Practice: Letting Go Is Hard to Do – Shifting your professional practice to a practice of leadership

By Bradley Chisholm

Imagine walking into the dressing room of the Team Canada Olympic hockey team, dragging Sidney Crosby out to the luge track, throwing him onto a sled and expecting him to win gold. We would never do it. We would never take someone who was fully immersed and masterful in his sport, throw him into an arena totally foreign, and expect the same level of mastery. We would never do it in sport, but we do it in our professional organizations all the time.

We take our high-performing lawyers and doctors out of their courtrooms and operating rooms – the arenas where they have pursued mastery — we add the word “managing” or “chief” to their business card and then wonder why our teams lack leadership. There is a significant disconnect between the value we put on the quality of leadership — the culture of our organization, vision, engagement of the team — vs. the time, resources and support we devote to intentionally developing the leaders of our teams. We expect them to jump in and perform as masterful leaders.

There are a couple disruptive mental models at work here:

1. The only valuable learning is technical learning. A common theme we have experienced is that worthwhile learning in a professional environment needs to focus solely on the substantive disciplines of that profession. Lawyers learn about new legislation and case law; doctors learn about new medical developments; designers learn about exciting industry innovation. Creating opportunities for learning around disciplines that would position professionals to begin their leadership practice is often considered an expensive investment not connected to the core business.

2. Leaders are born. We carry around the idea that some people are born to be leaders and others must be content to follow. With this mindset, we can see why “leadership development” becomes a process of identifying those who exhibit what we believe leadership needs to be and then throwing them down the icy track (kicking and screaming if we have to).

What is possible when these mental models begin to shift? We have had the privilege of working with Mentors who have instilled in us the belief that leadership is a choice and a practice. We each have the ability to choose leadership, and by doing so, we choose to begin to learn and practice methods, tools and skills that will help us become stronger in a leadership role. These practices are different than our professional practices (for some professions very different), and therefore the learning is different too.

If you are a professional moving into a leadership role, you may have to fight for the learning opportunities you need to get better at your leadership. You may be the only one in the office immersing yourself in this different type of learning — and often it means setting your professional practice aside to make space for the new.

For many, moving into leadership does not just involve setting aside a practice, but setting aside something we are masterful at. Over a lifetime we get the chance to become masterful in a collection of things . . . and it’s all in the combination. Think of the stories we can make happen in our professional organizations, in our families and in our communities if one of the masteries we have chosen is leading self and leading others.

Like a longtime skier learning how to snowboard for the first time, there are going to be some bruises and sore muscles, but it’s worth it in the end.


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

Belief: A Lesson from a Premier

By Bradley Chisholm

A client recently asked me to help him ‘hone his listening skills’ – an action item from a tough 360 feedback report. I didn’t like this assignment; it felt superficial for some reason. Paying attention, eye contact, non-verbal cues, summarizing…. blah, blah, blah. I am sure that these refreshers were valuable and created a change in behaviour in the short term but there was something lacking.

I realized that by targeting the level of “listening skills”, I was not stepping into the real conversation that was ready to happen – a conversation about his beliefs. What did this leader believe about himself, his leadership and the value of those around him? That is where the conversation will go next time.

The idea of something deeper than mere skills started to crystallize over the last few weeks as I have been thinking about the passing of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed.

It was my first meeting Premier Lougheed that made the most impact. I approached him with my dad in the Edmonton airport; we both felt the need to meet the legend personally. He was 80 at the time, but without hesitation, he slowly and carefully stood up out of his chair, notwithstanding our polite objections. He shook our hands and asked about the crops in Saskatchewan, the politics we’re involved in, and told us a funny story about airport security. After five minutes, he gracefully left us to catch his flight. He told us how much he respected both of our decisions to serve in provincial government. We were both left speechless… the atmosphere that was left inside us was inexplicable at the time.

I have heard many stories about others’ experiences with Premier Lougheed. Regardless of whether the story originated from a former civil servant, caucus member, cabinet minister, staff, Albertan or child, they all have a similar pattern and theme. He always knew what it was time for. He lived his life on purpose and with intention. He showed up – whether at the negotiation table with a prime minister or in the backyard playing catch. The best line from one of these stories was: “It didn’t matter who you were, it was as if he believed you knew something about Alberta that he was interested to learn.” It wasn’t listening skills that Premier Lougheed brought to his interactions — it was this belief that others had much to offer him.

