You will be uncomfortable.
You will need help.
You don’t have a title.
And you don’t make the plans.
You’ve never done before.
With people that you don’t know.
In a place that you’ve never been.
For a very different purpose.
I returned last Saturday from a week of service in the Dominican Republic. I signed up for the trip several months ago and as the date approached I was stressed about going. The timing was not good. I was worried about being away from work. There were things going on personally that needed attention. How would I survive for a week without 24X7 access to the internet?
Turns out it was exactly the paradigm shift I needed. Actually, much more than I even knew I needed! My experiences and the feelings they invoked are too much to relate in a single blog post and for most of you, it would be like watching a slide show of vacation photos. If you weren’t there it would get boring pretty quickly.
So in lieu of a detailed travelogue, let’s unpack the 7 reasons I believe creating a paradigm-shifting-adventure will make you a better leader:
- You build your courage by putting yourself in situations for which you have no script and must push through despite your uncertainty.
- You gain new perspectives through unique experiences that force you to see things from a different point of view.
- You challenge your assumptions by coming into contact with problems that don’t fit your formulas.
- You create new connections with people from very different backgrounds who expand your view of the world and your work.
- You test your adaptability as you navigate through new situations, cultures, and complexities.
- You grow your creativity in order to meet unique challenges that you must overcome without the tools you are accustomed to using.
- You recognize your limitations as you are forced to appreciate how much there is in the world that you still haven’t experienced.
Bonus mental health points if you stay off the internet for a week.
My daily work varied from building walls for a new vocational training center and helping with a dental clinic to leading a workshop on servant leadership through a translator. All new experiences.
I even became a fan of cold showers.
Very rarely was I in a position of leadership. I depended on others to guide me through each objective. It was a great lesson in humility and a solid reminder of what if feels like to be the other side of the equation. We quickly bonded as a team and learned to lean on each other for support. There was no room for egos.
The biggest lesson came on Thursday when the Executive Director fell seriously ill and the In-Country Manager responsible for daily coordination of our work had to escort him to the hospital. The key leaders of our project were suddenly out of commission.
What happened next was a thing of beauty. Once word came back that the Director was not in imminent danger, we rallied around the goal of making sure the work kept going because we knew that is what he would want. We put together a plan and headed out to do our work. People stepped up to make decisions and lead various aspects of the projects we had planned.
It was a first-hand lesson on trusting your team.
In the end, We finished the week strong, exceeded our goals and the Director was given the ok to fly home with us on Saturday.
The bottom line is we all need a shock to the system from time to time. We can become so comfortable in our patterns of thinking that we no longer recognize how narrow our view of the world has become and lose our ability to see things differently.
Put yourself in situations that break your patterns, force you to dig deep and inspire your imagination. You don’t have to travel to a third-world country, just make sure you leave your comfort zone.
Every once in a while, turn life over to see what it looks like from the other side. ~Terri Guillemets