Leadership Lessons from a Walk Across Spain

Learning from the Camino

 

“The Camino is the ideal training ground for leaders.”

That’s the line on the back liner of the book jacket that pulled me into a surprising story. How to practice leadership with “a pilgrim’s heart, a wayfarer’s grit, and a navigator’s gift for reaching the destination.”

Exactly.

Reading leadership consultant Victor Prince’s book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain , was a way to take that journey without actually walking that far. For the hours reading the book, I walked with Victor and took in the lessons and applications for leadership. Victor graciously talked with me about his journey. Before his leadership work, Victor Prince was previously the COO of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a strategy consultant with Bain & Company.

 

“It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” -Francis of Assisi

 

Make the Leadership Decision

Why did you decide to do the “Camino”?

I do long distance hiking and biking trails as a hobby. I focus on trails that are long and have accommodations along the way and don’t require camping. The Camino meets both those criteria, and I finally got to it when I was able to take a month off during a sabbatical. The Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez film, The Way, also got me interested. I knew the trail had ancient roots, and many people got an epiphany when walking it, but I was more focused on it as just the next trail I would check off my list.

 

Leadership Lesson: tell your team about your goals and the reasons you are pursuing them.

 

You received a passport for your trip with 7 leadership lessons that struck you. As you made the journey, how did these impact you?

At first, I was focused on the main purpose of the pilgrim credential (pilgrim passport), which is to collect the stamps from hostels along the way to prove you walked the route. As a goal-driven over-achiever, I loved the daily sense of accomplishment I got with each nightly stamp. I only noticed the list of the 7 values pilgrims were asked to live by while on the Camino after a few days of walking. They captured the spirit I found in other pilgrims. They were simple things like, “Make others feel welcome,” and, “Think about those who will follow you.” They also struck me as exceptionally thoughtful values to follow even while off of the Camino. As I had alone-time walking, I reflected on how these values would have been helpful for me to live by in my past roles leading teams at work.

Copyright Victor Prince, Used by Permission

Would you share an example of how perspective can change on this journey?

One of the values is, “Welcome each day – its pleasures and challenges.” While walking an average of 15 miles per day for a month, a pilgrim on the Camino experiences many challenges as well as pleasures. I learned to put challenges into perspective. My most challenging day on the Camino came after a 24-mile day that resulted from a mistake in my planning. When I started the next morning, I was tired, sore and grumpy as I stared at a big hill I had to climb. It was a hot July day. I started to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew with this whole walk. ‘What on earth am I doing walking across Spain?’ I asked myself. I slogged on and when I got about halfway up the hill, I saw a marker for a pilgrim who had died on that spot. That put my challenges into perspective. I realized that, while this was my worst day on the trail, this adventure was something I knew would be difficult but that I had chosen to do. That made me realize that a bad day doing something I love is still a good day. When I got to the top of the hill, I snapped this picture which changed my life. I used this picture to headline my blog about the Camino that went viral around the world and led to this book.  The fallen pilgrim named on the marker never made it to see that view, but he inspired me and I dedicated this book to him. The leadership lesson I learned from this is to put bad days at work into perspective.  A bad day at work is better than a good day without a job.

 

7 Values to Live By

  1: Welcome each day, its pleasures and challenges

  2: Make others feel welcome

  3: Share

  4: Live in the moment

  5: Feel the spirit of those who have come before you

  6: Appreciate those who walk with you today

  7: Imagine those who will follow you

 

Lessons from the Camino

The #1 Thing that Should Keep Leaders Up at Night

leaders up at night

Find the Katherines

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson turns 99 years young this week.

She was born August 26, 1918. Her life has been nothing short of extraordinary. No one could have predicted her success when she born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Her father worked various jobs at the Greenbrier Hotel. Her mother was a teacher. As a young girl, she loved to count and showed a strong interest in math. Her abilities were recognized, and she entered college at fifteen and graduated at eighteen.

Starting her career as a teacher, she later moved to work at the Langley Memorial Laboratory at NASA.

As an African American woman in the early 1950s, she began to break one barrier after another. She overcame considerable sexism and racism, distinguishing herself through her work ethic and genius in the field of analytic geometry.

Her early work led to the discovery that larger planes disrupt air currents and can cause smaller aircraft to crash long afterwards, bringing a change to flight patterns and saving lives. She famously worked on the calculations that helped bring Senator John Glenn back from the first American orbital mission.

Senator Glenn trusted her over the first IBM mainframe computers. He wouldn’t okay the mission until Katherine okayed the math.

From the moon landing to the Space Shuttle program, Katherine was there, making an impact on it all.

