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Leading with Empathy

People Are Awesome.

People Are Awesome.

Written by Cory Blair - Chief People Officer

I haven’t written a blog in a long time.  For whatever reason, I just haven’t had an idea that has just jumped out of my head onto paper.  Until this weekend.  This blog has one simple message.  True leaders are people that do great things for others. 

So, this is the story of my 8-year-old son Ryder and his passion for farming.  Yes, farming.  Those that know me, know I am the furthest thing from a handyman or have any idea about farming.  I am more of the sports nut and my oldest son Peyton fits that mould too.   Ryder must get this from my wife Jessica’s side for sure.  I can remember when he was 2 years old playing at the Hewalo farm in Montmartre Saskatchewan.  He loved the idea of being a worker.  Getting his hands dirty, helping fix stuff with his great Grandpa Murray in the shop.  He loves going with his papa Duane Kaczmar in the semi, hauling grain to the elevator.  He now is old enough to change oil in the semi and grease the 5th wheel.   It is his deal.  His thing to do.  His love.

Well he absolutely loves New Holland farm machinery too.   There are family ties to New Holland.  Grandpa Hewalo owned a dealership in Montmartre, uncle Kim currently works at Markusson New Holland in White City.  Ryder’s teacher Mrs. Markusson husband works there too….  So much New Holland around him.  He loves it.

Last year closer to December, Ryder’s class got to write a letter to anyone in the world. Each student could pick who they want to write too.  A letter asking whomever a series of questions.  Most kids wrote Sidney Crosby or Darian Durant.  Maybe a famous actress or movie star.  Ryder chose to write to Delage Farms, a family farm right here in Saskatchewan.

Delage farms is a large family owned grain farm just north of Indian Head, Saskatchewan.  They farm over 20,000 acres.  That’s a lot of farm land!!!! Most to all their equipment is New Holland.  We always pass by their farm yard on the way to our family cottage at Katepwa Lake.  There are bins that seem to go on for a mile and especially around August there are New Holland combines ready to go to work.  Not just one or two either.  They have more than seven combines (Ryder knows the exact amount)!  Ryder asks us to drive by the farm yard and we do, looking at the cool machinery.  Lucky for us we have watched them harvest a couple of fields just off the highway.  Ryder of course gets right into it explaining to us what type of header is on the combine etc…stuff way over my head!!!

Ryder wrote a letter to them. He introduced himself and asked a bunch of questions.  He put it in the mail and then he waited.  Before you knew it, there was some mail for Ryder.  It was a letter from Marc Delage.  He runs the farm with his family.  He answered all of Ryder’s questions.  The letter was on their company letterhead so of course Ryder knew it was legit!!  Marc also sent Ryder a couple tee shirts and pictures of their farm.  He was smiling from ear to ear.  Marc also said in the letter that during seeding this year, Ryder could come out and ride in the tractor.  He could do this at harvest time too if he wanted!!! Ryder circled that on his calendar.  We messaged Marc a couple weeks ago and this past weekend Ryder went out and hung out with Marc and his brother in-law Jordan.

Ryder got to work on the farm.  He helped burn some stubble, he seeded canola (even his own 30 acres) and he got to go in the semi with Jordan filling up fertilizer for the seeder.  He got served a field lunch too!  His dream came true.  It may not seem like a big deal as lots of kids grow up on a farm but for Ryder it was a huge deal!! 

We are just so proud of him.  He did it on his own.  He knows what he loves already.  That makes us so happy. His smile is so infectious.  It is just AWESOME!! A couple of times I just was so elated for him a got a little choked up.  This is special to him and it takes special people to help out a kid live out his dream.

What I learned through this is that people are awesome.  True leadership happens when someone does something great for someone else, not to boost their own ego, not to fill their own bucket but to fill someone else’s.  Marc and Jordan did that for Ryder.  They could have said they were too busy.  They could have said kids cannot come in the tractor or semi, especially a kid they did not really know.  They were all in from the beginning.

They practiced servant leadership.  They are leaders.  They did something so positive for him. They practiced stewardship, empathy, foresight and growth.  They did this by just being themselves, good-hearted people that get it.  I learned that a lot of us, especially people that live here in our province and Canada, do have those attributes of leadership.  We need to explore stories like this and companies need to celebrate it more often.  It is in our DNA.  

