Isn’t it funny how sometimes in life, the most seemingly unrelated subjects can have a huge impact on one another? On the surface, leadership and travel don’t seem to have anything in common—in fact the concept of leadership to many people is being physically there with their team. But travel may have more to do with business success than you think: 94% of American business leaders surveyed said that travel has provided them with a competitive edge. While you might not gain “hard skills” through travel, like learning to use software or business writing, you’ll build up a number of “soft skills” that are highly prized in the workplace—especially among leaders. Here are just some of the ways travel can help you improve your leadership skills.
A New Perspective
Naturally, finding yourself in a culture that’s different from your own will give you a whole different perspective than what you’re used to. Whether you’re from New England and you take a trip to another part of the United States, or you’re from the Midwest and you end up in China, venturing out of your comfort zone and into a culture will help you see another perspective, allowing you to understand and respect views and methods that may be different from your own. This is extremely helpful when managing a diverse team, as everyone has different influences and will have their own methods for getting things done.
If you travel only in affluent areas, you may not have a reason to develop empathy. However, it’s a crucial trait for leaders to develop, and it’s difficult to cultivate without stepping out of your normal comfort zone. Consider children living in impoverished areas of the world—it’s one thing to hear about their struggles in theory; it’s quite another to see them in person. Getting up close and personal with some of the problems the world faces is a good way to build more empathy and humility, as well as develop the ability to see the big picture.
Enhanced Communication Skills
If you’ve ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language, then you know you have to get creative to make it work. While you should always learn the basics of a country’s principle language before you visit (at least hello, thank you, goodbye, please, and excuse me), dropping yourself into a foreign situation without having the control of knowing the language can help force you to improve your communication skills. You’ll be more aware of how your tone and body language conveys meaning beyond words themselves.
If you’ve ever gazed upon one of the seven wonders of the world or an incredible landscape, then you know how inspiring the experience can be. Seeing engineering marvels, natural wonders, and other awe-inspiring landmarks in person can boost your creativity and give you new ideas for innovation and working with your team.
If you never take a vacation, you may think you’re being a good manager by always being available. In reality, you’re probably chronically stressed, and you may be burning yourself out. Have you ever noticed that when one of your employees comes back from vacation, they’re usually extra productive? That’s no accident, and it’s a great reason to hit the road fairly regularly.
Hones Adaptability and Problem-Solving
When you’re traveling, life isn’t predictable. You’ll miss buses and trains, order the wrong food, and you’ll almost never see everything you plan to. These challenges are a great opportunity to hone your problem-solving skills and make you more adaptable. Maybe that bus you weren’t intending to take leads you to a hidden gem. Maybe you make a new friend when trying to find a café you’re dying to try. Maybe you eat something you’d never considered before and end up loving it. Embrace all the experiences you have, even if you weren’t expecting them.
Hitting the Road: How Do You Do It?
Understanding the benefits of traveling is one thing—actually hitting the road is another. Having both the time and money at once to travel can be tricky, especially if you’re already managing a team, but there are ways to do it. First, remember that taking adequate vacation time benefits everyone. It helps you keep your stress levels down so you can be a better manager. It also sets a good example for your team, since they will feel like it’s acceptable to take vacation time. If you’re not able to fully unplug, see if it’s okay for you to travel for a week or two while managing your team remotely—that way, you’re reachable, but you have a chance to get away. If money is an issue, start a travel fund and be on the lookout for great deals. Airlines are dropping prices left and right to keep up with the competition—that’s your chance to get a little R & R, all while enhancing your ability to be a great leader.