Amore per la Qualità
What Roy Group Did This Summer
Five years ago, I sat across from Dave Mowat (CEO, ATB Financial) at a long table in Edmonton's Caffè Sorrentino. What made the Italian spread in front of us particularly rewarding is that Dave and I had each captained a team of ATBers that afternoon in Caffè Sorrentino’s kitchen, preparing it. Sitting down to actually eat this meal represented the ultimate phase of a very colourful, competitive and energetic duel between two fairly affable captains with a strong preference for winning and psychologically prepared to do whatever it took to "get up in their opponent's kitchen."
Perhaps it was prompted by the intensity of our duel, or the Italian context, or the amount of time we took to share the meal together – I'm not sure – but Dave began telling me about a rehabilitation community in the province of Rimini in Italy called San Patrignano (“Sanpa”), a special place that he had visited in person a few years before.
It was hard to imagine that Dave’s description of Sanpa was actually possible. He described to me his first impression of the dining hall – seeing the impeccable standards to which that building had been constructed to house all of the community members together for meals. He told us about the detail with which the tables had been set for 2,000 people, each place setting carefully laid so that it would send a message straight to the heart of every person there that they belonged, they were loved and they were important.
Dave also told me that, if I believed in the power of enterprise, pride in one's work and the dignity inherent in human endeavour, I had no choice but to go and see Sanpa for myself. I could tell that he meant it, so I did a little homework.
San Patrignano was started almost 40 years ago, a corner-of-the-desk project of businessman Vincenzo Muccioli. Muccioli credited the rising numbers of addictions in Italy to a society struggling with a loss of important values. He believed the answer required "life-positive" solutions to bring people back to experiencing just how beautiful life is.
While Sanpa has a colourful history with plenty of triumphs and tribulations, it is best assessed by its legacy today: nearly 2,000 residents at any time, all of who are recovering from serious addiction. They do not pay a single euro for their cure, and the program’s success rate is estimated to be north of 70%. Over 40 years, that means thousands and thousands of people who have their lives back.
* * *
On May 29, Anne-Marie, our sons Oscar and Jameson, and I arrived at the front gates of San Patrignano to spend the day. Two resident guides who had volunteered to spend the entire day with us welcomed us warmly.
There is no program or process that people are moved through at Sanpa; rather, belonging to this community creates the context for individualized healing which on average lasts just shy of four years per resident. Vitality occurs through a carefully nurtured passion for one's work, one's internal experience, balance and life in community.
The 42M-euro operation includes practice groups comprised of approximately 10 individuals who live and work together in 54 areas across 22 industries. Each group produces a top-shelf product, service or experience. They create world-class cheeses, specialty meats and wine. They raise first-class horses and train award-winning dogs. Their graphic design and commercial printing operation runs day and night and is a multi-million euro operation. Recently Sanpa was awarded the contract for hand-screened wallpaper for a 1,000-room hotel in Mumbai. They also run 5-star restaurants including what has been recognized nationally as one of the top 10 pizzerias in the country. All of the shops are united by their members’ common commitment to the highest quality of craft and a deep desire to be well, addiction-free and a contributing member of society.
We would need a very long dinner together for us to communicate to you all that we observed and experienced. The best way for me to portray my experience is to tell you that I was on the threshold of tears (in a wonderful way) for hours at a time. The beauty of the human spirit revealed itself to us around every corner of this remarkable community.
Personal impact aside, I was on the lookout for some leadership principles for our clients, a group of leaders who pay as much attention to their organizational culture as they do to their strategy for the future. What kind of leadership does it take to ground a place like Sanpa? What is its guiding philosophy? How do they sustain the intensity? How has Sanpa grown to be so special in a mere 40 years? What characteristics of Sanpa can Roy Group and our clients seek to emulate in our own operations?
With these questions in mind, I plucked out the following four themes:
1. Taking Initiative Without Hesitation
One thing that you will notice when you go to Sanpa – See how I did that? There: you are going! – is the immediacy with which people learn to craft beautiful moments.
When people are in conversation over lunch – SNAP! – that and only that is what they are doing. No distractions, no cell phones; even the coated waiters (who are residents themselves) are mindful and don’t interrupt.
When someone can't reach a tool they need in the workshop – SNAP! – someone hands it to them.
When someone asks for help – SNAP! – a community member will follow them without asking how they will be assisting.
When a group of (obviously) non-Italian-speaking guests nervously crosses the threshold – SNAP! – people stop what they are doing to look them right in the eyes, smile and say, "Ciao!"
In each moment at Sanpa, there is no hesitation: only presence, focus and a deeply practiced balancing of all that is going on. During our tour, the residents were present and gave a clear response to whatever was happening around us. It appeared they have learned (and are learning) how to weed out all of the nonsense and clutter that gets in the way of their (and our) ability to create a quality moment.
2. Engaging Conflict for All It’s Worth
One of the most fascinating aspects that we took away from our experience was Sanpa's transformational use of conflict.
With people being in community, living in close quarters with each other and working together to attain such high standards, conflict is not only inevitable – it is the magic sauce (and in Italy, that is saying something!). In addition to uncovering opportunities for finding a better way forward, emerging interpersonal conflicts provide the fodder for all residents to convert a deeply engrained pattern of escaping what is difficult to engaging what is important.
The very nature of conflict requires the parties involved to articulate themselves, outline personal boundaries and endeavour to understand other and self to a much deeper degree. At Sanpa, conflict is recognized as the arena in which we all deepen our awareness, re-find right action, advance and learn to do so without judgment.
3. Valuing Apprenticeship and Mastery
Another aspect that you will notice <smile> is the seriousness with which people take their work, their learning and their craftsmanship. After the smile and the "Ciao!” members return to whatever piece of work lies in front of them. Whether graphic designer, vintner, butcher, furniture-maker or chef, each has a visible desire for what they are working on to be better than any before: a deeper expression of practice and one step closer to masterpiece.
Where does this high degree of discretionary effort come from? By design, it comes from inside. No one is paid for their work. No one is acknowledged or rewarded publicly for their accomplishments. Consultation and specific feedback on pieces of work is sought and offered, but in the absence of any flattery or flowery encouragement from others. Intrinsic motivation is awakened, kindled and stoked, with people knowing deep down that they themselves are giving all they have and by doing so, are responsible for unleashing their own potential.
It looks, at times, as if their lives are on the line – which, in a very real way, they are. The community thrives on the intensity of each person's journey towards mastery. Over 40 years, Sanpa has learned that neuroplasticity – our brain's ability to rewire, change, heal and reset itself around the trauma and damage it has experienced – takes time, patience, practice, repetition, honesty and immersion within a totally new setting.
4. Setting Standards That Defy Reason
Interestingly, whatever work is in front of an individual is relatively new to them.
Residents are placed into working groups bearing little-to-no resemblance to their former livelihoods. One of our guides who had started in the dog-training barns had never even had a pet; the other had come from a world of high-risk investment. After beginning in the swine barns, our guide was now in charge of marketing Sanpa’s Barrique Project, which asked 40 designers from Milan and Florence how woods from wine barrels could have a "third life." The answers were breathtakingly beautiful. The task now for the woodworking and marketing practice groups at Sanpa is to replicate these luxury pieces and to create a worldwide demand for it.
Newness to task is amazingly no excuse for a substandard product: the standards are zealously high. This is no therapeutic activity designed to keep people busy for the afternoon craft time. Learning curves are steep and intense – and there is a lot at stake. This is business – sophisticated, high-standard, luxury business. Every corner of the property is impeccably maintained. Its farm machinery is mostly Ferrari and Lamborghini. Its buildings are beautiful and every corner of the property is maintained by the Landscaping and Gardening practice groups like palace grounds. One is reminded often that this place exists on "amore per la qualità" – "the love of quality" – in both our inner and outer lives.