Ryder will remember that day for ever and now has built a friendship that could last a long time.  Marc called me and said Ryder is welcome back at any time.  They will be spraying the crops so he can jump in with one of the guys.   I told him we appreciate the effort they put forward to make Ryder happy.  Marc said “hey no problem!!  Anytime I can share my passion with someone I am happy.”


Thanks Marc and Jordan from Delage Farms.  You guys are true leaders and just awesome people.  You made a little boy a farmer for life.

Sincerely thanks guys,

Cory and Jessica Blair


#peoplepeople #servantleadership #delagefarms #farmerforlife



Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Why We All Deserve Servant Leadership

Written by Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer- Affective Consulting

When we started this little boutique company, we wanted to something different. Everyone says that, I know, but we really meant it. 

Collectively, the three of us wanted to change the way organizations manage their people. We wanted to bring back the human element to business- get leaders thinking about their people as business partners, not the assets that they seem to be these days. I mean surely we can't continue to be willing to accept the status quo, where nearly half of our people are checked-out and another quarter of them are hanging on by their fingernails while they frantically search for a way out on Indeed or LinkedIn? Can we?

We've always felt we had a duty to try to make a difference for our friends and our colleagues to change the status quo. We had to at the very least try to help influence change. 

For me, it was about a bit of a different crusade. I wanted to fix things not only for the employee, but I wanted to make things different for leaders too. I had just been through a rough change of careers, and I really felt like I failed my people in my last position. I got into a role with a system that was stacked against the way that I thought we should do things, and I hate to admit it, but I let it beat me. I bought into the importance of meetings that measured progress through data, checks and balances, and I didn't dedicate as much time as I should have to my people. It left a really sour taste in my mouth and a chip on my shoulder. I never want to have that feeling again.

We came into this thinking that we could find a way to fix broken work places, but also bring a different level of support and leadership to a group of people who may be drowning more than any other- middle managers. The more time we spend with mid-level managers in business these days, the more we realize that they are the ones, more than any other group, that are hurting. They have been left alone mostly when it comes to leadership development, and they are the ones who are getting squeezed from the top more than any other part of the organization to sacrifice their time with their people for a greater focus on the metrics. They get stuck with the accountability of managing the strategic plan while also are asked to manage people who feel under valued and under-lead. Ultimately, they end up failing at both. Awesome. 

We spent the last year of our developing our consulting business building a belief in leadership with purpose, creating a greater understanding of the need for self-awareness in our leadership ranks, and the focus on leading with empathy, compassion and vulnerability. We touted a need to get back to the human element of business and went on long tirades with anyone who would listen to us about building leadership models that were people-centered. But all of our thoughts and ideas seemed to float off into oblivion without being tied together in a more tangible package that people could understand.  

Then something really interesting happened.

We heard the words "servant leadership" uttered by a friend of ours- almost so casually that if we weren't really listening, we would have completely ignored it. But it got us curious - what does servant leadership mean? Why haven't we ever heard of it before? It might be because it's an older philosophy that has been called by a number of different name, and even blended into other styles. But when we dove deeper into it, it changed everything for us. 

Servant leadership is old school. And thats a good thing. 

Robert K Greenleaf's "the Servant as a Leader" was where the phrase "servant leadership" was first uttered, and I guarantee that you will not see it on any shelf at Chapters, because for starters it was written in 1970, and secondly it's not even a book- it's an essay. It sits there, hiding in plain sight on Amazon, waiting for you to pick it up and learn from it, but it's not something that you would expect would pack as much punch as it has for us. And thats exactly why we are so taken with it. It's common sense, no BS leadership philosophy that maybe needs a bit of modernization in parts, but the foundational belief is as solid as it gets- be good to your people. Period. Full stop. End of Story.

There were a million different things that I took away from our initial investigation into servant leadership, and now that we have become certified in the philosophy we continue to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the values and principles behind the theory. We've begun to work with organizations to implement the theory into their corporate culture, and its been exciting to see how quickly it's changed engagement levels of employees.

The three servant leadership principles that turn leadership on its head.

In total, there are 11 principles that are associarted with servant leadership, but three in particular were key in my mind to shifting the way our organizations and our people think about leadership. 

