ve got so much more capacity in your organization. So you can manage, you can control the short-term risks, or you can actually take those risks in a really measured way to build capacity. To build capacity you’ve got to take some risk. “This might fail.” You’ve got to hold that. You could try to contain it. You can try to learn as much… but it is important that we do have some risk in our story every day if we want to get to a more capable team.

Nate: Will the building burn down if I hand over the control of this project? And if the answer is yes, well, what if we just had a fire extinguisher ready in the event we absolutely needed it. And then the ring stays on the fire extinguisher because you almost never need it when you actually let go. As we wrap up here, Chiz, what can people do to learn a little bit more about what Roy Group offers in terms of open courses and organizational development?

Chiz: is probably the best place. We’re on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and everything else, but I think the website is probably the best place to go where they get to see smiling faces like yours. Very up for a conversation to find out what’s really going on for people and what they need, and if somebody inside our group or somebody that we know is the right person to help. It always starts with a conversation.

Nate: Right on. And this experience over the last year has created some new opportunities there. There will be a return to in person, but also a transition to virtual.

Chiz: Yeah, I think like many people, we know what our business looked like in the before times. We know what our business has looked like in the last 14 months. And now we have some big choices of what our business will look like, starting this fall…question mark? And I think for us, the guiding principle has been, “What is most impactful for our clients?” And that will be the primary design principle that we work backwards from, is to give them learning experiences that will stick with them for the rest of their life, whatever combination of online and in person, whatever gaps there are in between the formal learning so that people can go experiment with it themselves. Whatever that most impactful rhythm is, is the rhythm that we want the band to play.

Nate: That sounds like you’re focusing on the learning and not the teaching.

Chiz: There’s been a lot to learn from the last 12 months, I can tell you that.

Nate: Ian, thank you very much for your time. This is Ian Chisholm, founder of Roy Group Leadership in Victoria. You can learn more at

Chiz: Thanks, Nate.


How I Learned To Bake Bread With A New Set Of Tools (Or: Exploring My Dread Of Virtual Learning)

By Donna Horn

Great bakers bake great bread. That’s one of Robert Henderson’s lines.

It means even when you’ve learned your craft, you keep honing and advancing and growing in mastery. You don’t worry about “being great”. All your energy goes into simply baking the best bread you can. After a while, you get pretty darned good at your bread-baking. The bread that results is also seriously good.

But what happens an unseen force invades your kitchen, flips the butter out the window and runs off with your loaf pans?

CHANGE is what happens. (Ugh. Who ever likes that?)

In our line of work, our bread is curating and sharing the thinking and tools that help leaders along that path to mastery. Our bread is helping people commit to developing the strong, resilient relationships they know are needed to work most effectively together. Our bread is awareness, connection, trust, tools, believing in others. All of what we do revolves around human betterment.

Until 2020, the assumption was that this kind of learning and sharing worked best face-to-face.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone at Roy Group seriously weighed virtual learning against in-person…ever.

It wasn’t even on our radar. Why would it be? Our best work, the work of people and relationships, was conducted by gathering together in full-day, face-to-face sessions, seated around a room or a table, with intentional breaks for eating and conversation and practice. Tennis. Skis. Skits. Breaking bread together. When we’re up at Nimmo Bay, it’s kayak trips and forest walks and orchard lunches and barbeques centered around connecting with others.

We always laughed. We moved around. We noticed. We read and relied on and responded to body language more than any of us knew.

So when COVID brick-walled us, letting go of the way we baked our bread was hard. I found myself facing this crushing weight of reality. How am I going to survive without face-to-face workshops?

I didn’t believe we could create a virtual learning experience that would come close to the way we felt when we were part of moving a whole conference room or dining hall into a state of excitement or realization—sometimes even tears (the eye-opening kind).

Mixed into my fear of losing the familiar were some limiting beliefs about what virtual learning wouldn’t allow: Oh, I can’t possibly…

I didn’t know it then, but now I understand that I was travelling my slow way through the grief cycle.

From shock and denial all the way through anger and bargaining. You know the drill. I went through all the stages.

I resisted virtual learning initially. I love face-to-face workshops. I love the connections they create, the shared experience they leave behind. I love the awesome learning experience that we create. I didn’t want that to be gone. I was in resistance and denial.

Since our group bookings had vaporized overnight, I suddenly had more time on my hands. I made myself busy with something completely different that took my mind off the spectre of virtual delivery.

I signed up for a Seth Godin workshop, to see how someone I consider an influencer in many of the ways I think are valuable to humanity creates virtual learning experiences. And I signed up to complete an accredited coaching training program, a long overdue goal.

My coaching program ran out of Australia, from a school that has never done in-person training—they’ve only ever delivered their content online. They seemed like a good muse. And Godin’s course, naturally, was virtual.

I decided to watch and learn how other groups handled virtual learning and delivery. I went into each session primed to identify what I liked and what I didn’t like.

They were fabulous.

Back at home (metaphorically, not physically, since I wasn’t going anywhere), I listened skeptically to Chiz and Iain Duncan, who were at the leading edge of Roy Group’s shift to offering virtual learning experiences. Listening to their observations and experiences—and witnessing their willingness to give it their all—helped move me to a place where I could make the leap, at least mentally.

As it turned out, delivering a virtual learning experience didn’t end up being hell, after all.

