More feelings in travel
Getting older has some advantages. With age, I’ve learnt that it’s not things that have made me happy, but feelings. My Porsche didn’t make me truly happy (got rid of it). Neither did the villa with a pool (got rid of that too). At this point in my life, I don’t even own a car and instead of a villa, I have an apartment in Amsterdam. The feeling I get when I step outside and wander around my gorgeous city or look out my windows and see the beautiful canals is what makes me feel the most alive and happiest.
Likewise with travel, I’ll never forget the feelings of happiness and peace I found in foreign lands. Traversing the incredible Golden Triangle countryside in Thailand or driving in complete isolation through the breath-taking desert of Oman; The palpable spirituality I felt standing before the Western Wall in Jerusalem or the moment my heart skipped a beat when I saw the limestone karsts of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay.
I still talk about these moments abroad with family, friends, colleagues or people I’ve just met, long after I’ve returned. They’ve become everlasting memories of true joy and thankfulness that I will always cherish. If we take out the transactional element, these feelings are really what the travel industry is all about. We want to enrich our customers lives with spectacular experiences and unforgettable memories. In the end, experiences mean more than things.
When it comes to the travel industry, technology can do almost everything but care or feel. Similarly, feelings need to be the focal point of management in travel. I recently gave a presentation on leadership at an industry event in Melbourne and while I was doing my research, I became even more convinced that I am in exactly the right place, at the right time as a leader. The skills needed to survive in the travel industry as a leader fit me like a glove, and I have never been more effective or comfortable with who I am.
Being bombastic, somewhat arrogant or slightly domineering doesn’t demonstrate strength or earn respect. Leading with humility, temperance and kindness is the greatest strength a leader can show. Respect will come naturally and employees will often go that extra mile if they think their leaders are genuine. What I have learnt is that managing people with an authoritative, hierarchical mindset while ignoring the feelings of staff, only disempowers and alienates those around you.
I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Jeff Downes, a highly-regarded trainer, change agent and innovator, at a recent conference in Sydney. He gave me his book The Absen T, which I started reading immediately. There is a particular passage that talks about men in leadership, that they are “no longer afraid of being vulnerable” and “It’s not weak or feminine to be thoughtful.” This is something that really resonates with me and that I keep going back to.
When I arrived at the Travel Counsellors Australia Office the end of February this year, I literally knocked walls down and converted what was the MD’s office into a bright and spacious meeting room. I sit surrounded by all my team members on the same work floor, with framed pictures of our favourite holiday selfies hanging on the walls. These changes not only increased staff morale and motivation, but they enhanced our support to the Travel Counsellors and as a result, our overall sales.
The qualities that make up strong leaders go far beyond one’s intelligence. Some people are born with it, others learn as they go. But those who are willing to work on their interpersonal abilities and nurture their emotional intelligence are the leaders that separate themselves, their staff and overall business from the rest (including robots!) This ‘human’ approach to leadership is becoming such a crucial job skill and we need more of it in our industry. After all, we are in the business of selling experiences that create feelings.
I firmly believe that in any business, it’s about the people and not about the money. True and lasting financial success often comes only as a result of true and lasting commitment from people with a common purpose. The Travel Counsellors vision is “a future without limits”; We’re never just talking about the money, because success is so much more than money.
Work on your credibility, be fair and genuine and demand the best of yourself, every single day. Focus on your strengths, but be open and caring to those around you; Several people have advised me this over the years and being open to new conversations and schools of thought always works, particularly when it comes to handling objection. I now pride myself on leading with emotional intelligence because I have seen it’s positive effects on team-building and career progression.
Get a mentor or be a mentor; coaching is the new managing. Our Global Senior Management Group have a dedicated coach that offers new ways to approach old issues. We offer dedicated business coaches for every one of our 1,600 home-based Travel Counsellors and a mentor programme for all our staff. Travel Counsellors and head office staff have access to an independent counsellor for more personal matters because how they feel is critical to our success as a business.
When it comes to business, leaders must always strive for creativity and encourage new ideas from their staff, no matter their role. Inspiring staff to share their thoughts and feelings in collaborative sense has only ever produced wonderful results in my experience. At Travel Counsellors, we’ve taught each other about new destinations and ways to offer the best experiences possible for our travellers through our own stories of travel. We looked for ways to give back to our communities, and in the ultimate act of altruism, we now offer all head office staff three paid days off a year to support a charity of their choice. This is something I am really proud of.
The feeling I get knowing I played a small role in changing someone’s life, simply by just doing my job well, far outweighs any material or financial gain. I truly feel good every day and my ultimate goal as a leader in travel is to inspire others to feel the same. Feelings are what separates us from the robots and underpin the human desire to explore. If we never lose sight of that, we will always be successful.