1. Servant leaders are servants first 

Seems simple enough of a concept right? But the truth is that it's an entirely different way of looking at who organizations should be targeting in their leadership development, and why paying attention to creating the right environment is such an important part of organizational design these days. 

When you think of the word servant, you think of someone who puts the needs of others befor their own, values the success of the whole rather than the few. Servant leadership proposes that those charachter traits be the foundation for identifying leaders within your organization. 

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?...Evil, stupidity, apathy, the “system” are not the enemy...The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people...In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.
— Robert K. Greenleaf

I love this quote by Greenleaf, and it jumped out at me the second I read it. Too often we are quick to blame the external circumstances for our problems, when in reality its the internal struggle that is the issue within us all. We want change, but are unwilling to step up and make the difference. And too often we see those people that are amazing servants, who would be amazing leaders, choose a different path or stay in their posts as servants because they aren't comfortable putting themselves out there in leadership roles. There is something very dissapointing and sad about that, and it needs to change.  Those individuals need to understand that they have a duty to take that leap and step up for the good of the people around them, but in the same breath, we need to encourage those stellar servants to share their gifts at a higher level of accountability too. 

2. Its not a tool. its not a template. its not a model. its a philosophy.

And thats what I love about it. When you attend training sessions these days, you learn about models, formulas, tools that are supposed to help you become a better leader- a more effective leader. Problem is, it's like that cool pair of ripped jeans that you bought at the store with the hip-hop music bumpin' and the twenty-somethings who work there telling you that you look good, but then you never wear them because you don't go to the club anymore. Because you're 40. They just don't work in real-life situations when you try to fit into them. 

Servant leadership is adaptable, and therefore scaleable in almost any work environment that you can think of. And its that way because it's only dependant on one thing....

3. Servant leadership is about personal accountability.

If there's one thing that I love about servant leadership is that it's about accountability. Accountability for your actions as well as your accountability for others that are in your charge. Only you, and you alone, as leaders can determine the type of environment you want to create for your people and the culture you want your organization to thrive in. Those people in the corner who are disengaged are there because you didn't engage them. Your organizational culture is only as good as the behaviour you are willing to tolerate, and that includes your own. 

In the same breath, your accountability according to Greenleaf extends to those who you serve- your employees. Its is your accountability to ensure that your employees are given the necessary tools, training and support to allow them to be the best that they can be, and your sole purpose in your leadership journey is ensuring those who you are responsible for grow and develop to the fullest of their potential. When they aren't reaching their full capability, its your duty to hold them accountable for their actions, and push them to be better- not because you want to squeeze every last ounce of production out of them, but rather because they aren't realizing the potential that they have. 

Imagine how differently a productivity conversation would be with an employee if it came from a place of trust and caring about their individual potential rather than meeting a performance level.....

This feels right to us. 

its not rocket science by a long shot- its a simple re-focusing of what is important in leadership and some solid principles and values that you need to be diligent in practicing in order to realize the potential of the philosophy. Is it hard? Yep. Will it take time to implement? Absolutely. Will you see improvement in the engagement of your people? Uh, definately. So what's holding us back again? Nothing. 

Its time to make a change and build a better mouse trap when it comes to taking care of our people and leading our organizations the right way. We need to stop focusing on the numbers and start re-focusing on our people. There's a better path for us out there, and call it servant leadership, or ethical leadership or blue ocean leadership- what ever you call it, just make it happen. But it has to start with a committment to being a better, more people-focused leader. And the only person you'll need to authorize that request is you. 

So let's do this. 




Live Like a Kid!

Live Like a Kid!

Written by Cory Blair- Chief People Officer, Affective Consulting 

The world right now is a little messed up.  All the violence, terrorism, political catastrophes and hate…. It is not cool at all.  It is what we see everyday on the news and especially social media.  In fact, it is 95% of what we see.  WHY do we focus on all this bad stuff???  It is like the analogy of driving by a car crash just to see it… Nobody needs to see that… The more attention we give to this stuff the more we succumb to it.   We need to take a time out.  We need to be people people…. We need to stop and focus on doing great things for others…. we need to learn from our kids!!

It is currently the middle of summer vacation.  It is a time to recharge the batteries and spend time outside at the lake, camp, go on a trek in the old minivan – whatever it takes to get away.  Kids are on vacation from school and just going bonkers, loving the sun and being free.  I am lucky to have 4 awesome kids and also nieces and nephews as well as be close to our neighbor kids.  This summer I have focused on watching them have fun.  How they play and interact.

