5 Reasons Why Leaders Travel

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  1. Travel Develops Your Courage

Traveling takes courage. It is no small feat to pick yourself up, get on a plane and go somewhere new. Most times, it’s also not that simple. It takes a lot of planning, saving and preparing yourself for your adventure abroad. But even during the preparation stage, it takes courage to make initial decision to get up and go. That ability, to act with courage, before, during and after your traveling, is an important lesson all leaders must develop and put into their “toolbox.’

 

  1. Travel Makes You More Flexible

Whether you’re going to Europe, the Caribbean, South America or Africa- there are always going to be things during your trip that aren’t going to go as planned. It could be a flight delay, a lost bag, reservations at a hotel were mixed up, or my favorite- losing your wallet and bank cards, you’re going to face uncomfortable situations. How you deal with it is going to make the difference. Leaders understand these experiences only add to your mental, emotional and even spiritual flexibility.

 

  1. Travel Increases Your Awareness

Leaders know this rule; you don’t know what you don’t know. There’s no way around it. If you’ve never been to London, to Tel Aviv, or to Cape Town, you simply can’t speak to the current ideals, values, and points of concern of the people living in those places with any personal experience. You may have read books, seen media, or talked with friends- but it’s not quite the same. In order to truly understand, you must experience those places and people yourself, firsthand. Leaders understand this concept, which is is why exposure to foreign countries and cultures is critical for modern leaders.

 

  1. Travel Increases Your Gratitude

The city and culture you live in is quite different from other places around the world. Some places in the world don’t experience daylight every day. Other places have months of heavy rain. In some places, fish is the only protein in your diet. In other places, they eat bugs and insects you’ve never heard of before. In some places, they don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. In other places, the city never sleeps and businesses never close. It’s a big world out there, and as you begin experiencing it yourself, you’ll be ever so grateful for all the things in your life that lead you up to those moments. Travel helps you cherish who you are and what you’ve been given.

 

  1. Travel Changes Your Life

Travel is transformational. It exposes you to new people, concepts and cultures and in the process transforms who you are. It awakens a part of you that you’ve forgotten, it reminds you of values you once held so dear and inspires you to act. The greatest leaders in history understood the value of travel and made it a priority for themselves. How can you impact the world if you’ve never experienced anything outside of your own city, your own country? It’s a simple concept, yet difficult to undertake. Do you want to improve your life? Lived inspired? Make a positive impact? Make a commitment to travel this year for an adventure worthy of your time. Next year, you’ll be thankful you did. Go to yourself.

Effective Means It Works

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I often wonder, “why develop leaders?” Who are these so-called leaders and what do they really do anyway? If you were to Google the word leader you’d come back with, “a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country.” Okay Google, I agree leaders are taking on positions to influence others but it’s a bit vague to use the word in its own definition. At least that’s what I’ve been taught. That definition also eludes exactly what activities, what actions these leaders are doing.

When I first entered the leadership development field in my early twenties I found that question hard to answer precisely. There seemed to be dozens of ways researchers, organizations, universities and companies were defining leaders and leadership. I suppose there will always be different ways to define these words but after ten years in the field I’ve personally come to terms with my own definition of leadership. Let me explain through a couple short stories.

The international outbreak of the SARS virus happened in 2002. Doctors and medical researchers detected, analyzed, collaborated, and then synthesised an antidote to the virus in just twelve weeks- twelve weeks! Sixteen nations around the world studied the outbreak, communicated each morning through video chat, shared research data through online file storage portals, and in less time it takes to complete one college semester, they solved a highly complex international virus outbreak with real world and real-life consequences. It is a remarkable testament to the impact people make when given the tools and opportunity. James Surowiecki does an incredible job going into the full story in his book The Wisdom of Crowds.

Another example. In 2015, the chief of Peru’s forest inspection service, Rolando Navarro, was investigating Lumber Liquidator Inc. for engaging in the illegal deforestation and sale of lumber from rainforests in Peru to international markets. According to the United Nations, illegal lumber is a $50 billion a year enterprise with many powerful parties part and parcel to its activities. Yet, with the assistance of instant communication tools between countries, live GPS trackers and video feeds, and online language translation tools for hundreds of thousands of documents, Navarro and US Homeland Security was able to deny entry of 1,770 metric tons of illegal Amazon rainforest wood into US markets. It was a small victory in a huge illegal trade but it is proof to what is possible when people, technology, and continuous effort is applied to solve complex problems.  

One last example with a local origin. In 2002 Tanya Seaman co-founded a startup called PhillyCarShare, a non-profit car sharing organization. Their goal was to reduce the number of cars on the road, promote gas saving and hybrid vehicles, reduce pollution, save money, and promote a car-free lifestyle for its members. It was a huge success, had 13,000 members using their cars in just five years, had a fleet reduction partnership with the City of Philadelphia, and saved thousands of gallons of gas, money and pollutants from entering the atmosphere. Through PhillyCarShare’s website, with a personalized key fob, and a credit card, members could instantly rent hundreds of cars by the hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was the Uber before Uber existed.  Most interesting to me, PhillyCarShare was a non-profit with a mission to alleviate car ownership in Philadelphia in order to address environmental concerns. Its’ goal wasn’t to make a billion dollars but rather to make a positive impact for members and the environment. Even more interestingly, PhillyCarShare was bought by Enterprise in 2011 and was renamed Enterprise CarShare.

