Summer Road Trips and Authentic Leadership: Navigating the Journey

Yay hey! Summer is here, and it’s the perfect time for going on a road trip! There’s something magical about hitting the open road, feeling the wind (or rain, if you live in Scotland) in your hair, and discovering new places. But did you know that road trips can teach us a lot about authentic leadership? Just like every road trip requires planning, flexibility, and a sense of adventure, leading authentically involves setting a clear direction, being open to detours, and embracing the unexpected.

So, I thought it would be cool to use our summer road trip as a beautiful metaphor to explore how to navigate the journey of authentic leadership. Get your seatbelt on lovely!

Usually, a road trip begins with a destination in mind. Maybe it’s a northerly beach, a busy city full of summer tourists, or a hidden gem off the beaten track. Similarly, authentic leaders need a clear vision about where you want to take your team? Define your goals and communicate them effectively. Your vision acts as the guiding star, keeping everyone aligned and focused on the journey ahead. Just as you’d chart your course on a map outline your leadership path with clear objectives and milestones, just like you would if you were typing in directions to a sat nav about stopping places, garages, parks etc.

Now no road trip is complete without the essentials – snacks, games, a killer playlist, and spray for the midgies (if you know, you know!). For authentic leaders, packing essentials means equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge. Investing in your continuous professional learning (CPD) is vital to keep your confidence levels high, and for you to feel knowledgeable about what you aim to achieve. But….. don’t be fooled about what it is you seek to learn. What do I mean? Well, you may be an IT Developer for an organisation, and you have been promoted to a managerial position (congratulations!). Please don’t think now that all your CPD should be about IT Development, so you can keep up with the latest industry trends. You now have a new focus, and that focus is leadership. Ensure that you take every opportunity to learn how to lead well, as the impact of getting it wrong can be felt for a long time, not only for yourself, but for those in your team. Just as you’d check your car’s oil and tire pressure, regularly assess your skills and seek opportunities for growth. And don’t forget to pack your positive attitude—it’s your fuel for the journey!

Even the best-planned trips encounter unexpected roadblocks—traffic jams, detours, or sudden weather changes. Authentic leaders recognise the importance of flexibility. While having a plan is crucial, being rigid can stifle creativity and innovation. So frustrating as it can be, learn to embrace the unexpected and view challenges as opportunities to adapt and grow. This resilience not only sets a strong example for your team but also fosters a culture where adaptability is valued. Remember, sometimes the best adventures happen when things don’t go according to plan.

Sometimes, the most memorable parts of a road trip are the unplanned stops and scenic detours—the quirky roadside attractions, charming small towns, or breathtaking views. Similarly, authentic leadership involves exploring new ideas and encouraging your team to take risks. Foster an environment where creativity is encouraged and celebrated. And don’t forget that making mistakes is okay. In fact, learn to celebrate the mistakes, but more importantly, notice and act on what you learned from them. Creating a culture where mistake making is part of the journey will breed a positive respect for all and a culture of respect and trust. These ‘scenic routes’ can lead to innovative solutions and fresh perspectives that drive your team forward. So, when you encounter a metaphorical ‘scenic route,’ don’t be afraid to explore it—you never know what treasures you’ll find.

Road trips are often about the company you keep—singing along to your favourite songs, sharing stories, and making memories together. Authentic leaders build strong, genuine connections with their team members. Take the time to understand their strengths, aspirations, and concerns. But also, take the time to find out about them on a personal level. Share your own life stories to inspire this sense of connection and understanding, and to help others feel less exposed when telling their own stories. And the big secret is, to remember theirs so you can ask how ‘so-and-so’ is getting on, or how did the night out go? These are the small things that matter. This empathy builds trust and loyalty, creating a cohesive and motivated team. Just as you’d enjoy the camaraderie of a road trip, foster a sense of community and belonging within your team. After all, a journey is best when shared with others.

Just as the occasional stop to stretch the legs is necessary for refuelling and refreshing during a road trip, leaders need moments of reflection. Take regular breaks to assess your progress, celebrate achievements, and recalibrate your strategies. Encourage your team to do the same. These pit stops provide an opportunity to recharge and ensure you’re all moving in the right direction. Plus, it’s a great time to enjoy some metaphorical ice cream!

On any road trip, roadside attractions offer delightful surprises and learning opportunities. As a leader, continuously seek out new knowledge and experiences. Attend workshops, read books, and engage with coaches and mentors who can help shine a light on you and your leadership. Encourage your team to embark on their own learning journeys and be the person in their corner championing them to grow and learn. Just as you’d stop to see a local attraction that you’ve seen all over Instagram, make the time for your team to access professional development and personal growth opportunities whenever possible. These attractions enrich your journey and expand your horizons and should be planned for in order to fully enjoy those moments.

Every road trip encounters rough patches—potholes (don’t get me started!), rough terrain, or unexpected delays. Similarly, authentic leadership isn’t always smooth sailing. Challenges and setbacks are inevitable. How you navigate these rough patches defines your leadership. Approach difficulties with a positive mindset and a problem-solving attitude – I know you might have to dig very deep at times especially if things appear as curveballs, and impact on your team’s progress. Support your team through tough times and remind them that every challenge is an opportunity to grow and learn. They’ll want to sound off, moan, and ask: ‘are we there yet!’ and just like your parents would have done, it’s up to you to put a brave face on it and stay positive for all. This is where your leadership truly comes into play, when times are challenging.  

At the end of the road trip, it’s the memories that linger—the laughter, the scenic views, and the shared experiences. Authentic leadership is about creating lasting memories for your team. Celebrate achievements, acknowledge individual contributions, and build a legacy of trust and respect. These cherished memories become the foundation of a resilient and motivated team. Remember that leadership, like a road trip, is as much about the journey as the destination.

In conclusion, this summer road trip is more than just a holiday; it’s a metaphor for authentic leadership. By setting a clear direction, packing your essentials, staying flexible, embracing new ideas, building strong connections, and enjoying the journey, leaders can navigate their teams toward success with authenticity and purpose.

So, as you plan your next summer road trip, remember these leadership lessons and embark on the adventure of authentic leadership.

Enjoy, and mind the midgies!

👋🏼 Hi! I’m Sharon Smith and I’m an Authentic Leadership Coach. If you are looking for some help and guidance on being the best leader you can be then I’d love to hear from you. Click here to get in touch.

Photo by Thibaut Marquis on Unsplash

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