Some people believe that traveling is not a productive pastime. These individuals would argue that traveling involves a major investment of both time and money without teaching people anything that they could not have learned on their own.
However, this point of view does not take into consideration much of what makes travel such a valuable tool, especially for business leaders. Traveling forces us to encounter new cultures, people, and situations – and to manage them. These are lessons that can be directly applied to the workplace.
Whether travel experiences are good or bad, individuals learn something important that they can carry into their lives as leaders. Some of the skills learned from travel that are directly applicable to leadership include:
When traveling, we meet people from a range of different backgrounds, many of whom do not speak the languages we do. Relating to diverse people teaches us how to communicate, especially when we cannot rely on verbal language. Communication with people who speak different languages means listening closely and carefully while paying attention to nonverbal cues. This is a skill that can serve in leaders well in their professional lives.
Through travel, our ability to communication improves in another way. Typically, travelers become curious about other cultures and start asking about lifestyle, food, and more. In turn, other people may ask us about what our lives are like back home or address some common misconceptions or stereotypes. This sort of back and forth outside of our normal comfort zone provides a foundation for professional networking.
Travel can involve a great deal of stress. For example, people may find themselves in an unknown city at night without knowing how to get back to their destination. In this situation, people need to think clearly and logically to determine the best course of action.
Similarly, companies may also find themselves unexpectedly going through difficult times. The worst thing that a leader can do in that situation is panic. Dealing with stress and handling the unknown while traveling prepares leaders to approach difficult office situations with a level head and perseverance.
Because of the many things that can go wrong while traveling, people tend to think about worst-case scenarios and how they would react. This line of thought can lead to creating plans for dealing with those situations. This is the same skill that business leaders need. When they think ahead to what could go wrong, they have a better sense of what to do if an actual problem arises.
Many leaders struggle with accepting that some things are simply out of their control. However, dwelling on things that we cannot change is a waste of time and energy. Travelers learn this lesson quickly by recognizing when they have agency and when they need to start thinking about plan B.
Fighting to gain agency when it is impossible can lead to more problems. This concept is clear when traveling, but not so clear when leading a company. By traveling and learning how to detach from what is happening when necessary, leaders can gain the perspective they need to attack business issues from a more effective perspective.
In today’s extremely competitive market, only those leaders willing to take risks will realize true success. Travel can help make leaders more daring in the workplace by teaching them that risks can pay off and, even if they do not, they are valuable learning opportunities.
Novice travelers tend to play it safe and not take many risks at all. Over time, however, these individuals may become bolder and more daring because they have become more comfortable and relaxed – even when they are outside of their comfort zones. Having fun while traveling largely involves being at least a little adventurous, just as success in business depends on willingness to experiment and try something new.
The best business leaders understand that, just as there is such a thing as too little planning, there is also harm in too much planning. Travelers quickly learn this lesson by erring on one side of the equation early in their travels. Sometimes, people try to “wing it” early on and realize that they need to have at least a flexible idea of the trip to provide some sort of direction. Other novice travelers may plan every minute of a vacation and then realize once they arrive that this sort of scheduling is simply unrealistic.
When booking a trip, people need to know where they want to go, how to get there, and what they should expect once they have arrived. Business leaders need to create a similar “itinerary” for their organizations. Having no direction can lead to great ideas simply fizzling out, while too much direction does not give the organization the space that it needs to grow organically. Learning how to plan for a trip is much like planning for the future of a company. Finding the right balance in travel planning can help one find the right balance in the office.