Commercial activities like this project generate 18M euro per year towards the 42M-euro annual operating budget. Sanpa accepts zero government funding, finding it easier to exist without the ridiculously fickle, complicated, distracting, political and short-term nature of government funding. The rest of its annual operating budget is provided by friends – wealthy, powerful and influential friends – who are drawn to Sanpa's story, its standards and its significance. Many of these friends spend Christmas and New Years’ Eve at Sanpa for their own inspiration and recovery. Thousands more visit each year and become supporters – all starting with a welcome as warm as the one we received.
* * *
Going on a field trip like this (on the advice of a good friend) was a reminder in itself to keep venturing out into the world to find incredible stories that will leave a dent in you. We toured most of the day and did not see all of San Patrignano, which means we will undoubtedly go back someday to learn more from all the Sanpa community is doing.
The lessons from that day continue to inspire and inform our approach to the work of leadership development. We are actively weeding out our tendency to hesitate and or avoid conflict. We are hungrier to learn new things and are setting our standards higher than is reasonable. We are also building time for friendship into our day-to-day operations. And we are eating better food with the kinds of people who tell you that you have to go and see something to believe it.
If you are planning on being in Italy and would like to visit San Patrignano, please be in touch and we can introduce you to their International Coordinator. And then we can share the wonders of the experience (over dinner) when you return.
Ian Chisholm is the Founding Partner of Roy Group.
Rolling with Roy Group
for a Decade
About a decade ago, tennis balls, fascinating stories about The Isle of Skye and three questions made Fountain Tire an even better place. The impetus for this change came from what I had learned through a Roy Group course, The Leader’s Discipline™.
During this experience I was offered useful and portable tools to create safe conversations back at work. The tools gave me insight on how I could learn to improve from anyone. My improvement in conversation, true listening and stronger focus on the end result nudged other Fountain Tire leaders to seek out these tools from Roy Group.
Over the years I have wandered away from The Leader’s Discipline™, yet only temporarily. The learning is so portable. It sits in my head and the memories of its effectiveness haunt me.
Recently I found myself back, this time for the Opportunity in Conflict experience. As expected, I was taught powerful concepts through wonderful storytelling and left the experience with useful tools to help me personally and professionally.
Perhaps of equal importance, I left with that familiar Roy Group inspiration, that despite all the complexities and fears that are part of a leader’s life we should all be grateful that we have the opportunity to lead.
Brent Hesje is CEO of Fountain Tire, a nationally recognized tire dealer based in Edmonton, Alberta. Fountain Tire is a member of the Platinum Club, a category reserved for companies that have been winners of Canada’s Best Managed Companies for seven consecutive years.
Roy Group offers The Leader’s Discipline™ in Victoria (spring 2015, fall 2015) and Edmonton (summer 2015); and Opportunity in Conflict in Victoria (spring 2015). For more information and the current schedule, see “Upcoming Events” at the Roy Group website or call 888.656.2420.
Family or Tribe?
Exploring the Shadows of Organizational Metaphors
A poet’s work is all about creating a language big enough to represent both the world that you inhabit and the next, larger world that awaits you.
– Lisa Burrell interviews David Whyte in “A Larger Language for Business,” Harvard Business Review (May 2007)
“Small,” “large,” “quirky,” “established, “entrepreneurial,” “institutional” – these are some of the adjectives used to describe organizations that are as varied as the people who work inside them. Yet often this wide array of adjectives is unable to communicate what it actually feels like to work where we do. That’s when we reach to the top of the language shelf for a metaphor.
The subtleties that everyday language fails to convey are often better expressed in a metaphor: Management describes their current project as “a train wreck”; a protégé labels her Mentor as “a Jedi”; a disenchanted team defines their office environment as “the nest of vipers”; a journalist writes how the “marriage” between two countries is being tested; a team refers to the next phase of their business as “Everest”; a school faculty terms themselves “a family.”
In the realm of symbol, where one thing represents another, the spare language of poetry has the ability to capture the multiple layers of meaning inherent in a situation in just a few words. A metaphor allows the listener to instantly grasp a deeper, richer meaning and to experience the feeling behind a concept. Someone using a metaphor in conversation is expressing a desire to have the listener fully understand all the aspects and unique complexities of an evolving situation. We should pay attention immediately!
While there are boundless options for metaphorically capturing the essence of our workplaces, as leaders we would be wise to choose our metaphors carefully for, once chosen, a metaphor has the power to shape our work and to shape us.
Back to Basics: The Metaphor of Family
BARTLET: “...You guys are like family.… I love you all very much, and I don’t say that often enough. [to Sam] So, tell me what the problem is, Toby.”
SAM: “I’m Sam, sir.”
– From NBC TV Series The West Wing
“Family” is an enticing metaphor that has surfaced more and more across all sectors and fields in the last two years. Highly accessible and easy for anyone to relate to – since we all come from one form of family or another – the “family” metaphor is common in business today. But for thousands of years, “family” was not a metaphor at all. “Family” was the work unit of society: the “family farm,” the “ma and pa shop,” “Vendor & Son” and “Acme Bros.” These familiar shingles have hung throughout our history clearly signaling that families of related people routinely worked together.
Today we’ve moved on from the actual to the metaphorical “family” in the workplace. We have cast unrelated people into roles where they work closely together, as “family.”
Why has “family” re-emerged as a symbol to engage people in the workplace?
We suspect that, with up to four generations working together and attempting to find function in their differences, organizations are trying on this most “familiar” of organizational metaphors. We suspect that the popularity of the “family” metaphor stems from organizational leaders reaching out to engage the Millennials – the generation who have made it clear that they value balance, strong social connections, active feedback loops, and an emotional connection to their work and manager.
Undoubtedly, choosing the “family” metaphor to describe our work together is an attempt to connect with the themes around families that we hold dear: People care about each other in families. People protect each other in families. People share in families, grow and develop in families. People in families are deeply – even unreasonably – invested in each other’s success. At their core (under varying levels of crust and quirkiness), families are often tender and tenacious. We choose “family” as a metaphor because we believe we want to create and work in an organizational system that is loving and resilient.
Sound like a great idea? Just be careful.
Families, as fundamental to our existence as they are, have their shadow side: they can be painful, awkward and irrational. As adults, there are few of us who do not wrestle sooner or later with family of origin issues, the barrage of hang-ups, fears and mental models, authority figures, and/or learned helplessness that contribute to the stew of dynamics shaping who we believe we are.
People also frequently hide things in families. We sidestep uncomfortable topics so that all can save face. Often there is a strange sense of avoided accountability: “Oh, that – that is just Uncle Fred being Uncle Fred.” “It’s just always been that way.” Families can come with all sorts of unfair obligations, unchallenged truths, and compromised autonomies. Bad habits, mimicked patterns and suboptimal survival mechanisms are often acquired in families. We might be prepared to lie, cheat or steal for our family. Our souls may even take some bruising in families – an inescapable dynamic of being human.
And then, one day, in order to fully leverage our own personal sovereignty, we leave our family (in a real or metaphorical sense) to begin our own lives. So why would we want to model our organizations after an entity that people have to leave to fully become themselves? Do we really want to work for “the family”?
There is a reason that organized crime uses the “family” metaphor to get things done.
The tough thing about families is that someone has to be parental and occupy the throne of power. But in business, the metaphor of leader as “parent” has several serious limitations when it comes to describing the kind of stewardship organizations need today. Placed on a pedestal of biblical proportions, parents are not questioned – they are revered. What “mommy” or “daddy” says goes.