All this extraordinary history, and Katherine’s struggles and triumphs, is beautifully told in Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, put them on your must-read and watch list! It documents a shameful period in history, but one that must be remembered. I found it incredibly inspiring to demonstrate the inherent evil, bias and prejudice we must always fight against.)

 

“The greatest talents often lie buried out of sight.” -Plautus

 

Learn from Katherine’s Extraordinary Career

So, on her 99th birthday, we can learn many lessons from her career success:

  • She learned continuously.
  • She cultivated her unique gifts.
  • She lived on the edge of her comfort zone.
  • She demonstrated courage in the face of racism and sexism.
  • She overcame others’ false, negative perceptions.
  • She trail-blazed thinking and challenged tradition.
  • She broke barriers mathematically, socially, and academically.

No wonder she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She not only contributed to the USA’s success in space, but her courage, tenacity, and determination changed people, perceptions, and processes all along the way.

Amazing.

 

 

“Katherine knew: once you took the first step, anything was possible.” –Margot Lee Shetterly

 

The Leadership Lesson Behind the Story

But there’s something else that strikes me as I reflect on her lifetime of achievement. It’s something that, as a leader, no one tells you about in school or in classes. It’s something that, as a business leader and CEO, I ponder quite a bit.

Lead True by Putting People First

Leadership Compass

Put People, Organization and Community First

No matter the industry, leaders face the same types of challenges. It’s a leader’s personal compass that makes all the difference.

Jeff Thompson, MD is chief executive officer emeritus at Gundersen Health System. He’s a pediatrician, an author, and a speaker on building a mission-driven culture. During his tenure, Gundersen Health was recognized for its quality care. Dr. Thompson was awarded the White House Champions of Change award in 2013.

I recently spoke to him about his new book on leadership, Lead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community.

 

Leadership Tip: Show people you are there to build them, not rule them.

 

Give Others Courage

You share the dramatic story of you intubating a baby, risking your own career to save a life. There are so many leadership lessons in this story. But I want to ask this: how do you teach others to make these decisions?

No leader can always be everywhere. No rule book can cover every situation. To prepare the staff first you need to believe you are there to build them, not rule them. Holding people accountable is looking backwards…being responsible for their success is looking forward. Give them the tools to make these decisions without you. You need to set a pattern of clarity of the values of the organization, the priority of service above hierarchy, service above self, long-term good over short-term self-protection. When they see you live this, when they see you recognize this in others and support this level of behavior, they will have the courage to do the same.

 

“You want to invite new ideas, not new rules.” –Dan Heath

 

Courage and discipline. You linked these together. Tell us why and how they relate.

Aristotle is attributed to have said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”  Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it just means fear doesn’t get to make the choice. Having courage is a great start….without courage so little will move forward. But discipline gives courage legs. It focuses and moves the work forward. It keeps you from letting your courage make a stand but accomplish little.

For example…those protesting pipelines and coal burning are very courageous…but if they also have the discipline to lead the conservation effort…they will force the market pressures to limit new pipelines and coal burning. Courage plus discipline will have a much greater effect.

Or you may have bold clear no compromise rules in your organization about how all staff will be treated or how gender and diversity will be respected. Clear, courageous but not effective unless you have the discipline to live by it when one of your high performing stars behaves badly. You need the discipline to follow up on your bold stance. No one’s ego can be more important than the well-being of the staff or organization.

 

“Good leaders don’t tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.” –Jeffrey Immelt

 

Be a Humble Leader

9 Leadership Lessons and Quotes from Star Wars

 

Leadership Lessons from Star Wars

Forty years ago, on Wednesday, May 25th, 1977:

The Brady Bunch Hour ended.

Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.

And George Lucas released Star Wars.

Star Wars debuted on only 32 screens in the United States, but it would launch careers, become a multi-billion dollar franchise, and change the movie business.

There are many leadership lessons in Star Wars:

  1. There’s strength in diversity. Look different, think different = strength.
  2. The power of simplicity. Discard what’s unneeded.
  3. A team is stronger when individuals are in balance and strong.
  4. Surround yourself with the best people.
  5. Go for your dreams!
  6. Leadership is about duplicating the positive power within.
  7. Look beyond initial appearances.
  8. Focus.
  9. Mastering self is the beginning of the leadership journey.

 

I could go on and on.