 Guess what? Our world and many organizations can learn a thing or two from kids.  99.9999 % percent of their purpose is simple. To have fun.  Be themselves. Learn. Share.  Laugh.  Run through the sprinklers... It is a really simple concept.  Just do really good things.  Good things lead to other good things and before you know it a culture of fun is born.  A culture of awesome is born.  Yes, there are some cries.  Yes, there are some scrapes and bruises but those are quickly forgotten because kids don’t sit there and dwell on the bad.  Kids get back up and go.  Our messages as parents or people to our children is to focus on the good ALWAYS!!!  So why the heck are we focusing so much on the bad in the news, within our organizations or even our adult relationships….

Just for a day live and think simplistically like a kid.  Your day will be awesome.  Good things will happen and yes the sprinklers will be really cold!

What We All Can Do to Stop Men's Violence Against Women

What We All Can Do to Stop Men's Violence Against Women

By Kevan McBeth, Chief Purpose Officer, Affective Consulting

A good friend of mine, and fellow change-agent, Tracy Knutson offered me an opportunity this week that I couldn’t pass up- an opportunity to be a part of a men’s leadership session with Dr. Jackson Katz, a world -renowned subject matter expert on the issue of men’s violence against women. If you haven’t had a chance to check out his TED Talk on-line, you need to take 15 minutes and watch him, as nearly 2 million others have, share his views on why domestic violence is a man’s issue.

When I was asked to participate in the session with Dr. Katz, I jumped at the chance. I was curious to see what he had to say, and wanted to learn about his philosophy about Domestic Violence being a man’s issue. I’d seen his YouTube video a few times before meeting him and knew about some of the messages that he would bring to the discussion, but there were also a few things that surprised me when we started to talk about why it was important to have 30 male business leaders come together for a leadership session on addressing Domestic Violence.

The biggest surprise was that Saskatchewan leads the country with the highest rate of police –reported family violence amongst the provinces. It’s also near the top when it comes to self-reported family violence according to a recent Stats Canada report, released earlier this year. This blows my mind. As someone who hasn’t been exposed to domestic violence, I can’t imagine that these numbers would be accurate. I don’t know of anyone that has been a victim of domestic violence. My family wasn’t affected by domestic violence. I don’t know of any of my friends that have been impacted by domestic or family violence.

But in a way, that’s the whole point isn’t it? Most family and domestic violence isn’t reported. It’s not something that people really talk about, and even worse yet- it’s not something that generally others see. It happens in the home, with the doors locked and the shutters pulled down so nobody can see what men do to abuse their spouses. So how WOULD we know if this horrible thing is happening around us? And if we aren’t connected in some way, shape or form, why would we get involved?

But IT IS happening. All around us. Whether we see it or not. 

If we don’t get involved in reversing the trend, changing the culture and lending our voice to social change – it’s going to keep happening. The stories of rape culture that we see on television on University campuses, the vicious attacks on Aboriginal women who all to often even go missing or murdered, the stories of women being drugged or abused when they are too incapacitated to consent- all things that we watch on our TV screens on read about on-line and think “what the hell is going on in this world?!”. But we take a wholly passive approach. And if we want change, we need to take greater responsibility. We need to own the issue. All of us. And here’s how we are going to do it.

Change our language about men’s violence against women.

Dr. Katz talked about the passive language that we use when we talk about men’s violence against women, like "Sue was a victim of violence". The way that the majority of domestic violence is presented to the masses rarely even mentions the aggressor (overwhelmingly the aggressor is a man by the way) and even speaks of the event as past tense, as if to say “its in the past and what’s done is done”. The ownership of the action is placed squarely on the victim. It’s a cheap parlour trick to take your eyes off of the issue at hand, but an effective trick none the less.

We need to start talking about men’s violence against women in a way that includes the aggressor and as the catalyst and OWNER of the action. Women are the victims of the violence and the act of violence is not something that they “experience” – it’s an act of dominance through abuse and violence in an attempt to control their partner. 

Start to have open and honest conversations.