Parents are never subjected to performance reviews, or given honest feedback or encouraged to admit that they need to learn more about their craft. We position them as unquestionable authorities who will tell us what is proper and to be valued and what is not. Parents are not allowed to show weakness or to admit fear. Instead, we believe in the Santa Clauses they swear to be real and believe that we are safe because our parents are in control.
While the metaphor of “family” is neither exclusively good or bad, we need to realize that, as Chief Poetic Officers of our organizations, when we brand ourselves with a metaphor we create possibilities and also impose limitations where our good intentions may be matched with unintended consequences. As leaders, we must be alert to both potential outcomes.
Going Tribal: The Metaphor of Intentional Community
At Roy Group, we prefer the metaphor of “tribe” for organizations. At its best, it is a colourful metaphor, one with character, ritual and mystery.
In an ideal tribe, autonomy is not traded in for accountability. Individuals have responsibilities to the collective and within those responsibilities are able to leverage themselves into the work to create a virtuous cycle that assists the self with personal growth and knowledge. This is a far cry from participating in an ongoing vicious cycle that subjugates the self to unconscious familial patterns.
As Seth Godin points out in his brilliant little book Tribes, modern-day tribes have been appearing for several years now, largely due to social media’s capacity to introduce and unite people who share a passion. We like the metaphor of “tribe” better than the metaphor of “family” because it embodies some of the strongest, best elements of the family while allowing more personal autonomy. It also invites adult-to-adult, rather than parent-to-child, relationships to flourish.
Defined by a blend of three key characteristics, the paradigm of a modern-day tribe proffers an exciting new metaphor to which our teams and organizations may aspire.
1. Tribes are fundamentally about something bigger than themselves.
Some noble promise has been made. Tribes have a purpose they pursue with focus. They are protecting something, questing for something, yearning for something. They stand for something that unites the whole.
2. Tribes value the archetype of the elder or tribal leader within the community.
An elder embodies the spirit of the community’s purpose at what feels like a cellular level. Tribal leaders have no need to explain their values or philosophy: they wear their intentions on their sleeve. They are teachers, advisors, and confidantes to the next generation. They invest in the next generation. Tribal leaders are trusted and become more potent with each organizational challenge. They invite tribal members to present their finest selves and make their finest contribution, continually fostering in others the ability to take up their own personal leadership challenges.
3. Tribes use tools, rituals and ceremonies to deal with arising concerns.
Even though the content may be new, tribes have a predictable system of practices at hand for responding to issues. They know what kinds of gatherings or discussions are needed to plan for the future, respond to a crisis or address a wrongdoing. Tribes convene whatever conversation is necessary in order to realign them with their noble promise. Moreover, there is a functional transparency of how business is conducted for all tribal members to see, which holds them accountable to each other. There is less nonsense in tribes: the costs of not staying true are too high.
Are we prepared to honestly examine our shadows – old and new?
Crafting this article enabled our Roy Group Team to take our own advice: we weighed the shadow side of a modern-day tribe against its strengths before completely signing on.
We foresaw how
the dark side of a strong tribal identity can tip the balance into exclusive, damaging pride;
all turns sour if tribal leaders cannot be removed democratically from their leadership role when they need to be; and
given the circumstance where an individual’s autonomy has surrendered to the collective, the tribe can become a gang and those within it unthinking thugs.
Thus, even when we embrace the modern-day tribe as a metaphor, we must keep our radars keen for signals of corruption, arrogance and insularity within our organizations.
What would it look like if your team grew into the vision of the high-quality team that has been wavering on the horizon?
As a leader in your own organization, you can connect with the upcoming generation to discover your own organizational metaphor by engaging them in a conversation. What adjectives describe how it feels to work together now? How would they like it to feel? What metaphor would invite your team to perform more masterfully, to learn more voraciously, and to engage more completely? What metaphor “represents the world that you inhabit now and the next, larger world that awaits you” – at the same time?
Find an imaginative way to convene that conversation.
And choose wisely.
Ian Chisholm is the founding partner of Roy Group.
Building a Great Workplace
In May, Incite was recognized by Alberta Venture as Alberta’s Best Workplace for Under 100 Employees. We are really proud of the culture, team and environment we have built at Incite over the last 15 years, and receiving this award was certainly a special moment to honour that. It was also a great opportunity to reflect on what helped us win this award.
In looking at what makes Incite’s workplace special, there are the easily identified things like our social events (i.e. Incite Alumni Reunion), our focus on family (i.e. Bring Your Family to Work Day), and our commitment to community (i.e. Annual Volunteer Day). However, I believe it is the not-so-easily seen operating principles and beliefs that drive us.
There are three key lessons we’ve learned in our work with the Roy Group that are critical to how we operate and are important reasons why Incite is a great place to work.
1. Leaders at All Levels
Everyone can lead. Leadership has very little to do with titles and roles, and a great deal to do with empowerment, engagement, and commitment. We have embraced the philosophy of building leaders throughout our organization, and firmly believe that every member of our team can and should have the opportunity to provide leadership.
We have seen huge personal transformation in people by fostering in them the idea that they can lead. Some of our best ideas have come from what traditionally would be thought of as junior roles, and we have witnessed first hand what happens when you build a sense of self-belief in all people in an organization. On a regular basis, our newest team members coach senior management through complex issues and members of our admin support team participate in client brainstorms. When you recognize that everyone can lead, you unlock the potential of your team.
2. Coaching Approach to Learning
We have pursued a more non-directive approach to personal learning and development. Historically, we defaulted to a "tell people what to do" mentality that, while seemingly effective in the short term, does not foster in its people the sense of inquiry, understanding, or commitment an organization needs to really raise its game.
The idea that leadership is not about providing answers but rather asking better questions has changed the way we operate and is fundamental to our belief in the potential of our people. We have developed our coaching capacity with Roy Group's The Leader's Discipline™. This encourages leaders at all levels to solve their own problems.
3. Accountability and Feedback
Finally, and likely still our greatest area to work on, is the idea that a great workplace is not simply one where people get along and have fun. A great workplace is defined more by people’s ability and willingness to provide honest feedback and to hold each other accountable to the highest standards. While not always easy or comfortable, a true friend tells you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.
We have seen that people’s job satisfaction is highest when they are learning and growing, and when they are contributing to impactful and significant work. People don’t just want a pat on the back, they want an honest critique of their performance in a way that helps them get better. To build a culture that embraces delivering such feedback as part of its daily operations is not easy because the truth can be ugly sometimes. At Incite, this is still a work in progress, but we know it will only make us better.
Roy Group has been a special advisor, partner and friend to Incite, and we thank them for helping us work towards our goal of creating a company that helps leaders achieve their greatness.
Ted Kouri is co-founder and Principal at Incite, an Edmonton-based, business-to-business marketing firm.
For information on Roy Group's The Leader's Discipline™ course, see “Upcoming Events” at the top of this webpage or call 888.656.2420.
The Long Game
Crisis and Engagement
It’s the reward and recognition season again. Chances are high that mugs will go once more to individuals and teams who lead the charge during one crisis or another. Listen for it. Fires, floods, and disasters (literal or figurative) are often the focus for our award ceremonies.
In your work life, if you have ever had the opportunity to take part in any sort of crisis response, you will know that people say, “It was our finest moment.” There is just something about blatant adversity that brings out the best in us.
I would also bet that, a short three months after the crisis, the same folks would say their workplace was back to the same old, same old. Oh, sure, people are still working hard, doing a good job and getting the work done, but with nowhere near the spirit, energy, and personal accountability that arose during the crisis.
So, the question becomes, How do we invite the same engagement that appears during a crisis into the everyday?