Every one of the movies is filled with great quotes full of these life lessons. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Quotes from Star Wars Films:

 

“The force will be with you always.” –Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

“Never tell me the odds!” –Han Solo

 

“Do or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda

 

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda

 

“Who’s the more foolish: the fool or the fool who follows him?” –Obi-Wan Kenobi

 

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” -Yoda

 

“The force, it’s calling to you. Just let it in.” –Maz Kanata

 

“You know what I always say: speak softly and drive a big tank.” –Hondo Ohnaka

 

“If no mistake you have made, yet losing you are…a different game you should play.” -Yoda

 

“In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” –Obi-Wan Kenobi

Lessons from United Airlines: 6 Steps For When Your PR Fails

Leadership Lessons from United Airlines

 

The minute the video starts, it’s obvious it will be explosive. And it sure has been. It has now been viewed millions of times around the world: A man is forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight.

Most of us are offended that the man was treated like this, bloodied as he was hauled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle. Most of us have also had our share of experiences with airlines, and this hits a nerve, like a final straw breaking the collective back of the paying passengers. We’ve been hit with baggage fees. We’ve been told, “No, you can’t have the whole can of soda.” Blankets disappeared ages ago. We’re scanned, wanded, searched, and pushed along through a system full of weary travelers with suspicious glances. Our flights are canceled or delayed for hours—always, it seems, the minute we arrive at the gate, harried and exhausted from running, of course.

Watching this man pulled off so brutally, we ask, “Why was he pulled off the flight?” The answer doesn’t make us feel any better: so that United Airlines could use the seat for a flight attendant.

A customer, obeying all rules, who the airline boarded moments before, who was sitting in the seat he paid for, was chosen at random for removal.

He didn’t want to get off the plane, and so the scene escalated.

Defenders of the airline will point out that this is not only legal, but then they point to his behavior during and after the incident. They will also point out that it was security, and not airline personnel, who removed him.

My law degree is decades old, and I’ve been an inactive member for too many years to weigh in on the legal issue here except to say that it’s far from clear.

 

Make the Right Choices

What’s clear to me is this:

United apparently chose policy over principle, chose employees over customers, chose to save a few dollars only to lose millions.

 

“When in doubt, choose principle over policy.” -Skip Prichard

 

Worse yet is when you remember United’s motto: Fly the friendly skies. Maybe the friendliness only starts when you’re airborne?

Many PR disasters seem to worsen just when you think the lowest point is reached.

And that’s what happened when the CEO stepped in with his comments. He sent a memo blaming the passenger and defending employees, saying that they were following existing procedures. He called the passenger disruptive and belligerent.

Did he apologize? He “apologized for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

Re-accommodate? The man was bloody and seemed to be unconscious!

Only after outrage about his comments exploded online did he change to become “outraged” himself about the incident. His tone has now changed to apologetic. Yesterday he softened them further and even said it was a failure of policy and training. At least the tone is improving.

The minute I saw this video, I said the obvious: This is going to be a PR disaster for United. They better have a full crisis team working on it. When I saw the CEO’s comments, I said to a group that this would now make PR history. It has found a place in marketing classes where these types of mistakes are prominently featured. It may well be mentioned along with other great PR blunders like BP’s spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 10 minutes to ruin it.” -Warren Buffet

 

What can we learn from this entire mess?

 

 

Lessons from United

I’m reminded to always look on the positive side of things. That sentiment was shared by Andy Imbimbo, who posted this:

So many people are posting about this guy being dragged off a plane. I can’t remember the last time everyone has been so…….United!

 

“So many people are posting…I can’t remember the last time everyone’s been so..United!” -@AndyCoolBeans

 

That’s a great point. We are mostly united against this behavior. In a politically divided nation, it has shifted the conversation from politics.

Meanwhile, the public relations problem for United reminds me of how each of us can handle our screw-ups, mistakes, and errors in judgment. I’ve made my fair share, too, though thankfully not at all like this one.

Here are a few leadership lessons from United’s….well, to be kind, should I say “lapse in judgment”? 

 

Avoid

If you can avoid a problem, that’s always the first step. It wasn’t necessary. The employees could have driven the few hours to reach their destination and prioritized the customers. United could have offered a higher amount of money until they had enough volunteers. Why allow all of the passengers to board and take their seats if you didn’t have enough seats for them? There are a number of ways this could have been avoided.

 

“Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally.” -Skip Prichard

 

Admit

Here’s my rule: Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally. Pointing to policies and legalese will satisfy only a small percentage of the public. Most people want you to connect emotionally and sincerely first. No excuses. The language initially used made it worse. “We apologize that we had to re-accommodate some passengers” was such an emotional miss that it fueled the fire of an already outraged public. Always great to think of Molly Ivins. She once said, “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.”

 

“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.” -Molly Ivins

 

Apologize

Apologies are not as easy as they may seem at first. I learned this especially from the research of Jennifer Thomas and the book she co-wrote with Gary Chapman. There is a specific language of apology. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their communication, but PR departments should take note.

 

“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” -Jennifer Thomas

 

 

Assess