I’m a road warrior. I travel an average three days per week – all over the United States and sometimes to other parts of the world. Travel brings three benefits critical to leadership development: tolerance, perseverance and a broader sense of situational awareness and focus. Here are a few personal examples.
I was in the United Kingdom shortly after Brexit. Being in the U.K. at that momentous point in history gave me a great deal of perspective of politics on both sides of the Atlantic.
I also visited Ecuador in 2007 for work with financial institutions in the area. And in 2007, the specific institution we visited was already using text banking, making it more innovative at the than its American counterparts, contradicting its third-world status.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to visit China which was incredible but also completely different than visiting another English-speaking country or even another Hispanic culture. During my visit I had the chance to see the terra cotta warriors, which was a breathtaking experience. I did what any tourist would do and took a picture of the warriors with my phone and attempted to text it to dad. My phone shut down. At first, I thought my phone went haywire, but as it turned out, the Chinese government has so much control over the cell towers and the internet, they simply shut off my phone’s access to the network. I was unable to text for the duration of her visit, and the phone did not regain function until I returned to the U.S. I later learned two million people are employed in China just to sweep the internet. Definitely not something I was prepared for in the slightest.
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I look at my experiences in Ecuador and China, and even the U.K., as broadening. When you go to other countries you see what poverty really looks like, what wealth can be and how the love of family translates amongst other cultures— and this is where you learn tolerance.
When you travel, you get brutalized while out on the road. Your patience is tested and…stuff happens. Bags get lost or you trip and fall. On a business trip to Italy in 2005, I packed a beautiful bag for a 10-day trip. The bag disappeared on it’s way to Italy and I never saw it again. From that moment forward I always wear something on the plane that I can wear for the next 10 days. I tried to go shopping but could not find clothes that fit my American figure in Italian shops. You just have to get over it when something bad happens. My business meetings had to go on. I had to be just as effective in my keynotes, my presentations and my energizing as I would have been if I had had some clean clothes and deodorant! This is where your perseverance is both tested and nurtured.
When my beefcakes are playing sports, I shout to them, “Look alive!” I offer the same advice to travelers, because no matter where you go in the world, bags get slashed, purses get stolen and cameras get yanked off necks. Usually, these things happen because tourists and travelers are simply unaware.
It is important to look around and take in the places you are visiting. When I am in different countries, I love to fit in. Of course, in a place like China I do not physically fit in, but during a visit to the Czech Republic someone started speaking to me in their language, which I loved! I want to look like a local and fit in because you get a different sense of perspective on the culture when this happens.
In 2002, I was in Amsterdam with my brother and some friends. One night we partook in an activity that is famously legal in Holland (and increasingly more legal in the U.S.). The group was having a good time enjoying the night life in Amsterdam. We simply needed to catch the 1 a.m. bus back to the city where we were staying. However, being slightly off and me, wearing shoes that were poorly designed for walking, I fell and skinned my knee. Eventually, we found the bus, but one of my friends vomited in the aisle, prompting the bus driver to kick us off.
“What I learned is shit happens, but if you just roll with it you can have some pretty awesome experiences. For me, every time something goes wrong, something even better comes along.” — Doug Chambers
There we were in the middle of the night, no idea where we were, and we started walking in the direction where the bus was heading, but because we were dealing with our sick friend, we missed the bus making a left turn. We just kept going down the road. Luckily, an hour later, a truck pulled over and asked where we were heading. We got back on the right track and made it back to our room.
Although it is great to have a fun while traveling, it is important to have awareness of where you are, how to get back to her hotel, and where to find safety under any circumstances. There were so many things that could have happened to us and to this day, I feel very blessed to have made it back to the room. When we travel we are not in the culture we know, so keep focused, look alive and keep your head on straight.
Doug Chambers is a travel enthusiast who has visited many countries across several continents, and has been to 49 U.S. states. Every year he rides his motorcycle for 10 days, either alone or with a friend.