Lately, I have been working with an interesting leader who has been wrestling with this question. Ryan Jestin heads up the Roads Department for the City of Calgary and was front and center with Mayor Nenshi during the devastating floods in 2013. In any crisis situation, transportation becomes a key factor, and Ryan’s team of over 1,000 frontline public servants responded to that flood with an ingenuity and focus never-before-seen, even by them. Engagement was through the roof. People felt that what they did was important.
In returning to business as usual, Ryan and his team expected that this “high” might wane a bit. What they did not expect was a complete return to the engagement levels they had before the crisis. Ryan is ex-military and has an ability to lean into the punch of a tough conversation. He opened up the discussion, engaging in an after-action review, and decided to challenge his leadership team with the question, “Where did our extraordinary teamwork go?”
Using a collection of engagement methods I had shared with Ryan (methods I will be sharing at a Roy Group event in Edmonton 17-19 June 2014), Ryan convened the conversation with his entire team. Here are some of our key findings that the conversation unearthed:
People capable of high performance, can be engaged less than 50% for all sorts of reasons. Multiply that across your entire team and you have a seriously compromised capacity to deliver something excellent. This dynamic is presented very clearly in a one-year study conducted by Gallup’s Employee Engagement Index, which found that 28% of employees were engaged, 54% were not engaged, and 17% were actually actively not engaged.
In other words, 71% of the workforce is either underperforming or actively undermining productivity.
What we came to understand through our conversations with Ryan’s team was that, if an organization was typically around 40% engaged during regular times, in a crisis situation the engagement scores would spike into the high nineties. Not magic – just people being fully engaged, counted on (a nice way to see accountability) and aware that what they were noticing and contributing was important.
How do we maintain the levels of engagement that we see in crisis situations in our everyday work affairs? Crisis is by its very nature unsustainable; it is temporary. Real engagement has to be fully sustainable, built into the everyday, and is best done through the everyday practice of those leaders who know how important it is. Engagement work must be more purposeful than serendipitous, more strategic than tactical, and more cultural than policy.
It’s a long game, not a fast hit. And if you are not getting stronger and stronger you are going to lose ground.
Sustainable engagement is about having rituals that people can count on that allow them to have the conversations that they need to have everyday – the way we do in a crisis situation. Good intelligence, no-nonsense feedback and status reports, coordination of resources, a suspension of silos, and maybe most of all (around the edges) personal check-ins with people about how they are really doing. Regardless of the content that we need to tackle, we know that the processes exist for us to make sense of it together in real time and act accordingly.
The slow and steady leader wins the long game, using tools and practices every day, developing their own people to convene these conversations in a cost-effective way, and quietly but firmly building a systemic engagement where the lasting difference is made – in the everyday.
Bob Chartier is an organizational myth-buster, a seasoned engagement leader and Special Advisor to Roy Group. For information on Bob’s June event in Edmonton, see “Upcoming Events” at the top of this webpage or call 888.656.2420.
Most everyone would agree that good communication is key to any organization functioning effectively. And yet, good communication is harder to accomplish than we think. Here are three common communication errors and some quick fixes to consider.
Error #1: “Sure, I understand.”
More often than not, we have no real idea whether we accurately understand or have been understood.
Do you understand?” “Yes, I understand.” We are all familiar with these phrases and occasionally the second statement might be true. However, in my conflict work, when I ask my clients “What is it that you think you have understood?”, the message received is rarely the message that was being sent.
Try it yourself. Next time you are trying to communicate something important to someone, ask them to repeat back to you what they think they heard you say. If they missed your message, it’s no problem because you now have an opportunity to clarify. Everyone wins.
NOTE: Avoid using the phrase “You weren’t listening.” It’s a guaranteed listening killer!
Error #2: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...”
Too many words will kill the message.
Making an excellent point and then emphasizing it by repeating it five different ways doesn’t make for a better point. It usually has the opposite effect and causes people to stop listening. A typical human capacity for absorbing a clear message is about five to six sentences. Beyond five sentences, people’s attention strays or the message begins to get muddled.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. A message delivered ONCE in a concise and simple manner is quite sufficient.
Two or three sentences are more effective than a paragraph or two. And, it takes way less time!
Error #3 “I’ve talked myself blue and nothing changes.”
A common communication mistake is to complain to the wrong party.
Just because you feel strongly about something and have possibly complained to your friends about it, doesn’t mean you have communicated it to the right people. This mistake is easy to make because taking a problem to the source can often feel scary.
We may justify our avoidance by saying, “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings,” or “I don’t want to risk making someone angry at me,” or “Nothing will be done about it anyway.”
These things might or might not be true, but one thing is certain: if we don’t address the problem directly, it’s pretty much guaranteed to remain a problem.
Alice Estey is a Mediator and Conflict Management Specialist. She also serves as an Alternate Dispute Resolution Adviser for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and is deployed throughout the country to assist in conflict management at FEMA disaster sites. In December 2014, Roy Group will be offering Opportunity in Conflict in Edmonton, facilitated by Alice and Anne-Marie Daniel. For more information, see “Upcoming Events” at the top of this webpage or call 888.656.2420.
The Process Story
The dog handler was apparently vaporized in the explosion along with his dog, Ben.
Over the radio in the operations room, I heard the patrol commander almost laconically report “the dog’s gone” and was able to make it outside in time to see a cloud of smoke towering into the South Armagh sky, followed by the unmistakable “thud” of the fatal IED going off in the far distance.
* * * * * * *
For the past 18 years I have been helping people in all kinds of organizations work together to improve their business processes. Frequently, I find they struggle mightily with the complex reality of their daily business lives to the extent that they become bogged down in the detail. Many well intentioned consultants (including yours truly) try to help out by providing flowchart software and other tools in an earnest effort to make it easier; but we can frequently create more problems than we solve.
W. Edwards Deming, the “father” of Continuous Improvement, once famously noted, “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” So, for me anyway, a good process is like a good story with a happy ending. My dog handler story at the start of this piece had a very unhappy ending, unfortunately, largely because the chapters weren’t told in the proper order.
As you can imagine, with most things in the army there is a process for doing just about anything, including employing a trained search dog and handler for detecting Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs. When told properly (i.e., when the process is followed), the story can be retold by anyone on the team and it usually has a happy ending. It goes something like this:
Chapter 1: When a patrol member spots something unusual in a hedge or a field or a street, the escorting patrol forms a defensive perimeter and covers the dog handler and the dog as they go to work.
Chapter 2: From a safe position the dog handler then “casts” the dog — directs it using voice commands and gestures — to move up to sniff out any possible explosives in or near the suspicious object. (As an aside, this is both a fascinating and a humbling process to see in action.)
Chapter 3: If there’s no problem, the handler recalls the dog and the patrol carries on. However, if the dog “indicates” or “points” at the object or surrounding area, as these dogs are well trained to do, the handler recalls the dog to safety and the patrol commander then seals off the area so no one can approach the suspicious object.
Chapter 4: A large-scale clearance operation, using engineers and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units, is then launched to neutralize or remove the danger and we “all live happily ever after.”
Really, it’s that simple.
Of course a variety of other things can be unfolding at the same time as the four main chapters in the story. But it is these four simple steps contained within the context of a story about IED clearing, told in the same order every time, that are the important things to remember. During my time in Northern Ireland, I led soldiers in counter insurgency operations like this on an almost daily basis with no problems at all.
So what went wrong with this particular story?
The dog handler apparently told the story of Chapter 3 wrong. For whatever reason, no one will ever really know why of course, Ben “indicated” and the handler didn’t believe him. Unaccountably, the handler then walked up to where Ben was standing rigidly at the point to check things out and “Boom!” — no more Ben, no more handler.
