Freya Stark , a prolific British travel writer who lived to be 100, wrote in her book , Baghdad Sketches, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” Stark was ahead of her time as a woman traveling the globe, and her words resonate with me today.
Travel, particularly international travel, has been my lifelong passion. My goal is to visit 100 countries, and I will visit No. 92 this year. As I reflect on these adventures and plan many more, I am struck by how travel has benefited me as a CEO.
Moore has offices in three states as well as international clients, so I of course travel for business, but most of my travel is personal. I am a stronger leader when I allow myself time to get away and experience the world.
Whether you’re the CEO of a large corporation or a small business owner, all business leaders can benefit from traveling. Here are five ways travel will make you a better CEO and how you can make travel a reality.
Travel forces you out of your routine.
As CEOs, we can be prone to tunnel vision. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks that can lead to decision fatigue. We face pressures that leave us feeling disconnected from the passion and creativity that led us into business in the first place. International travel forces us out of our element and encourages us to be open to new experiences, to problem-solve and could help us be more creative.
When I travel, I can think in ways that I just can’t in the midst of the daily grind at home. I always return with new ideas for products, services and solutions to my company’s challenges.
CEOs must innovate to ensure that their brands and companies stay relevant in an ever-changing market. Travel can provide the inspiration we need.
Travel allows you to escape.
CEOs work hard — on average more than 60 hours a week, according to research published in a Harvard Business Review study. We’re working nights and weekends and seldom have the opportunity to unplug. Robust relaxation is critical for our minds, bodies and spirits.
Travel can be challenging at times with missed flights or other logistical problems, but according to a recent study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, it relieves stress. The Los Angeles Times even noted that, according to data from the Global Commission on Aging and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, regular travel can improve our health.
When I travel outside the United States, I feel free to be present with my family and enjoy our time together in a way that I can’t seem to do otherwise. Travel allows me to truly escape, which all CEOs should do from time to time.
Travel fosters empathy and understanding.
Travel allows us to step into someone else’s shoes, engages the senses and different parts of the brain, and allows us to see the world from a new perspective. It also exposes us to people whose paths to success were very different from our own, demonstrating how diversity makes for an even stronger organization and teaching us empathy, which is required in today’s workplace.
I recently visited Thailand and spent time learning about Buddhist beliefs. I was fascinated and came to a greater appreciation of Buddhism. Now, when I meet someone who is Buddhist, I can engage with that person from a more informed point of view and have a deeper, richer conversation.
As CEOs, we must interact with people from all walks of life. Travel teaches us the art of cultural exchange and how to listen and relate.
Travel gives your employees an opportunity to shine.
During the early days of my company, taking time off was difficult. I worked seven days a week, and even taking a long weekend seemed impossible.
As the company has grown and matured, and as I’ve grown as a CEO over the past 26 years, getting away has become easier. Travel has allowed me to build trust with my team because they know I have faith in their ability to keep our company going strong.
When the CEO is away, senior managers have an opportunity to flex their leadership muscles and build their confidence. Travel gives CEOs an opportunity to empower their teams.
A CEO who travels sets an example.
At Moore, we are dedicated to work-life balance and workplace flexibility. We learn our team members’ strengths and passions and what we as a company can do to support employees at work and in their personal lives. When I make travel and time off a priority, my employees know that they can do the same.
All of the benefits of travel that exist for CEOs exist for employees, too. We’re in a fast-paced industry with high expectations, deadlines and competitors, and despite these challenges, we’ve grown every year we’ve been in business. Our team members deserve a break. We encourage them to travel, rest and spend time with their loved ones. They too will return with more energy and passion for the work we do on behalf of clients.
How can CEOs travel more often?
Traveling has been a process of evolution for me as a CEO, and perhaps that’s the best way to approach it. If you’re the CEO of a small or startup company, travel might be challenging at first, but start conditioning yourself and your employees now. Take one long weekend away. Before you leave, communicate your expectations to your team members and set them up for success.
Commit to limiting your work time and make sure your team knows when you’ll be online each day. Talk about possible scenarios in which you would want them to contact you immediately and other scenarios in which they would have the freedom to act without your input. Be prepared for something to go wrong — it always does — but keep problems in perspective. Don’t second-guess minor decisions.
Employees grow when we step back and let them do their jobs. They need the experience, and you need the rest. Do your best to prepare them and then book your next vacation. They, and you, will be better for it.