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07.14.17

5 Leadership Lessons I Learned by Walking the Camino de Santiago

Victor Prince

T
HE Camino de Santiago is a network of ancient hiking paths that all lead to a shrine to St. James in northwest Spain. I first walked that trail – 435 miles over 29 days – in 2013 and have returned twice since. My passion for discovering new hiking trails was what drew me to the Camino, but the lessons from the Camino are what keep me going back. Here are five of those lessons that have helped me become a better leader.

1. Welcome Help
When you walk for a month, you inevitably get lost. In one little village, three older gentlemen sitting in a shady spot outside the little café jumped and pointed me in the right direction when I took a wrong turn. I realized that they were sitting there specifically to help direct lost hikers. It was their pastime. That experience taught me that welcoming help from others was not just about the specific piece of help I received when I asked. It also made the person helping me feel good and be invested in my success. Ever since the Camino, I have vowed to be more welcoming of help from others, at work and beyond.

2. Learn from the Past
When I decided to walk the Camino, I eagerly jumped into the planning. I plotted out a 29 day itinerary that optimized my distances per day and found a bed I could reserve each night. That exercise took days, tapped my analytical skills, and resulted in a large spreadsheet that I was proud to show off. That is until I realized that I had recreated the same itinerary that several guidebooks had already figured out. People have been walking the Camino for over 1000 years. Instead of taking a step back to see what I could have learned from others who went before me, I plunged right into the task. Since the Camino, I am more thoughtful when I start a new project to look for lessons from the past.

3. Think About the Future
Any trail that has remained popular for over 1000 years can teach us how to build longevity in our organization. One thing behind the Camino’s longevity is the ethos of the hikers who walk it to leave it better than they found it. Hikers generally don’t litter on the trail and pitch in where they can to keep the churches, hostels and facilities along the trail in good shape for hikers to follow. That same ethos is important for leaders. Leaders need to think about their successors as they make decisions in their jobs. Their goal should be to leave their role and team in a better position than they inherited it.

4. Don’t Judge Others
People from many different backgrounds from all over the world hike the Camino. Everyone dresses in much the same way while walking, giving few clues from their outward appearance about their background. Hikers learn to reserve judgment about others. Instead of silently critiquing others, hikers support each other as they go through the same difficult challenge of walking across a country. They may not know how or why another person got on the trail, but they know the shared challenges they are facing and simply focus on those.

5. Stretch Yourself
Walking across a country sounded like a crazy thing to do before I did it. By doing it, I gained self-confidence to do other bold things. Walking the Camino emboldened me to check off a goal that I had long thought was beyond my abilities – writing a book. While I was walking the Camino, I thought a lot about my career and the leadership lessons I had learned. I decided to write a book about those insights. That book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide their Teams to Exceptional Results (Career Press), was named a Top 20 Leadership Book of 2016. This week, my third book, The Camino Way: Lessons in Leadership from a Walk Across Spain (AMACOM) comes out.

I recommend hiking the Camino to anyone who can. The combination of the physical challenge, the alone time for introspection, and the opportunity to meet people from around the world is a wonderful means of self-improvement. If you can’t walk the Camino, search for other experiences that provide those three elements.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Victor Prince. He is a leadership consultant, speaker, and managing director of the consulting firm DiscoveredLOGIC. He has 20+ years of experience in corporate and government leadership, including positions as COO of the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, strategy consultant with Bain & Company, and marketing executive with Capital One. He holds an MBA in finance from the Wharton School. Prince can be reached at www.victorprince.com.

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