Luckily, most of the frustrating process stories we wrestle with on a daily basis deal with consequences that are somewhat less dire than in the example I’ve shared here. Nevertheless, if you find yourself mired in the detail, take a step back and work with your team to tell a story about the process you are trying to fix. If one of the chapters seems out of place, work together to retell the story until it makes sense and more often than not I think you’ll find that you will, like me, live happily ever after!
Richard Eaton is a Principal of Berlin Eaton. Roy Group will be introducing Richard's approach to a small group of clients in Edmonton May 1 and 2. For more details, see “Upcoming Events” at the top of this webpage or call 888.656.2420.
A Powerful Tool to Recognize Skill and Achievement
Sir John Daniel, O.C.
I commend Roy Group for choosing Open Badges to certify the skills and knowledge acquired at its learning events.
Open Badges expand the ways that we can recognize the outcomes of continuing professional development to keep pace with the diversifying learning needs of today’s organizations. They are part of a wider trend, sometimes called ‘post-traditional’ higher education, to open up opportunities for learning on new dimensions.
One dimension is to open up learning content: Open Educational Resources (OERs) are making material on every imaginable topic freely available on the Internet for copying, sharing, modifying and re-mixing. Another dimension is to open up teaching: MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses now available free worldwide, give informal training opportunities to millions. The third and vital dimension is opening up certification and recognition.
Most people, when they learn new skills and knowledge, want their extra expertise to be recognized – by their colleagues, by their employers and by the wider society. Traditional frameworks of certificates, diplomas and degrees provide such certification at many levels of education and training. But today these traditional frameworks no longer provide suitable recognition for many of the outcomes of the diverse processes through which people learn new knowledge and skills.
One reason is that traditional qualifications usually require people to study for longer than they really need to learn many important contemporary skills. Today’s trends are towards more intense learning experiences and breaking down long courses into short modules.
A second key issue is that the best body to certify the successful learning of many modern skills is not an academic institution, but rather the community of practice that uses those skills on a daily basis.
Third, the papers that come with traditional qualifications (certificates and transcripts) don’t give much information on the competences learners acquired and how they were learned and tested. In pre-Internet days this would have made such papers long and tedious. Digital technologies create new possibilities, as they do for learning generally.
Open Badges address all three of these weaknesses in traditional qualifications systems. First they can provide recognition for learning events of any duration, from a single lecture to a multi-year programme. For example, the DeTao Masters Academy, a pioneer of Open Badges in China, uses them to certify its learners after events ranging from a lecture by one of its Masters (subject to a successful test) to a three-year programme in Film Animation.
Second, any individual, group or institution can issue badges. The currency of the badge depends on the credibility of the entity issuing it. Open Badges began in the software industry, where the best people to assess competence in a particular programming skill are those who work with the software involved. This allows newer organizations, such as Roy Group, to issue badges. The badges can include endorsements from organizations that have found the learning events covered by a particular badge useful for their staff. Such endorsements give badges added credibility.
Third, Open Badges are based on Web technology. Mozilla developed it as an open source platform combining consistency and flexibility. By clicking on a badge that an individual presents, you can see who issued the badge, what content/skills it covers, how they were taught and assessed, how long the training lasted, which organizations endorse its value, and so on.
Badges serve many purposes. Some well-known universities, such as Purdue University in the United States, award them to motivate students for acquiring particular skills within a longer traditional credit course, as well as to interest children in subjects like veterinary medicine, that they might study later.
Roy Group has gained a high reputation for its practical way of developing leadership skills that people can retain and use successfully for years. It is now demonstrating its own leadership by using Open Badges to recognize formally the skills and experience that its clients acquire.
Sir John Daniel is a 40-year veteran of Open, Distance and Online Learning whose career has focused on the meeting point of technology, education and development. In recognition of his efforts towards “educating the world,” each of the three countries in which he has lived and worked have distinguished his achievements with national honours: France – Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Chevalier–1986; Officier–1991); United Kingdom – Knight Bachelor (1994); Canada – Order of Canada (Officer–2013).
Among Sir John's 340 publications are his books Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education (Kogan Page, 1996) and Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All (Routledge, 2010).
For more information about Roy Group Open Badges, visit badges.roygroup.net.
In Self 2 We Trust
The Inner Game is about high performance, learning from experience and enjoying all of one's life.
After 40 years of observation, these three attributes are what happen spontaneously when a person is working or playing from their natural self. You can observe all three in young children who are just being themselves, showing the many qualities we admire and love. A good example is three-year-old Michael Patton of Dublin, Ireland who made the news recently in a home video that captured him giggling and nonchalantly hitting a string of chip shots through a hole in the roof of his playhouse.
Yet, somewhere in the process of trying to control them to be the kind of children we think they should be in order to fit in with society, we parents and teachers make it more and more difficult for growing children to access the original qualities and attributes they were born with.
At a Roy Group gathering recently, I asked participants to make a list of the inherent attributes they observe in young children. Here is what made the list:
spontaneity – curiosity – an appetite for learning
joy – giving and receiving love – trust – openness
autonomy – creativity – fearlessness – innate confidence
no judgement – contentment (once basic needs are met)
freedom – knowing exactly what they want/need
energy – no worry
After listing these attributes and reflecting upon them, it was impossible for the participants not to develop an admiration for our human existence and to realize that they were once the same way: spontaneous, curious, joyful — free.
And then a rather confronting question came up: So, what happened?
This began the discussion about the emergence of Self 1 and its ability to decide, "I'm not good enough," "I can't do this," "I'm always wrong," "So-and-So is so much smarter than I am" or even "I'm the smartest, the best!" "Look what I can do!" etc.
My recognition of this phenomenon started while on sabbatical from a career in higher education, when I was instructing tennis. This was a time when my Self 1 was strongly crippling me. I began to notice that most of the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" I was imposing on my students, technically correct though they were, actually interfered with learning and performance. Then, instead of just looking at the students' strokes and correcting every instance of "incorrectness," I started asking a different kind of question: "I wonder what's going on in the minds of these tennis players when the ball comes towards them?"
What I discovered changed the very foundation of how I taught. For the most part, the tennis students were trying to remember my instructions, trying hard to do what I said they should, and trying hard not to do whatever I had told them they shouldn't. In the act of "trying hard" they tightened too many muscles and their shots looked stiff and mechanical. To complicate things further, when I would sometimes say, "Relax," they would get really confused. By "teaching" tennis, I was making tennis harder to learn.
As I started paying more attention to the learning process and less attention to the teaching, I myself learned a lot. Not so much about teaching, but about what actually supports learning and what gets in the way. I learned that, when I asked my students to pay attention to what was happening in their experience, they learned naturally, as children do, more quickly, and, surprisingly, with the enjoyment of seeing themselves improve without being taught how. Instead of analyzing why a student wasn't hitting the ball in the middle of the racquet, then giving three or four corrections based on that analysis, I simply asked the player after each shot to point out the place where the ball actually hit. I would often say, "Don't try to hit the ball in the center" (just to calm Self 1 down) "but be as accurate as you can about where the ball hits." About 95% of the time, it took fewer than seven swings before the student was pointing each time to the center of the racquet.
"Are you trying to hit in the center?" I would ask neutrally, and the reply was often something like, "No, I'm not doing it, my racquet is doing it." "Pretty smart racquet," I would reply. "How does it feel? What do you notice? What are the results?" "It feels great, more solid, sounds better, and the results are much better." Then I'd say, "If you weren't trying to do it, how do you really think it was happening?" "I have no idea," was the usual reply.
