Sunday, 10 August 2014

Five Leadership Lessons from Travel with Kids

Taking a holiday?  Good advice from if you're taking the kids!
Personal Leadership Lessons for the World at Work - Travel with Kids
I just wrapped up one of our biggest family trips of the year, from Australia back to the USA, with a few stops for some pre and post family visit adventures.  In total, our family spent close to 60 hours in the air as we moved around for our nearly three-week whirlwind.  Before we left, I bought tickets, had rough plans for each day, and big ideas for what we needed to see and do.  I think we all know what they say about the best laid plans…  Now that I’m home, I’ve been reflecting on the leadership lessons from travel with kids as I mentally replay the highlights of our incredible adventure.
Needless to say, we had many moments that will forever stay with me over the years, balanced by many I’d prefer to forget.   Everyone in the family had an idea of what would be fun, where we should eat and what we should do.  There were times that I played the “parent card” and put my foot down on the agenda and other times we allowed ourselves to go off track and into the unknown.  Sometimes it worked out (the Batobus was a great break for our aching feet) and other times it didn’t (riding on the top of a double-decker bus in the cold pouring rain is not fun for more than 5 minutes.)
The curious thing is how many of the lessons from travel with kids can be applied to the world of work when looked through a different lens.  In life, travel, family and work many of our decisions, behaviors and choices mirror those of leaders around the globe.

Five Leadership Lessons from Travel with Kids

Allow Room to Flex 

I had a beautiful color coded spreadsheet (Type A, anyone?) and by the time we got off the plane, we realized our son was at best a walking zombie and at worst going to lay down in the street for an extended nap.  If we stayed with the plan, it would have been an epic fail.
Leadership TIP: Project managers and team leaders can live and breathe gantt charts, but the best leaders review plans on an ongoing basis to make adjustments based on current circumstances.

There is Another Way

Every city we went to on our trip I had visited before and many of the museums and monuments were not new to me.  Still, I didn’t think my children would want to stroll through the streets admiring the architecture so we booked children’s tours and even for the adults, they were nothing short of interesting, educational, and engaging.
Leadership TIP: Millennial, Gen X, or Boomer, each one can walk the same path yet bring new insights and ideas to life from their unique perspective. Don’t assume because you’ve walked the path before that you’ve seen, understand or know it all.

The Big Stuff Isn’t Always the Big Stuff

I went to Paris a few years ago for my birthday and we often talked about going as a family to see the Eiffel Tower. This month, the moment had finally come and we piled into a cab, filled with anticipation.  Upon arrival, we looked up and had a “yeah, there it is” moment.  No angels singing and definitely no desire to wait in line for hours, we moved on with our day.   We enjoyed the view as our constant companion around the city, but had our most meaningful experiences in other places.
Leadership TIP: Instead of only celebrating big milestones, why not celebrate and enjoy interim accomplishments.  Enjoy the process to appreciate the final achievement.

Exhaustion and Excellence Do Not Go Hand in Hand

Early on in our trip, the kids were so tired I thought we’d have to carry them on our backs, but they were not the only ones on the edge of sanity.  We were all crabby, less tolerant and more demanding than usual.  At one point, our son literally put his head down on a bench at dinner and it was impossible to wake him up.  After that, we stopped setting the alarm in the morning and decided to BE on our holiday and not only DO.
Leadership TIP: You can’t expect yourself or the people on your team to be hard charging 24/7 and continue to produce exceptional results.  The strongest leaders take time off to reconnect with who they are and not only what they do. Exhaustion doesn’t serve anyone.Take a vacation, a long weekend or even a long lunch – it will be OK.

Learn to Wait for Payoffs

High season in the USA and Europe means you can count on two things – big crowds and long lines.  We waited in line to enter museums, to buy tickets, to see famous art with an unobstructed view, for dinner, to use the restroom, you name it, we waited for it.  However, something interesting happened the more we waited, the kids began to understand the payoffs for the wait. Weighing the choice of instant gratification against being forever changed by a visit with the work of Degas, Seurat, or Manet made the wait easier – and a part of the journey.
Leadership TIP: It’s always tempting to lower the bar to get results faster or walk away from tough problems that will be challenging to figure out. However, when the mission matters, when the WHY is clear, waiting for payoffs becomes a choice that leaders are willing to make.
Were there some tears?  Yes.  Temper tantrums?  Yes again (from me, too… not only the kids).  Unexpected surprises, learning and laughing?  Yes, yes, and yes.  If I was to summarize the trip and all the leadership lessons from travel with kids in one sentence:
Expectations and experience are two different things and that’s beyond OK – it’s what makes the ordinary, extraordinary. 

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