Over the years, I’ve clocked many hours sitting in a classroom or at a computer learning leadership principles. And as someone whose job it is to create professional development programs, it makes sense that I’d choose that path for my own leadership development.

But a year ago as I reflected on my leadership journey, I was nervous to admit out loud that the thought of sitting through another conference for my own development felt mind-numbing. I was restless to continue growing my leadership skills, just not sure how to do it.

Then I met some other female leaders in my industry who had raved about the impact of having traveled on engagement trips throughout the world. The idea of global travel sounded exotic and even indulgent, but I found myself researching and ultimately registering for a program.

As the trip neared, I realized I had signed up out of boredom from traditional professional development paths I’d taken in recent years, and was lacking purpose for what I was really doing on the trip. As luck would have it, I then came across a webinar by Christine Soper – and that was it. That session provided me with a way to think about how I could turn my field engagement trip from a passive experience into an active leadership development opportunity.

Whether you aspire to travel a little or a lot in your work, there are four valuable steps you can take to leverage travel experiences to grow your leadership skills.

Step 1: Define.

If you haven’t done so, define for yourself your core leadership values and competencies. Then, describe how a trip could grow those areas.

For me, I recognized that there were three leadership values that I was actively looking to work on: service to others, empathy, and vulnerability, as well as growing my competency at being a more adept change leader.

Next, define for your boss (and if that’s you, don’t skip this step) how the company will benefit from your travel experience. In my case, my boss asked me to go one step further and pitch the idea to our CEO. Prepare a strong value proposition that describes the “why” behind your trip.

Step 2: Design.

Use the leadership values and competencies to guide you in identifying a trip that can grow those areas. Look to trade associations in your industry or functional area at for inspiration. Chambers of commerce and other networks you belong to are also great resources. The length, location, and agenda for the trip should all reinforce the leadership values you are seeking to grow.

From there, it’s time to create a purpose statement for your travel experience. 

For example, the purpose of my trip was to create greater knowledge and understanding of the credit union system in a poorer part of the world (empathy) while supporting development initiatives in the local community (service) and practicing humility and authenticity in my interactions (vulnerability). 

This process allows you to set goals for the trip based on your purpose for going.

Step 3: Engage.

During your travel experience, keep the core values and competencies that you’re working on top-of-mind. Look for ways to share with others the values you’re working on and engage in the experience.

For example, was respect a core value you picked? If so, look for opportunities to earn the respect of others on your trip while demonstrating compassion, regardless of differences.

Lastly, be active in your experience. When you meet people that make sense to add to your network, commit to following up with them. Do you know of a resource that could be of use? Promise to follow up and provide that to someone. Just be sure and have an easy system to track things along the way.

Step 4: Reflect and take action.

Set aside time when you return to reflect on your trip and the goals you set. What did you learn from the experience and how can you apply what you’ve learned? Who were the people you met that you’d like to follow up with? Were there moments of inspiration that you can act on? All too soon, you’ll be back in your daily grind, so be sure to capture your experience and put your next steps into action.

For me, I came back renewed in my purpose to serve, but upon reflection, realized how my efforts to serve were scattered, supporting too many causes. As a result, I’m creating my community service “brand” so that I have a clearly-defined vision and strategy for the causes I support.

Prior to this experience, I had not actively thought about travel as a tool for leadership growth. And while you’ll still find me taking part in webinars and attending conferences to grow my leadership skills, I’ve now added a new format for growth that I had not previously not tapped.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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