My only guess at the time was that, when thinking about the shoulds and shouldn'ts and trying to hit the ball correctly, the player didn't see the ball very well. Later, I realized that my instructions had been invoking the players' stress system — releasing stress hormones —and, in simple terms, evoking the fight-flight-freeze-flock response. In such an environment, the player saw the approaching ball as a "threat" or "a probable mistake" flying through the air. They would often back up (flight), then tighten too many muscles to lash out at the ball (fight), while trying to conform (flock) to how everyone else did it.
Of course, the player's physiological reactions attended to this perception of the ball, and the results were usually worse than desired. Thus the player would confirm his pre-thinking: "I don't have a very good backhand. I'm not a very good tennis player. In fact, I guess I'm just not good at sports." And, finally, after a few more disastrous shots, "I'm not a very good person."
Self 1's favorite trick is to get you to identify yourself with your performance. It wants you to think you are Self 1 or, as my Dad used to say, "I'm a self-made man."
Of course he meant something different, but remembering Dad's phrase made me shudder at the thought of my Self 1 trying to make me who I was, rather than discovering the Self I had always been and would always be during the journey of my life: an independent being with consciousness, with choice, and with a treasure of unimaginable seeds of potential that I could enjoy as they grew and developed.
Who whould have thought that the journey was designed to be a beautiful and graceful process of learning through experience as well as learning to understand and appreciate the value of the gift we have been given simply by being a human being?
W. Timothy Gallwey is the bestselling author of The Inner Game, a series of books which set forth a new methodology for the development of personal and professional excellence in a variety of fields. His long-term clients include Apple, AT&T, The Coca Cola Company, and Rolls Royce, where The Inner Game is applied to leadership, sales, change management and teamwork.
Tim was a special guest leader at the recent Roy Group Mastery Forum in Victoria.
BRought In vs. Bought In
Leaders need to be careful whenever they hear themselves saying the words “buy-in” ... very, very, careful. The people they are talking to just may be having a strong allergic reaction to that phrase.
As a “lifer” on the front lines of organizations, I always felt that buy-in was somehow an obligation or even worse … my fault. If organizational initiatives did not work, it was because we did not buy-in deep enough, last year.
Inevitably, it felt the worst on those days when management called us all together for an “all staff” meeting to present us with the new Strategic Plan or some other important “thrust.” (How is that for a piece of cool retro jargon?) In my imagination and the imaginations of those sitting next to me, the management team had been off to some island with a facilitator, a five iron and a flip chart and were now ready to “roll out” the new plan. Oh, how we lived in rapturous anticipation of, once again, having something rolled out over the top of us.
There they were at the front of the room, sitting in a row, addressing the masses while pounding through a thirty-six page PowerPoint deck, and almost always wrapping up with a perky exhortation of, “Now, all that we need to make this work is your buy-in!”
It always made me feel like one of those old dudes in the balcony on The Muppet Show. All I could think was, “How about taking me along to the resort next time if you really want my buy-in?”
Ten years later, I discovered systems thinking. One year after that, I had the amazing opportunity to facilitate a process with our entire organization in a community hall. Everyone from the summer interns to the Director General was there. With the right design of the day and practitioners who knew how to run it, we hosted hundreds of small and large conversations across classification lines, across departmental lines and across long-held mental model lines.
We wound up the day with over one-hundred and twenty recommendations, ideas and possibilities covering a wall at the end of the hall. Our Director General closed the day by saying, “I have been going through these recommendations. Some are brilliant, some might be possible and some are never going to happen. Three weeks from now, we are heading off to the island to do our annual planning exercise. I am taking this valuable intelligence with us and we are going to use it to have the conversations that we need to have.”
And he did.
When management returned and called us together, we could see elements of our day together in that new plan … not everything, but enough to know they had listened and used the most timely and most relevant suggestions that we had offered. We had been invited in at the front end of the work, instead of trying to be sold to, out the back.
We didn't need to be bought in - because we had been bRought in.
That big Roy Group “R” had made all the difference.
We should be asking some hard question these days. Are we still using a tired old model where the senior team gets to design the future and everyone else just needs to do what they are told? Or are we the kinds of leaders that co-create, that create space for the conversations that need to happen, and who actually believe that every single person in our organization has seen glimpses and heard whispers of what we could yet be?
Bob Chartier is a song-writer, organizational myth-buster and committed Canadian public servant. He is also a Special Advisor to Roy Group.
We shape ourself
To fit this world
And by the world
Are shaped again.
(From David Whyte’s poem Working Together)
Some special people in my life give me a hard time for allowing my work to define who I am. In many ways I agree with them – I put a lot of pressure on myself to find work that continually meets high expectations: great learning, high-performing teamwork and exciting challenges. There is a part of me however that refuses to heed their caution. I believe work is an opportunity for us to figure out who we are, to grow, to be challenged - to practice. I believe work is an opportunity to shape the world and in return we are shaped by the work we have done. My work is certainly a significant part of who I am.
Roy Group was founded in 2004 to be a vehicle for all those involved to learn about good work and to engage in practice that was fulfilling. I have been able to work alongside incredible leaders that believe work can be more meaningful. I have been fortunate to work with and learn from Roy Group practitioners more interested and passionate about creating great pieces of work than the desire to be great. Roy Group has given me another chance to work with and learn from Ian and Anne-Marie – both Mentors in the truest sense in my life. Roy Group has not just allowed me to learn about what makes good work but it has allowed me to engage in it.
An emerging theme of my unfolding story that has crystallized in my four years with Roy Group is this intentional positioning of leaders and teams to do their finest work. Regardless of where I go or what I do I trust that this red-hot thread will find me and push me along.
Sometimes incredible opportunities present themselves when we least expect them. Sometimes we don’t know how interesting they are until we explore them. As another Mentor once told me, “never let a cart go past without checking to see what’s in it.” I was recently presented with such an opportunity and asked to join an innovative team at WATSON Advisors. WATSON brings together governance, law, recruitment and organizational effectiveness to build boards that are able to be strategic advisors and guardians for their organizations. After careful consideration I realized that this role would allow me to continue to support leaders and teams in a strategic way, but also take full advantage of my experience in law, government and leadership development. After meeting the WATSON team I also realized that as a tribe of passionate practitioners, I could certainly see myself doing good work with them. It is one of those decisions that feels big, but I am excited for the new challenge and the new learning. I start this week!
I am extremely grateful to have been given the last four years to work with you all and I am proud to continue to support Roy Group as a Special Advisor.
I would most certainly like to stay in touch.
Bradley is a Special Advisor with Roy Group and an Associate of WATSON Advisors.
Focus on Self
When we first heard the simple expression “You are the Work” it seemed an obvious, innocent and familiar theme.
Being in the field of leadership development, we often remind others and ourselves that in addition to the demands of our jobs – meetings, tasks, assignments, projects – it would also be wise to build in some time to work on ourselves - learn something new, challenge ourselves, express something creatively or even just take time to read, think or rest. Take a message like this on board a little or a lot, and any of us start moving in a good direction. A good reminder. A comfortable stretch.
But "You are the Work" is one of those phrases that keeps beckoning at you – the kind you repeat to yourself at the bus stop. Our safe original interpretation doesn’t really do it justice.
The word “THE” is a major clue that there might be some mental model shifting that needs to happen. A more accurate phrase to describe the nudge that we have been providing to our clients is really something like: “You are also important – if there is time when the corporate priorities have been accomplished.” It is not quite as catchy, somehow. Certainly not worthy of a t-shirt. If we really thought about the implications of taking a phrase like YOU ARE THE WORK on board, it might change how we position our identity with the potential of what we do.
