How travelling outside your comfort zone makes you a better leader

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the professional growth of the people who come to work with me every day - people who have not only adopted our company’s vision about the power of travel to change people’s lives, but who have taken this purpose to heart in some of the most remarkable ways. If you’re a business owner or leader, you’re likely thinking about cultivating growth and purpose in the next generation, too.

We recently wrapped up my company’s annual employee conference, which convened 400 people from 50 countries across the globe for a week of connection, learning and celebration. I marveled at how my colleagues have creatively fundraised to support our nonprofit foundation, how they’ve competed to earn top customer reviews, and how they’ve spread happiness in their communities every day. Their insights and passion are palpable, and I want to do everything I can to retain and help develop their talents, particularly since many of them are ambitious, passionate millennials who might otherwise job-hop, as studies often suggest.

One of the main themes discussed at the conference was leadership - specifically how you can become more influential, inspirational and respected by peers in your job, without necessarily taking on the role of people manager. It’s what high achievers tend to long for, and one of the best ways to achieve it is through travel experiences that take you outside your comfort zone.

Learning leadership through travel is part of the reason why we give all full-time staff the opportunity to go on a G Adventures tour almost anywhere in the world, once a year, at my company’s expense. Yes, I want my team to experience our products first-hand and have the opportunity to unplug and recharge. But I also want to coax them out of their comfort zones, to discover new interests and skills while learning to understand different cultures - insights they might not otherwise realise.

Traveling to new places is essential education for young people’s professional development, regardless of what industry they work in. I know this based on my own adventures in 130 countries and by witnessing how my employees have evolved and improved after meaningful travel experiences of their own. Here are four key ways.

Travel teaches tolerance and compassion

Travel exposes you to new cultures, religions and communities that you’d never encounter on the streets of San Francisco, Toronto or London. It helps you see the amazing differences between people - and also the universal qualities we share. In my travels, I’ve met Buddhist leaders, members of the Maasai tribes and Pakistani artists who have opened my mind to new leadership philosophies and shown me that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem. With today’s workforce more diverse than ever, successful managers must be able to engage, empathise with and support different types of people and perspectives. Travel teaches you how to do that, and gives you a greater understanding of why diversity is a competitive advantage in the first place.

Be inspired by beautiful things

It’s not uncommon for leaders and managers to refer to themselves as workaholics. The problem with the workaholic approach is that when you work in the same environment, you start to recycle views and ideas based on what you know. Your thinking gets stale when you’re always brainstorming with the same people in the same places about the same things. To do great and disruptive work, you have to be inspired - and that is one of the greatest benefits of travel. Science backs this up; recent studies suggest that traveling actually sparks new synapses and revitalises brain activity.

Learn what global really means

The most competitive companies today are global in nature. And in order to make your company, service or product relevant to new markets, you need to have a global mindset. You can read about world markets, study analyst reports and make educated guesses, but there’s no substitute for truly experiencing the world yourself. When you go to a new destination and immerse yourself in its culture, you pick up on nuances and market demands that can help you think more strategically about the process of global expansion. This type of thinking will help you be more successful in reaching your existing markets as well, bringing new questions and inspiration to the surface.  

Understand your place in the universe

Regardless of how amazing the trip was, we often leave destinations with a better appreciation of home. Exploring new places helps you understand where you come from and gives you a sense of groundedness. At my company, the most successful teams are the ones who are anchored in their purpose and know how to stay in their lanes. You encounter a lot of potential distractions as a manager, and staying focused can be a big challenge. Travel gives you an appreciation of why it’s important to know where you come from, and this can often translate to a newfound sense of grounding and focus at work.

It’s true that the journey will change you. It can also stretch you and teach you how to become the kind of leader who will motivate others to support your vision and, eventually, affect real change. So don’t be a work martyr who gives up vacation days or makes others feel guilty for getting away. Go, grow, and I bet you’ll find you come back a better leader.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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