Leadership Lessons from Travel

Notre Dame Seine Paris Renee M. Wilmeth
A winter morning on the Seine from the towers of Notre Dame.

Travel is necessary when it comes to everything from clearing my head to resetting my perspective. I plan for a couple of big trips a year and mean them to be real vacations. And if you can get to a totally new place in the world, you’ll find foreign travel really lets you get out of your head and come up with new ideas. I usually come home motivated and ready to tackle new goals and projects for the next quarter plus new recipes to try, new ideas to share, and new motivations for goals.

While lots of people post travel tips, it occurred to me there is a lot to be learned from travel about how we function as leaders. How you handle challenges, unplanned changes, or adventures can all mirror how you lead your organization. Many of us have business goals, metrics, and targets we hold for ourselves and others. I’ve found a few leadership lessons from travel that you can apply to your work-life, too.

There is no “someday.” Don’t say you want to travel “someday”.  Put it on the calendar now. Same thing applies to your business. Don’t just say you’re going to upgrade systems or do strategic planning “someday”. There is no time when it will be convenient. Prioritize projects, trip, and adventures. Put them on the calendar and they will happen. (Don’t let life pass you buy when it comes to travel, and don’t let a system fail in your business forcing you to act.)

Take in your surroundings. When you travel to a foreign country, things can feel … well… foreign. The language, the food, the culture, the manners, even the rules of the road if you’re driving. You can let this sense of newness get you down or you can embrace and it return from your trip with new ideas. Same lesson applies in business. You can fight change – or you can embrace it. Every new technology or idea might not be your cup of tea – but you can learn from trying. 

Planning is half the fun.  Part of the fun of a trip is planning. Deciding where you’re going to stay or eat, or what you want to see is exciting. Same thing applies in business. Make planning part of your endeavor. Dream it, research it, then make it happen. Just like a trip, if you just go and decide to wing it, you’re going to miss out on a lot.

Roll with the changes. Even the most perfectly planned trip will have unexpected challenges. (Ask me about the luggage carts at the Montparnasse train station sometime.) The key to success? Learning to roll with the unexpected. Assess, then adjust the plan, then execute. Business is the same. You may be constantly planning, but you also need to adjust when something goes off the rails. Be nimble. You’ll laugh about it later.

Enjoy the experience. Leading a business can be rough. Every once in a while, a trip will go sideways and you’ll find yourself asking “why did I think this was going to be fun?”  Stop and breathe, then refocus. Whether it’s a trip calendar or a business plan, sometimes, you need to take a detour or reroute things altogether. Maybe where you planned on being isn’t where you ended up. And that’s OK. Soak it in, try something new, and enjoy the ride.

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