When taken to the nth degree, it means that each of us is THE most important piece of work we will ever be responsible for. Any of those things that we thought were the work are really just external opportunities to test our internal operating system in the world (and engage fully in the ongoing process of designing it further.)
Meetings become opportunities to connect with others. Tasks are a chance to demonstrate that we keep our word, fully – even in the presence of time and cost constraints. Assignments become a chance for us to understand new realms and develop those practices that allow us to be more fully who we are. Projects become another chance to strive for a masterpiece.
"You are the Work" might sit uncomfortably with the "service above self" aficionados as far too self-centered, self-absorbed and self-serving. This sort of mental model means that we are more important than the jobs we hold or the organizations we work for. And that is heresy of the highest order. If we buy into this narcissism – the work will surely suffer. The world will surely suffer. Or will it?
It would seem that many of the current mental models influencing work gravitate around vast overextension, personal compromise, gross imbalance and self-sacrifice. So before it is disregarded – take a look at the quality of work that would come about when a focus on self is at the core. People would engage each other, properly. People would be accountable for their work products, on time and on budget. People would have an appetite for learning and making themselves more valuable. People would ask for feedback and use it to strive for finer and finer results. People would begin to choose challenges worthy of who they are.
And when individuals working this way come together – what happens in terms of meeting the core purpose of organizations? Mindful, principled and deeply meaningful work. Hmmm. Just what the world needs more of.
Ian Chisholm is the Founding Partner of Roy Group.
Power of Pause
Anna Lisa Bond
We often hear people use the word pause.
It is used in many contexts, having very different meanings. To pause - a temporary stop or rest; a cessation of activity; a break or suspension. Pausing can occur in a moment and it can expand into a longer period of time. What is our current understanding of the action “to pause”? A moment of breath, a break from an environment, a retreat from the norm, an opportunity to reflect? A time of nothingness?
But what, if anything, does pausing have to do with leadership?
This is an invitation to consider what it means to create space for intentional pause as part of a leadership practice. A period of time committed to suspend what we know, our habits and our usual activity. A time to intentionally position oneself in what may seem a state of nothingness, and which is actually a declared space for an alchemy of creativity and novelty to flourish. Pausing invites us to consider what it’s like to be farsighted enough to suspend what we know and do, trusting, that in the process, new possibilities of being and acting will emerge.
“What sleep is to the mind and the body, pause is to leadership and innovation.” (Cashman)
As leaders, we know how to instruct, advise, inform and inquire. In leadership roles, we are required to respond to the systemic needs of the organization on a moment to moment basis. This is what leaders do. We have developed great muscles for asserting drive, control and getting things done. These skills are why leaders are in the positions they are in.
However, GREAT leaders are more than this. They are more than doing and achieving. They are more than the operational skill set required in their roles. Great leaders are transparent and intentional about their own development as professionals and as people. They are aware of the impact that they have on their environments and relationships and consciously invest in their own vitality. The common element that these people share is that they recognize the value and commit to crafting the art of pausing as part of their practice.
When we choose to integrate the practice of pausing, we invite a presence. A presence that offers the possible gifts of a different perspective, a rejuvenated mind and body, a gentle shiver of recognition, or perhaps a subtle shift in how we sense ourselves. It is difficult to experience what is just beyond our knowing, until we create the conditions for that awareness and learning to be cultivated. Once we begin to develop the art of pausing into our practice, we begin to experience, know and see something different about ourselves. In that very moment, we widen our capacity as leaders and as people. Each of these moments impact the environments and relationships that we are responsible to and for. By becoming the curators of our own collection of pausing strategies, we continue to challenge and revitalize others, simply, because of our commitment to widening our own conversation and reflection with ourselves.
What could a honed practice of pausing offer you?
Anna Lisa Bond is an Associate of Roy Group.
In August 2004, I was alone on the Isle of Skye finishing my final month as the first CEO of the Columba 1400 International Leadership Centre. My wife and our three children had returned to Vancouver to stay with her mom and dad and set up our new life there, giving me a chance to tidy up all loose ends in the transition (a.k.a. work my ass off.)
It was a tough time for me. Some regrets had snuck in about things that we had not accomplished at the Centre. I refer to it now as a bad case of CEOitis (which I have realized is quite common amongst senior leaders who leave their post). A strange resentment had festered to a point where people were noticing my mood and were undoubtedly looking forward to resetting the organization with a new CEO. I can imagine that I looked whipped - because I was - grey, tired-out and disappointed in all that had not been accomplished.
Sue and Ron Myers are very special friends of mine that I met in New York in the 90's. They are both the kind of trusted advisors that a young executive needs in his life - their deep experience has seen them advising CEO's and entrepreneurs over decades. They both enjoyed Skye, had made the trip several times and had arranged one final visit to spend a few days with me in my last month at the helm.
I don't know what they saw, or sensed or noticed in me - but they arranged an appointment with me for an afternoon in my cottage (which, at this point had three wooden chairs, a toaster, a case of beer and a hockey bag with my clothes and shaving kit).
We sat down together in the front room by the fire. They wasted no time in giving me the talking-to of my young life.
They called out things by name that they had heard me complaining about - and told me to keep a lid on it. They identified the old ideas that I was clinging on to as if they were the only things that I would ever create - and told me that they never wanted me to talk about them again, and to get busy creating new ones. Sue told me to stop beating myself up and looking for attention. But most of all, in their closing argument, Ron told me that what he wanted to see in me immediately - right there in that room - was an immense sense of "J-O-Y" for everything that had been accomplished on my watch. (He actually spelled it out for effect - which was C-O-O-L).
He didn't need me to brag about my accomplishments - or even talk about them - but I did have to take JOY in them. If there was no room for JOY - then I would have to dump something else that was taking space inside me, so that there WAS room for it. And he told me to keep dumping - until there was room for a boatload of J-O-Y.
My leadership had affected thousands of people. And I needed to take that on. It hadn't been perfect, there were regrets, I'd taken a few tough hits, I had sacrificed important things in my life for the endeavour at hand - but I had made a big old dent in the universe. And that meant that I had every reason to connect to JOY, and to leave the rest behind.
And they just wouldn't accept any other way forward.
My head went down and I started to cry - and then laugh - and then hoot and holler. And then I cried some more and laughed some more, and we drank that beer in the fridge and laughed again. In the weeks ahead, my last on Skye, I reflected on all that had happened and had no choice to admit that Sue and Ron Myers were right - and that they had helped me move on to the next chapter of my life.
Many of you will know that I believe in the power of a non-directive approach and the ownership and responsibility that this approach creates. But what I learned that day is that there is a time when good friends, and trusted advisors, need to lay advice down so clearly that you have no choice but to pick it up - as a strong steer in the right direction - and go forward differently.
Ian Chisholm is the Founding Partner of Roy Group.
April 12, 2013
Hang on, because the path to grow your business can be fraught with peril. This is just not a journey for the weak of heart.
Last August, Incite's executive team met with Roy Group for a two-day retreat. The purpose was to focus on making tough decisions that will help us move forward. After several discussions, it soon became clear that a more focused approach in the marketplace would eventually position us ahead of our competition. But in order to commit to a more streamlined offering, we had to take a few steps backwards (in revenue and market share) in order to hopefully make a giant leap forwards.
It’s easy to say “let’s narrow our service offering”, but actually following-through on this kind of self-imposed constraint is a different story. It resulted in us examining our skill-set, assessing our strengths, and eliminating some unprofitable clients who just didn’t fit what we have to offer.
But, as luck would have it, this was not an opportune time for us to make a decision like this.
Shortly after our retreat, two major accounts made announcements that they could no longer work with us for reasons beyond our control. The CEO of one account passed away, and another account was acquired by one of their competitors.
