Want to be a better leader? Take an epic road trip.

 

Last week was the first time in a long time that I didn’t post.  I went on a road trip and did not write ahead of time, as is my normal practice.

I can’t remember the last time – if ever – I have gone away for a full week without my husband or son.  A few days here or there, sure, but not for this long of a stretch.

The good news is, they got along just fine without me here.  The better news is, so did I.  An entire week where I wasn’t someone’s wife, mother, employee or manager.  One where I didn’t have to be “on” for someone.

It may not be anyone else’s definition of a perfect vacation, but it came pretty close in my book.

The amazing part was, I still planned.  I still problem solved.  Road trips demand it, whether it’s knowing which way to point the car, anticipating traffic and weather challenges, or figuring out stops for food and gas.

By the end of the week, I felt refreshed.  Not just my energy and spirit, but my leadership skills as well.  An epic road trip can teach us more than any class.

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Going someplace new highlights our imperfections.

When we are surrounded by what is familiar, including friends, family and co-workers that know us, we feel comfortable.  Going someplace new, our habits, speech, and interactions may or may not fit in.  Strangers aren’t used to us, and may blurt out or react to our quirks.  It’s a great way to learn how we can be perceived by others.

In a small Wisconsin town, a waitress dropped everything to ring me out, rather than make me wait “because you are in such in hurry.”  I wasn’t in any more of a hurry than normal, but it made me realize my demeanor and approach was putting out a sense of impatience in the laid back atmosphere.  I’d like to say it didn’t happen again on the trip, but have you driven in small coastal towns on a warm weather day?

Rushing to the finish line leaves us sick and exhausted.

We can all point our car towards the horizon and go.  We can rush to the goal, making everything a blur along the way.  “Gas and go” pit stops may give us what we need to move forward, but do nothing to refresh us.  Eventually, we may break down.

On one trip cross-country, my husband and I went from Phoenix to Boston in 40 hours.  We each spent part of the trip passed out in the back seat, recovering from various ill effects of the journey.  Every road trip since then has been at a slower pace.

Breaking journeys into shorter jaunts keeps us energized. 

The challenge with each subsequent road trip was finding interim destinations that appealed to everyone.  While requiring some level of planning, short breaks allow for us to physically and mentally refresh, connect with each other, and celebrate small wins.

On this trip, my sister-in-law and I were on the hunt for lighthouses – the latest of countless road trips we’ve taken for this purpose.  Our goal was to finish the Lake Michigan Circle Tour and see what we could of the other great lakes.  We spent time in many small towns, on back roads and beaches, breaking up the journey and giving us a sense of accomplishment along the 1,664 mile and 63 lighthouse trip.

The best outcomes are a balance of planning and opportunity.

Every effort is going to have its share of adversity along the way.  It will also have chances to accelerate or make things better.  If we only look and plan for negative risks, we’ll achieve the bare minimum of what we’re capable of.  Instead, we need to balance our risk planning by keeping an eye out for opportunities as they present themselves.

On the last night of our trip, we stayed in Chicago.  We wanted to stop by the old Macy’s so my SIL could see the Tiffany ceiling, which I knew she’d enjoy.  Unfortunately, on our way out, it started to rain.  We had taken too long to get to our dinner destination, so we popped into a place that was right next to us.  It turned out to be one of the best dinners of the trip and a great way to end our journey.

A successful journey is one we’d take again.

To know if a trip was successful, we can ask one question – would we do it again?  If we’re sick (of each other), exhausted and miserable, the answer is likely no.  If we’re energized, have a feeling of accomplishment, and still like each other, then we’d probably sign up for another trip.  The difference between the two outcomes often comes down to fun.  If we find ways to enjoy the journey, we’re much more likely to do it again.

We inject fun into every trip we take.  There’s always music (we jam out to 80‘s classics), new words made up, and private jokes that go from trip to trip.  This time, we drove for MILES through abandoned forests with no cell service, where we didn’t see any other cars.  My SIL kept saying “this is the stuff horror movies are made of.” At one point, we saw a stretch of highway that was sponsored by Steven King and family.  We couldn’t get by those two miles fast enough.

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No matter your interests, road trips are a great way to clear your mind and reenergize.  The lessons of a good road trip are also applicable to our work journeys, where we have to successfully get a group of people to a new destination.  The keys are to plan, adapt, and have fun.

What have you learned on a road trip that you’ve applied to work?  Please share your experience in the comments below.