Doug agrees travel is important because it gives the traveler a chance to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. “Travel brings out the humanity in me,” he told me. “I think you can’t get very far as a leader without having some humanity. Also, when you have to deal with your luggage being lost and not having your clothes – which has happened to most people who travel – that makes you more patient. It makes you realize things are going to go wrong. One of the best things a leader can do is under react to certain situations, and I think travel helps you learn how to do that.”
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Doug’s advice for those who want to travel? Just go. Last summer he was sitting at his desk on a Wednesday and thought, “I have never been to Italy.” That Saturday he was on a plane to Italy. A lot of people come up with reasons not to travel, Doug noted. “We think about our responsibilities or our time off or money. Those are good reasons, I guess, but my advice would be just go. You can travel for cheap. People think they have to travel in style, but they don’t. And you get a better experience traveling cheap, I think.”
In some cases, getting the time and money to travel is a matter of rearranging your priorities, Doug asserted. Traveling alone can be cheaper, and it teaches you something about yourself. You learn what makes you tick. You find out what you will choose to do when no one else is around to influence your decisions.
Last year in Italy, Doug left his iPad on the train he took from Venice to Rome. He discovered it was missing while unpacking, so he ran back to the train station. He tried explaining his situation to a security guard who spoke limited English, but the guard insisted the device was long gone by that point. Doug was undeterred, and he hopped over the turnstile and ran with the security guard chasing him. He found the train, got on…and there was his iPad! He held it over his head like a trophy, and the security guard cheered for him.
“He and I didn’t speak the same language,” Doug said. “When you are in a country and you don’t speak the language, you learn about your communication style. I try to learn the native language wherever I go, but I am not very good at it. I speak Mandarin, poorly. But what I have found is people seem to appreciate if you make the effort.” A lot of people abroad speak English, so we can get lazy. We should put forth the effort to speak the language of the places we visit.
“When you go to other countries you see what poverty actually looks like, what wealth looks like and what love of family looks like--that is how you learn tolerance.” — Dr. B
Many Americans are guilty of ethnocentricity, Doug agreed. “We expect everybody who comes to America to speak English. But then if we go to another country we also expect people there to speak English. When communicating with someone who does not speak your language well, you have to try your best and cheer on their best.”
Doug served a two-year mission for the Mormon Church in Taiwan, which is where he learned to speak Mandarin. Being six foot five, shopping for pants in Taiwan was an adventure. When he’d walk into the store the clerk would get out a sewing machine and stitch together two pairs of pants. “So I wore misshapen pants for about 18 months of my life, with one leg longer than the other and my sock sticking out.”
One of Doug’s worst travel disasters was when thought he had more gasoline in his motorcycle than he actually did. He was in the middle of riding back country roads in Texas, with no money and no cell phone, when he ran out of gas. After walking along the side of the road for a while, a man finally stopped. The man drove Doug to a gas station, bought him a gas can and filled it, and then drove him back to his motorcycle.
“One thing you learn by traveling is people are awesome everywhere,” he said. “This guy took an hour out of his day to help me. I said if he took me into town I could get some money to pay him back, but he refused. What I learned is shit happens, but if you just roll with it you can have some pretty awesome experiences. For me, every time something goes wrong, something even better comes along.”
Doug added, “We take for granted how cool the world is. When I was in Rome last year I made friends with a man who owned a café just outside the Coliseum. Millions of people come to see the Coliseum every year, but to him it was just ‘that thing.’ We take for granted the things that are the most amazing.”
Doug was reminded of one of the poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which conveyed that true wisdom is finding the miraculous in the ordinary. “A lot of times we make ordinary the miraculous,” Doug assessed. “Appreciate what there is to see and appreciate what is around you. Start by traveling in your own home town. Start by taking a different route to work. Walk to work. Do cool things that will give you a new perspective and that will translate into leadership.”