What we thought would be a short-term revenue crunch turned into a full-blown crisis.
Just when we thought we had made a terrible mistake, Roy Group pointed out that this was "the call" - a mythical milestone that every heroic venture includes. They were using language from The Hero's Journey (from the life's work of Joseph Campbell).
With open minds and eager ears, we listened as they explained the architecture of The Hero's Journey, a series of events that Campbell believed marked the key points in every human story. It goes something like this:
The hero begins in the ordinary world, when “the call” appears to enter an unknown world of strange powers and events. This call reveals a crisis that is unexpected, unpredicted, and daunting to the core.
Shouldering the gravity of this crisis becomes unbearable and the hero within the story is filled with doubt, isolation, anxiety and fear, and finds themselves in "the pit of despair" - depression, darkness, and hopelessness set in.
If the hero can just endure, the theme of hope makes an entrance - closely followed by the most familiar themes of friendship, family, mentorship and tribe. A new order of things begins to show itself and there is a bold "emergence". Fueled with newfound allies and strength, the hero becomes capable of a victory that could not have been imagined in the pit of despair.
During the great banquet or whatever celebration follows the triumph, the hero connects to a sense that there is a new challenge approaching over the horizon. With this "the hero's return" marks the time in the story where the hero makes a courageous choice to quest again, to serve again, to lead again, to be tested again, and to throw themselves to forces larger than them, once again.
As entrepreneurs, executives, and leaders, we know this story. It is ours. It resonated with our situation and accurately portrayed the choices we had in front of us. With help from Roy Group, Incite got through.
Here are a few of the lessons I took from this:
Be conscious and honest about where you are in the cycle of the Hero's Journey and know what it is time for.
Recognize when you’re in the "pit of despair" - engage the chance to have your metal tested and know that there is always a way forward.
Plan ahead and know that the decision to grow will inevitably introduce some form of crisis into your organization.
Good luck on your journey!
Jared Smith is Principal and Co-Founder of Incite, a Western Canadian marketing firm and Roy Group partner in developing the leadership our communities need.
Culture or Not?
March 1, 2013
Recently, for whatever reason, I have been acutely tuned in to and moved by small but big acts of compassion from people who put themselves at the heart of a situation and offered their best to lead. These seemed to be individuals who were not concerned so much about “the job” and much more interested in the actual work.
A recent example got me thinking: has the organisation these leaders are members of wonderfully nurtured a culture to enable such simple and authentic levels of presence or is it that whatever their culture might be “good people” will unerringly behave in the most appropriate and meaningful ways?
I have often pondered too, why some people seem to do excellent work no matter the task, circumstance or environment. I have a friend who excelled wherever he “earned his money”. During our student years I worked with him in bars, on building sites, in offices and on farms. He has since gone on to apprentice in his profession and grown to be a senior leader. In each of these “arenas” he has done wonderful work, no matter the variety of role, the clients he was facing or the people he worked with, for or who reported to him. Culture? Stellar individual? Character? Emotional intelligence? All of these and more?
Join me as I embark on an internal flight with a low cost carrier. There are no frills here. The targets for this organisation are to sell as much as possible while in the air, turn around and get off the ground as quickly as possible having landed and get people on their bottoms faster than you can say, “Is this seat taken?”
As we take off a gentleman in an aisle seat three rows in front of me seems to pass out and collapse across the aisle, held in only by his seat belt. This is the first of this unfortunate man’s ever worsening, very ill, moments during our flight.
Throughout the flight all the attendants, and the Spanish male steward in particular, care for him as though they are travelling with him, as though he is a member of their family. The sales trolley is unceremoniously dumped; he is cleaned and freshened over and over, quietly, sensitively and with great attention. He is spoken to throughout, softly, almost in calm whispers, drawing as little attention to his embarrassment as possible.
Upon landing the steward ensures everyone else waits (for way more than the 20 minutes he is tasked with having his plane back in the air) as he personally helps this gentleman regain his bearings and gradually come to. The steward behaves as though there is no one else there while simultaneously managing to seamlessly engage with all the other passengers.
It is past 11 o’clock now but none of the weary, mainly business travelers, complains about the ever increasing delay. We all seem mesmerized by the elegance of this steward’s kindness and attention. Without speaking he insists that we also think only of this other person. We feel transported to a calmer, kinder place. We are moved by his humanity. As I leave the steward is now wishing everyone else a good evening. I say, “thank you” and he nods back to say that he understands what I really mean. There is a hush in the baggage collection area and strangers are talking quietly to each other.
Now I have no idea if the organisational culture creates this powerful leadership. I have no idea if there is a rule which says that this is what you must do if you are a steward in this situation. I am fairly sure it wouldn’t have mattered. This steward simply could not, not have behaved as he did.
I imagine this steward would have been a success in bars, on building sites, in offices, on farms or in any other profession. It is who he i
Mark Bell is a Special Advisor of Roy Group and Co-Founder, with Ian Chisholm and Robert Henderson of re-find the future.
A Coaching Approach to Conflict
I think it is only human to look back on past experiences and feel regret about missed opportunities. I am pretty hard on myself, so I feel this way at times. I have also been able to see a common thread that binds many of these missed opportunities. I did not lean into conflict the way I should have. The situations, the people I worked with and my leadership would be much stronger today if I had saddled up some courage, believed in who I was and walked into more difficult conversations.
My story is not unique. We work with many senior and emerging leaders who, although fearless when it comes to taking risks, making a courtroom submission or designing an ambitious strategic plan, side step when it comes time to address uncomfortable, difficult situations with their colleagues. For many of those leaders who have just retired, their single greatest regret was not capitalizing on the value that these situations could have created.
Most of our clients have been introduced to a coaching approach to leadership at some point in their engagement with us. They embrace the practical tools and the underlying philosophy – the question they inevitably ask is how does this approach work when emotions are high, when you have "skin in the game" and when an inevitable change of course is really, really uncomfortable?
We have been working a lot with this question. Over the last three years we have been building an approach that will both help our clients navigate conflict in a more productive way but that also fits with the coaching approach to leadership they have already been introduced to.
Without getting into detail about the approach - I wanted to touch briefly on the thread that connects coaching and this powerful way of seeing and approaching conflict. The philosophy of coaching that resonated most with me was the idea that wisdom does not only exist within me, but in the system. Often what is needed is well crafted, objective questions and the space to let the answers emerge.
I was excited about my introduction to conflict – I walked into the room with Anne-Marie Daniel and Alice Estey – both masters in the world of conflict resolution. I thought I was going to be learning the skills that would allow me to send the all-convincing message, to stand my ground and change the behaviours of others. Although that was part of the learning – it was only a small part. Most of the work, to my surprise, focused on changing my perspective, becoming more objective (even when I was personally entangled), listening for the gems and crafting the types of questions that get to the heart of the matter. Sound familiar?
What I learned from Anne-Marie and Alice was that the foundations of coaching play a powerful role in not only managing conflict but finding opportunity in it. I am practicing - I just wish my practice would have started years earlier.
Bradley Chisholm is a Partner of Roy Group.
Letting go is hard to do: Shifting your professional practice to a practice of leadership
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 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 the 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 professional 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 approach 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’s going to be some bruises and sore muscles, but it’s worth it in the end.
Bradley Chisholm is a Partner of Roy Group.
A Lesson from a Premier
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 behavior 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 in us was unexplainable 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 back yard 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, 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 Partner of Roy Group and former Chief of Staff to the Attorney General of Alberta.
Mastery in Stereo
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 Partner of Roy Group.
Does it Always Have to be Difficult?
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 on the realty 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 its 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 lose but vigilant awareness of what was called for when?
I also recalled 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 Partner of Roy Group.