15 Sep 2017 19:06 IST

5 leadership lessons from a Chennai-Kathmandu road trip

Pushing the boundaries on a solo driving trip is very similar to leading a team

Recently, I went on a long, solo road trip in my 4X4 vehicle. I had one goal — to push the vehicle and myself to see how much we could sustain.

Starting off from Chennai, I headed north with no particular destination in mind. I just kept going further and further, always keeping in mind that there was going to be a return journey as well. I ended up in Kathmandu, which, at first, I didn’t think possible at all! The return journey was done on a different route and the entire drive of over 5,000 km was a very pleasant revelation. Crossing different States, encountering different languages, cultures and national boundaries reinforced a number of leadership lessons, that I would want to share with you.

Constant vigilance!

The environment in which you operate changes constantly. You need to figure out how fast it transforms and, when it does, prepare to change your strategies or actions appropriately. Driving northward, I realised there are noticeable changes from State to State. It’s in the way the pedestrians, other drivers, villagers and even animals on the road behave. Road signs change throughout – they go from good to bad to no signs! Speed-breakers appear in the most unexpected places on highways. You need to ensure that your driving pattern takes all this into account and optimise for reasonable progress.

Shifting goalposts

You need to constantly amend your goals — change to higher targets or go into unexplored territory. Goals achieved easily are not stimulating enough to keep the team or yourself motivated. I kept moving the idea of final destination further north at every stop because I didn’t get a sense of achievement till I ventured into unknown territory.

The road from India’s border to Kathmandu was one of the worst I have ever driven on. I was terrified of having a vehicle breakdown or an accident. It was also the first time I drove outside the country.

Completing it without any incident was soul-satisfying and definitely the high point of the trip. This has motivated me to undertake another similar ride soon!

Ignore the majority

Don’t go by what the majority say. They may want to play it safe and may not know the consequences or impact a decision can have on the business, as on the drive.

Important decisions need to be personally analysed, authenticated and rationally evaluated. A lot of people had told me not to undertake this journey because it was fraught with dangers. But if I hadn’t done this, I may have regretted it my whole life. I would have missed an unforgettable experience and not learnt many life lessons.

Decision-making

Don’t depend on just one source of information for decision-making — cross-check, verify, and review. The more the sources, the better the chances of being right.

I depended too much on the GPS. It took me through the shortest route to the border, which led to me missing the check-post, where I was supposed get a permit to enter Nepal. At the border, I was stopped by the Border Security Force and I had to explain myself. In hindsight, I should have asked someone where the check-post was, or used another navigation system that factored it in, especially as I was driving into another country and statutory formalities had to be complied with.

Being lonely

The fact is that it is lonely at the top. On a solo trip, you do feel lonely at times. It is pretty much the same when you are leading a team and they look up to you to make the right decisions. And you have to take ownership for everything — if anything goes wrong, you only have yourself to blame. Learn to enjoy that space. It sharpens your skills of perception, re-imagination and dreaming without boundaries.

It is rejuvenating!

(The writer is a Chennai-based independent consultant)

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