How do you show up in a room where you believe everyone has something to learn from you? In contrast, how do you show up and listen in a room of people you believe have opinions and ideas that could change things? What actions do you take based on these beliefs? I was introduced to the simple logic model of Belief-Action-Results: if we believe in something, our actions will reflect this belief and the results we experience, of course, will unfold as these actions are taken.

Premier Lougheed believed that everyone had something valuable to offer him and the province. This belief showed itself in how he occupied the ground and how he made people feel, even in a five-minute airport interaction. The result? Nothing less than a powerful, dynamic and progressive province made up of people that believe that they can change things.

Do you believe as a leader you need to work on your listening skills, or do you believe in the value, the wisdom and the potential in those around you?


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

Mastery in Stereo

By Bradley Chisholm

My business partner graciously arranged for my wife and I to take in a Lyle Lovett show in Victoria. There were no visual distractions, no opening band and no gimics. After an 8 word introduction on the microphone – Lyle Lovett and his Band hit the ground running. They played for two and a half hours straight and from the energy of the audience at the end of the show – could have played for two and a half hours more with no protest, whatsoever.

Anyone who has experienced Lyle Lovett in concert would agree that there is something powerful going on up there on stage – he loves what he does, he always has, and along the way he found a sound that is totally unique. He is a gentleman, a charmer, a perfectionist, and a showman – the whole package. But it was something else that really shifted a mental model that I was carrying around about what mastery is. It took the idea of mastery from being about how great you ARE to how well you SHARE. What Mr. Lovett did better than anything else was to create the space and the conditions for others find and share their mastery, too.

Can you imagine being asked to go on tour with Lyle Lovett? His small band consists of 6 other performers. Over the course of the evening each member would be introduced personally. It was clear early on that Mr. Lovett does’t fear being surrounded by talented musicians – he seeks them out. His band was not just his “accompaniment” or “backup”, they were his full-fledged partners. At times, they backed Lyle up beautifully, spotlighting his incredible unique talents. At other times, Lyle would step back and accompany them as they shared an original composition of their own. Lyle created the space for these others musicians to introduce themselves and their craft to the world. The audience had not arrived knowing that they would be introduced to their next favourite artists – but this was a non-negotiable design feature of the evening.

The humility and grace Mr. Lovett displayed in creating the space for others to grow and practice made me wonder if mastery can exist without it. Can someone be a master if they are not willing to support others to find their own? Can the artist who toils away in solitude, never engaging with the world or other artists, be considered a master? Can the brilliant legal mind that shines in court but refuses to put any effort or attention to developing young lawyers be considered a Master? Is leadership actually an integral, requisite part of mastery? It certainly felt like it the night of Mr. Lovett’s concert.


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

Forcing It: Does It Always Have to Be Difficult?

By Bradley Chisholm

I love watching the Olympics – mastery, commitment and human potential on international display.  It was not the typical events that caught my attention this year, however.  I watched the Women’s Canoe Slalom – an event I did not even know existed until it was right there in front of me.

During the first few runs I watched, I was struck by the physical strength required to navigate kayaks around markers – at times against and even directly into the powerful current.  It was obvious from the clenched faces and strained muscles of the athletes that determination, effort and good old fashioned grit is required.  And I admired them for possessing these qualities.

My admiration shifted to amazement when 20 year old Italian, Maria Clara Giai Pron took to the course.  Her face was not clenched and her muscles were not strained.  She didn’t force anything. It looked like she was dancing with the rapids.  Even the commentators were speechless as she used the tremendous force of the water itself, in combination with the most discerning of movements, to rocket herself, without fault, through the course in incredible time.

As I often do, I started to think about the lessons in work and in life that I could glean from this remarkable performance.  I recalled a former instructors’s advice to me when I was going through my coaching certification: “Stop trying so hard. Just use what the client is giving you.”

How often do we try to force it — to use our will, our tenacity and our dogged determination to grind down some invisible opponent and make the changes that we “know” need to happen? For me, it is often. But if we are clear about the life we want to live, if we are honest about the reality we are living in now, what things can we put in motion that will effortlessly take us to the next gate?  Sometimes we believe that if it doesn’t take massive effort and fortitude, that it’s not worth doing, but how far could we get if, at times, we trusted the rapids to take us where we needed to go, with a loose but vigilant awareness of what is called for, and when?

I recall playing the game Jenga growing up (I think my mom loved the fact that I had a wooden toy that gave me enjoyment, so it was aggressively promoted). I learned early to go after the blocks that were ready to move first – to follow the path of least resistance. Easy points, limited consequences. Conserving my effort to unleash on the truly challenging hurdles.

What blocks in your life are ready to move?

What rapids can you use to get you there?

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