Want to be a better leader? Travel!

If you want to be a really great leader it is important to see things in perspective. And to see things in perspective you need to be able to see the big picture and compare. And to compare you need to have something to compare your current reality with. One of the tools that will help you with that is travelling.

You should travel to see new things, meet new people, hear new perspectives and to learn how life looks like in other parts of the world. Always try to pick destinations that can bring you new perspective on life. And when you are on the trip, fully concentrate on your surroundings and let go of your life back home, your email, your blackberry and your problems.

  • Listen – listen to the world around you. Listen to the sounds, to the language, to the way people treat each other.
  • Watch – watch the environment and the people. Look at adults as well as children, what do they do? How do they look? Look at their faces and into their eyes. How do they approach their work and their lives?
  • Experience – experience some life. Don’t stay locked in a gilded cage of a five star hotel. Spend some quality time in the real world. Try new things, new activities, taste new food and meet new people.
  • Understand – try your best to understand the things you see around yourself. Why are the things the way they are? Why do people in this country or culture behave this way? What does it mean? Never assume anything. Ask, research, and then understand. You are a tourist so don’t be afraid to be a bit nosy. But keep an open mind and don’t judge.
  • Compare – compare how does this world differs from yours? What are the similarities, what are the things that are different and why? But again, don’t judge. Only because someone lives his life differently it doesn’t mean that it is better or worse, it is just different.
  • Learn – what did you learn from this experience and the comparison that you can take with you back home? How does it changes your perspective on things?
  • Implement – and don’t stay just with learning. Implement the new thoughts and observations in your own behavior. From each trip you take you should return a bit different and hopefully a bit better.

Let me give you example from my life. I love travelling. I usually go to places that are as much exotic for me as possible. I want to see something really new, experience things I couldn’t experience at home and meet people who are really different and live their lives in ways I couldn’t imagine. The part of the world that left the biggest impact on me was without doubt East Africa. Being a person from the heart of Europe with all the technology and consumerist style of life I was really surprised by what I have seen. I spent a month in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, travelled to bigger cities, climbed mountains, went to a low budget safari and saw people in the villages living their daily lives. It was amazing.

I walked through some of the small and poor villages, I saw people going an hour for drinkable water, living of the dry land, not having much but still have smile on their faces, joy in their lives. I saw people who welcome visitors with curiosity and open hands. Seeing this had a really profound impact on me as I realized that there are other ways to be happy than just pursuing wealth and fame in fast-paced societies like in the western cultures. In the western culture we take too many things for granted, but seeing the real happiness of small kids in the heart of Uganda who could spend half a day around you just out of curiosity and would get ecstatic for a small gift or a from you really changed the way how I look at the world and at myself. You learn to appreciate small things and that makes you resistant to stress. You learn to understand diversity and that makes you a better people manager and a leader.

When I came back several people told me that I changed. And I felt the change myself. I started to be a bit more attentive to the small daily wins, appreciate bit more what I have and also created a rather low patience with people who complain about their material well-being while living in consumerist society and enjoy richness way above what most of the people in the World can even imagine. It allowed me to help other people around me to see these small daily wins, to focus their attention to the good in their lives, and complain less about things they cannot influence. I strongly believe this single trip made me a little bit better leader and in fact a little bit better person.

Twitter type summary: “When travelling, listen, watch, experience, understand, compare, learn and implement to become a better person and a better leader.”

Have you every traveled to a place that had an impact on your life? Have some experience during your travels changed the way you see the world?

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