I pushed off doing any virtual workshops until October. And when the first one finally loomed on my horizon, even though by then I’d experienced a fair amount of other groups’ virtual offerings and was hearing from my own team that things worked really well…I found myself dreading it. Like the sick-to-my-stomach sort of dreading it.

I thought it was going to be just terrible. How could Roy Group, known for our elegance and ease and ability to connect deeply with people, possibly replicate the feeling of our experiences…without having bodies in the room?

Instead, I was amazed and surprised at how easy it was to connect with people on video, and how easy it was for them to connect with each other. I got to create a great experience for them. And they learned!

In the intervening months, I’ve listened to what our clients have to say about it. They’re talking about how they’ve made this new virtual world work for them—enough so that in many cases, they’re considering not returning to face-to-face workshops. Or at least choosing a blend of face-to-face and virtual learning.

I’ve read feedback forms from our sessions where people admit to having dreaded the experience at the outset, but they ended up loving it.

Or at the check-in they’ll say, “I don’t know how this is going to work. I’m not so great with virtual. How do I stay focused?” And at the check-out, that same participant will speak about how the virtual space gave them a chance to experience emotion and focus, just like our in-person sessions were known for.

We had this one brilliant young man in a Practice of Coaching session. He’s on a team that usually engages in a lot of physical activities and hands-on training as part of his work, and he had previously experienced some online training that just didn’t grab him. We were heading into our first break when he spoke up. “You know, I just want to say,” he said [and I held my breath], “that this is the best learning I’ve ever had. And I think I’m speaking for the whole room by saying you guys are doing a really great job of this. Like, this is just a really good use of my time. And we’re so busy…and I’m saying this a great use of my time.”


I think he was bracing for what a lot of people have experienced with virtual learning: a platform, a slide show, a video, then you read something, then you click NEXT, then you’re on another page with another thing to read, and then there’s an exercise to do.

It probably ticks all the boxes in terms of varied learning styles and good provincial education curriculum criteria.

But it sucks. Because it’s not interactive. And it’s boring.

I am here today, very pleased to inform you that not ALL virtual learning sucks and is boring.

What has turned out to be huge and unexpected for people is how well we can connect with each other on a virtual platform.

I think it’s made even easier with the live nature of our sessions. There’s a sense of We’re here with you. We are with you right now, and all these other people are with you, and there’s just something special about the liveness of it.

But to create that sense of We are with you, we keep our focus laser-tight on being intentional. With everything. You can’t assume you’re going to instantly be able to create connection through a virtual offering. You have to be intentionally and mindfully creating it as you go.

The details matter. We are very deliberate with the platform we choose to use. We use breakouts so people can go deep. We ask people to have their cameras on. We ask good questions. And we’re mindfully leveraging our solid, useful content to create connection all the way.

A big advantage I’ve discovered about delivering virtual learning is the ability to pull people together from geographically dispersed locations.

We’ve been able to capture people who work for the same organization yet live in different communities—something we wouldn’t have been able to do as simply pre-pandemic. It’s been thrilling for them to spend time with teammates from around the province who are in the same role, who have similar experiences, concerns, aspirations and things that keep them up at night. They’re amazed to learn they’re not in it alone. There are other people living the same thing who they can draw on for support.

I’ve noticed when people come out of the breakout rooms, they’re laughing, or they’re grateful for the opportunity to talk with a handful of others about something that’s important to them all.

They didn’t have to travel to get to the sessions.

They’re relaxed and comfortable because they’re in their homes. (We think dogs are learning a lot of tools too.)

It’s so great, especially for people who have an introversion preference. Virtual lends itself so well to enhanced inclusivity.

Guess we needed a global shakeup to loosen us from those old paradigms.

Here’s the thing. People are going to be working differently from now on.

It’s going to be different even after we can all hang out together in person. A lot of us want to keep working at home. The public service, for one, is actively thinking about what the future of work looks like.

The trickiest pieces are the seemingly little, but critically important, things. The water-cooler and hallway conversations are the hardest to create remotely, but it’s still possible to have informal ways of connecting with other people. We just need to be intentional about that.

I will add that working from home lets you do a better job of self-care. You can eat when you need to, you can cook for yourself instead of dumping money on grabbing lunch, you can create the sitting and temperature conditions that are optimal for you, you can take five minutes to connect with a pet. You have far more control over your work environment when you’re at home.

Even when your kitchen is turned upside-down, you can still bake great bread.

Someone broke my measuring cup. They hid my loaf pan. And then they used up all the butter.

But I cupped my hands to gather the flour. I decided my cast iron frying pan would do a fine enough job. And I rubbed it with olive oil.

And I damn well baked the bread.


Donna Horn is Roy Group’s Practice Lead for Public Service.

See for yourself how affirming, productive and memorable our experiences are.

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How to Listen Like a Leader…Not a Know-It-All (and other great tips on how to earn the title of “Mentor”)

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.


Why Would Anyone Write A Book?

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.


Bend An Ear, But Don’t Bend The Truth: A Critical Look At Storytelling In The Nonprofit Sector

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.


What Nature Can Teach Business About Strategy In The Face of Big Change

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.”



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.



[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.

The High Cost Of Avoiding Conflict: Six Tips For Handling Disharmony

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.