If you want to change a culture, you have to start to talk about the issues that you wish to see altered or modified. It’s got to be open and honest, and in a space where people feel safe and trusted. MOST people seek to understand, but tend to stay silent out of fear that there will be repercussions if they say something stupid. But this is too important an issue to let that stand in the way.

I was really appreciative of Dr. Katz’s approach yesterday in that he created an environment for the men in the room to ask questions, be engaged and try to understand the issue in a way that they never have before. Stories were told rather than stats, bringing us closer to the issue and real-life examples were presented to bring the issue to life for us all.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that I like that says “Once you see, you cannot un-see”. To me, this is one of the critical pieces of understanding this issue. Once you know that men’s violence against women exists, and how our current social norms accept existing actions that support the violence, only then can you engage people in the desire to shift the culture.

We all have a role to play.

Dr. Katz spoke about the bystander effect, of which he is one of the architects of in the men’s violence against women movement. This mirrors the approach that I tried to take with the I Am Stronger campaign back in the day when I ran the anti-bullying campaign through the SaskTel Corporate Social Responsibility Department.

The idea is that we all have a part to play in the issue. This isn’t just about the two people that are involved in the act, but also everyone around them. The approach that we took through I Am Stronger was more about being able to stand up and speak up at the time of the actual act of bullying, but that isn’t necessarily the same situation for men’s violence against women, due to the fact that most men’s violence against women happens outside of the public eye. What isn’t different however, is the role that bystanders can play in influencing social change.

When someone in your circle speaks about women in a sexist or pejorative way or if there is a scenario you witness a situation where men degrade women in any way, you need to understand that your silence is consent.  Engaging bystanders in the process opens up the accountability and the responsibility of us all to act on influencing the social norms that contribute to men’s violence against women.

One of the other reasons that I absolutely love the bystander approach to dealing with social issues is that the bystanders hold the power to change things, and change things quickly- all they need to do is stand up and be counted, and lend their voice to the cause. The real challenge is creating a compelling enough story for them to get involved and be willing to stand up and challenge the status quo.

Leadership (and more importantly leadership from men) is vital.

Influencing social change and creating an environment that rejects men’s violence against women is one thing, but if the behaviours that we wish to see aren’t modelled by those in leadership roles, then the intent of the culture change becomes lost or at the very least less powerful. It’s up to the leaders of organizations and our communities to speak loudly and model the behaviours that they wish to see changed in their culture for things to truly change.

Want to see what speaking out looks like at it’s finest – check out this video that was played at the conference featuring the second in command of the Australian Army Chief Lieutenant David Morrison address inappropriate behaviour within the ranks.


Now, am I suggesting that you go to the extremes of Chief Lieutenant Morrison goes in the video? I guess if the shoe fits…..

But what I do think you have an opportunity to do, what we all have an opportunity to do, is to speak up and say “that’s not right” when something, well, isn’t right. To call out behaviours, teach our children and reinforce positives when they happen in our world. If you are more comfortable with “clicktavism”, then share some posts of positive stories of people standing up against violence on social media. We all need to act at a level that we are comfortable with, so do what you can – just don’t do "nothing" anymore.

Men need to lead that charge for change. 

Dr. Katz spoke about the idea that exists today in which men are not seen as the current owners of the issue of men’s violence against women. Let’s take advantage of the lack of understanding use it to our benefit.  We can build an army of male leaders who we can educate on the issues of domestic violence (once they see......), and help influence social change.

Like it or not, when it comes to dealing with issues that require others to see the world through another communities eyes (whether it is Aboriginal issues, disability issues etc.), the message is almost always more clearly understood when it is presented by someone from outside that community. The thought that there is an ally outside of the given community somehow creates the belief that the information shared is presented without secondary agenda. Sad, but true. 

In this case – men addressing the issue is against the norm of what the majority of the public have seen, and that helps drive home the message of male ownership of men’s violence against women.

The last thing that I will say on this subject is that the leadership event I went to was organized entirely by women- smart passionate and visionary women who understand that getting men to start to talk about this issue is exactly the kind of push for social change necessary for this issue. 

Now what? 

Where do we start? What do we do?

We get involved. Make small changes. Push the envelope. We become willing to take risks to change behaviours. We teach our kids and our friends what men's violence against women is and how to treat each other with empathy and compassion. We take responsibility. We start to change things. Together. We be human.