Who would have thought that I could travel to the other side of the world and find practical leadership lessons that apply to my life back home in Seattle?
Recently, I realized a life dream and traveled to Kham, Tibet, now part of China’s Sichuan province. Since my youth I’ve felt drawn to Eastern philosophy and culture and set up this four week journey—two weeks by road and two weeks trekking—to experience and explore this remote area and its history and culture.
I planned the trip with an old friend and as we worked through the logistics, supplies, selected a guide outfit and trained for the trekking we would be doing (all above 11,000 feet mind you), I began to wonder if the reality of this trip could ever live up to the expectations that I had of it. I’d been thinking of doing this for more than 40 years. A fellow BECAUZ coach, Clive Prout, sparked a great insight that stuck with me throughout the trip: “Just let go of the expectations and accept what unfolds.”
This concept became the first of several key themes that emerged over the four week trip. These lessons, surprisingly, ended up having real relevance in my life and work, impacting how I interact every day, with everyone. Like many things I found in Tibet, they are simple, yet powerful. Over the next few weeks I’ll share these lessons with you.
Give up expectations. This is what Clive helped me uncover. Go along for the ride, accept what comes, as it comes, with openness and curiosity. Being present in each moment allows you to find the joy in the journey rather than wasting time thinking and worrying about the outcome.
The example that crystalized this for me came in one of the villages we stopped in mid-way through our road section. Our group of six had been exploring the town without our translator, trying to get a sense of the place. Looking up, we noticed a long line of people snaking across the nearby hillside. It was a large group of Tibetan nuns who had been on a walking meditation around the mountain. As they came down into town, we were suddenly surrounded with concentric rings of nuns all staring at us intently many of them likely had not even seen a Westerner before. The situation definitely gave us pause, as we did not speak the language. But looking into their solemn, yet joyous faces I knew that they were curious, and not offended or concerned by our presence. I began to pantomime with some prayer beads I had recently bought, looking at the nearest nun for guidance. She got the message and began to show me how to count them out and say the chant that goes with them.
I embraced this unexpected situation and just went with it—no fear, not trying to force anything. It was a moving moment of connection across cultural and language barriers, and had I not been open to the experience, or started stressing on the potentially claustrophobic nature of the situation, I would have missed a wonderful experience. After 10 minutes with the nuns I was filled with tremendous joy translated by the calm and focused energy they brought to us.
As leaders, we do have to look to the future and worry about outcomes. But part of the art of inspiring people is in looking at what’s actually happening all around you every day and paying attention – really seeing the details – so we don’t miss things that are important.