Travel – A Rich Source of Leadership Lessons

Summertime is here and willing to stick around for a couple more months. In these months especially, most of us have the opportunity to take vacation time and head off on an adventure. I got the chance to see my family in Switzerland, and Bob and Lyn went on an exciting Alaskan cruise (I promise we managed to get work done at some point this summer). Luckily, we at Turknett Leadership Group have accumulated a list of reasons why you should travel, and why it makes you a better leader. For my portion, I will take three well-known sayings about travel and explain how these develop your leadership skills!

– When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

While I’m no fan of doing something just because it’s the “norm,” there is something wonderful to be said about understanding someone’s perspective by experiencing what they experience. During my time in Switzerland, I had a plethora of Swiss experiences such as dangerous trekking along the Alps, wild berry picking, frolicking with cows, and doing a bit of home cooking (a rarity for me). I learned quickly that in the Switzerland, there’s a strong appreciation for taking time to do things well. Farmers herd their cattle up through the Alps to raise them on the healthy fresh foliage of the mountains. The villagers hike to pick fresh, wild berries in natural patches. Home cooking is a daily activity to be enjoyed and bring people together. People are glad to give the extra time to sustain the authenticity of their lifestyle.

Leadership lesson learned – Take the time to do things well, and be genuine in how you lead. It will be quickly noticed and readily appreciated.

– Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Falling into a comfortable routine is just too easy. Human nature loves routine for the perceived safety is provides, but luckily, human nature also leans toward adventure! While I was adventuring, I felt out of my comfort zone regularly. Between knowing approximately 5 words in German, exploring new cities, and adapting to Swiss host-guest relationships, leaving my comfort zone felt wonderful! In spite of knowing so few words in German, multiple train conductors helped my sister and me navigate through the confusing stations (despite having tickets with the wrong date – the ultimate travel offense in Switzerland). Exploring new cities – there’s no better way than this to feel delightfully uncomfortable. For me, the biggest surprise was how out of my comfort zone I was with the host-guest relationship in Switzerland. Through the entire time we were in Switzerland, all of our family barely let us help with anything around their houses. We didn’t cook, clean, drive, grocery shop, or do anything that I associate with being a helpful guest – this made me feel horribly uncomfortable. I felt like I wasn’t being a gracious visitor! Finally, I asked one of my relatives why the Swiss hosted in this way, and she said, “In Switzerland, having a guest is the ultimate chance to show what a great host you are – from cooking to cleaning to showing different parts of Switzerland, we don’t want any help because we want to show you our best.”

Leadership lessons learned – Being out of your comfort zone forces you to use the knowledge you have and take the perspective of others. People are happy to help you and teach you their ways – you just have to be open to understand them!

– Not all those who wander are lost.

Would any travel-related article be complete without a Tolkien quote? I think not. I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I rarely have time to wander in my day-to-day life. Between work, family, friends, and hobbies, every day is action packed (and I don’t even have a mortgage or kids yet)! While in Switzerland, I wandered quite a bit, and this led to much wondering. Wandering leaves you the time to think, appreciate your surroundings, and live in the present. For me, it’s the equivalent of meditation for someone who can’t sit still!

Leadership lesson learned – Whether you choose to wander in a city, on a hike, or through a village, take advantage of that time while you have it. Wandering is a great way to gain new ideas and insight.

There’s much to be learned from travel. Travel lets you experience the cultures of others, new places, and new bits of yourself. There are many elements of traveling that allow you to be a better leader, so time to stop reading this and start planning your next vacation! I know I’ve started already.

Bianca Wirth
Consulting Services Coordinator

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