Leadership on the Road

I love traditions. They are like little secrets that bind families, friends, and all kinds of groups together. We recently initiated a brand new tradition in our sweet blended family. Today, we leave for two weeks in England and Ireland with Tom’s grandson, Gabriel. It’s the first “trip of a lifetime” for each one of his (so far) six grandchildren when they turn 16. I keep my fingers and toes crossed that one day I’ll also add a few little “Grand Delights,” as we tenderly call them, to the big, boisterous mix but in the meantime, I’m loving every minute with these little gems.

I’ll be delivering seven short presentations on leadership conversations in Birmingham, England at a large veterinary conference so the timing was perfect to combine a little work and a little play along with this first run at what we think will be something fun for each grandchild to look forward to… almost as much as the grandparents who will get to experience the wonders of travel through the innocent eyes of a young person they love. We decided on this tradition for several reasons: 1) the lifelong memories sure to be formed, 2) the quality personal time with that individual child, and 3) the powerful lessons and the broad perspectives that can only be gained by getting out of our narrow daily world and learning that there is a big old wonderful world out there just waiting to be discovered.
All our experiences in life help to define and develop our leadership capacity and skills. It’s been my experience that travel is one of the best teachers in discovering our leadership depth. Here are a few lessons of which I am reminded and of which we will enjoy watching Gabriel navigate as well on this trip:

1) Comfortable with Discomfort
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is built in when traveling to a different country. Foods, people, customs, and which side of the road they drive on can all seem a bit foreign, overwhelming, and even a bit frightening in the beginning. Travel forces us out of our comfort zone and into our stretch zone where we know all the good stuff happens and is learned. Leadership is all about getting comfortable being a little uncomfortable.

2) New Perspectives
Travel helps us learn to tolerate and embrace the similarities and the differences in other peoples’ worlds. When we experience these, we are broadened and enriched. We are forced to examine our preconceived notions and prejudices. Leadership is all about broadening perspectives, challenging limiting beliefs, and tapping into the best in people.

3) Courage
It takes courage to try new foods, activities, languages, and share new ethnic or local traditions. Flexing our courage muscle is good for us and exposes us to things we would otherwise never know or understand. Leadership is all about displaying and encouraging courage.

4) Expanded Circles of Influence
We’ve made so many lifelong friends when we’ve traveled. We’ll spend one night with friends we’ve made on our past trips to the UK. Meeting new people broadens your circle of influence. We’ve been delighted by the rich insights, meals, and stories shared with our friends outside of our normal circles. Leadership is all about expanding and leveraging our circles of influence.

5) Self-Awareness
I was warned early on, “Be careful who you travel with because their true colors will come out.” They were so right. Travel tests our patience, will, creativity, determination, confidence, and of course… map-reading skills. Delayed flights, missed trains, lost luggage, wrong reservations, and torrential downpours can ruin an otherwise wonderful trip if the travelers are not able to master their expectations and emotions. When we travel, we get to practice focusing on what we can control and letting go of what we can’t. We must practice self-awareness balanced with the awareness of the needs of others around us. Leadership is all about a heightened self-awareness.

This week, whether you find yourself traveling across the globe, the country, the state or just across town to your job… remember that the opportunities to flex our leadership muscle show up everywhere and all the time. Grab those moments with both hands and … if you don’t have a trip to somewhere you’ve never been, get it on your calendar soon. You’ll be changed for the better and you’ll become a better leader in the process.


“Travel makes one modest.  You see what a tiny place you occupy in this world.”
~~Gustav Flaubert


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