What do these stories all have in common? They all feature problems that needed solutions and individuals who took the attitude that they could make an impact, acquired the knowledge to do so, developed the skills to build support for their solutions, and implemented the habits, day-in and day- out, it takes to succeed in the face of adversity. They all feature individuals who developed their leadership capabilities, integrated useful technologies, and built teams to solve complex problems  in order to make the world a better place, in their own unique way.

So why are we focused on developing the next generation of local and global leaders? Because we know there are lots of issues in our local communities and beyond that need to be addressed; in government, medicine, education, energy, housing, agriculture, philanthropy, in literally every area of business and commerce. And in ten years from now we know we can make positive progress in all these areas if we have individuals who help take on leadership to move the needle forward.

So who are leaders and what do they do? Leaders are individuals who have the attitude, knowledge, skills, and habits to effectively solve complex problems of public importance.  

By: Ben Goodstein

It All Started with a Question

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It’s funny how when you’re young you have this idea of how your life will turn out and then as you get older you realize that life had a completely different plan. At least that’s been partially my experience. I always imagined I would go into finance because that’s what my mom did and she was my role model. Hey, it could still happen, but probably not and that’s okay. 

Life did have one definite plan for me though, and that was to go to Temple University. All the people I love and looked up too went there; my grandparents Harvey and Selma went to Temple, my mom went to Temple, my step-father went to Temple, so naturally, after I graduated from boarding school I went Temple. I had it all figured out too. I would study International Finance in the Fox School of Business and in four years I’d graduate and go work for some international firm. But after one course and a question from a ten-year-old boy that all changed.

In business school, and I imagine they still do this, you’re required to take a public speaking course. My professor charged the class to select one topic to research and give speeches on that topic for the duration of the semester. After of year and a half of business courses, I felt bored and I choose to research something out of the box for me; I choose the Philadelphia School District. I hadn’t gone to public school in Philadelphia, I knew I never wanted to be a teacher or work in a school, but I remember not hesitating at all. Something drew me in.

At the time, the high schools in the district were nicknamed “failure factories” because the graduation rate lingered just above 50%. That is to say, 50 of 100 high school seniors graduated with a diploma, if they even made it to senior year.

During that same time, I was working part-time for Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education teaching tennis at local recreation centers, mostly in North Philly. It was a tough sell some afternoons trying to get kids excited to play tennis when other kids were playing basketball on courts just twenty feet away. Even tougher was getting the kids in the program excited about completing the educational workbooks and activities we were required to teach before they even got on the court. It was an incredible period in my life, tough, but incredible.

This one afternoon I had a particularly bad practice. It was a Friday afternoon, my co-worker was a no-show, the tennis net had been torn down the night before, and I was short on patience. I ended the educational activities early and figured I’d at least get the kids on the court to play some games. Or so I thought. I lost six or seven of the kids just walking out to the courts and could tell the remaining ones were thinking about making a dash for it. So there I am with five or six kids left trying to be the best coach I can be, trying to be excited so the kids could feed off that energy, but just failing miserably. After about ten minutes of trying to “force” excitement about tennis practice one boy said, “Coach Ben, we never gonna be good at tennis. Why should we even try?!” That question hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember looking at that boy, looking around the court, and trying to put myself in his shoes. He had a point. Why try? Why try to excel at anything?

Back in my public speaking course, my speeches changed their focus as the semester progressed. When the course started my speeches reflected a business minded student. I was researching and talking about staff structure, training methods, teachers evaluations and compensation, success rates of new programs, working within constrained budgets, and trying to get the most bang for your buck. By mid-semester my focus changed. I became less concerned about specific data on student test scores or how different programs impacted the district budget and became more concerned with why would students try to succeed in a failing school system considering all of the other trauma and adverse circumstances they face? Why try at all?

Finally, the semester was coming to an end and I had one last speech to give for my course. I didn’t talk much about the school district at all. Instead, I spoke about that ten-year-old boy. I spoke about the community he grew up in, about his mother who sometimes yelled at him during practice from the outside of the courts but loved him dearly, and I spoke about this natural charisma he had which influenced the other kids in the program so effortlessly. Four weeks earlier that boy challenged me by asking Why try? Why try to excel at anything? I didn’t have the answer then, and it’s been over ten years now that I’ve been in the pursuit to find it. But that question changed my entire thinking about how I wanted to spend my time. At the end of that last speech, knowing I was going into unknown territory, I closed with, “And that’s why I transferring to the College of Education next semester.” I did and never looked back.

That boy continued to challenge me and am happy to say I’m still in touch with him. He was part of that program through middle school, joined the high school leadership program I use to run, traveled with our team nationally, and even internationally on a school build mission to Haiti. I watched him graduate from high school, enter college, the reserves, and the workforce. That young man is incredible and with many other young men and women and some truly talented staff, we learned together the answers to that question of why try.