Archive | August, 2012

Look Outside The Office Window To Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents

31 Aug

I once managed a young woman who was enamored with playing Scrabble. Amelia’s love for the game didn’t surprise me given her sharp mind and passion for words. What did come as a major surprise and ultimately proved beneficial to my company was the initiative she took, and the leadership and ingenuity embedded in her efforts to fulfill her unwavering desire to play a game that requires at least two but preferably three or four players.

Amelia was an introvert at work. She was always kind to her colleagues and had a professional demeanor with her clients, but when given the choice she opted to remain in her office and keep to herself. Her writing, research and analytical skills, all essential for her job, were stellar, so she was one of my prized employees despite her quiet and somewhat anti-social manner.

I never even considered the idea that she might have what it takes to manage staff and generate new business for us. I never thought of her as one we should consider promoting to Vice President and perhaps at some point a Partner like me.

I shudder to think how much the company would have missed out if I had never looked at Amelia from outside of the office window.

It was just on a whim that I decided to stop by Amelia’s office on a random Friday afternoon and ask her if she had any fun plans for the weekend. I knew that poking my head in was probably the last thing she wanted, but I decided to do it anyway. She looked up, smiled kindly as she always did when we spoke, and casually said, ‘Oh, I’m having one of my typical Amelia Scrabble Blasters’ tonight.’

“Your what??” I said, not even trying to mask my look and tone of shock.

We talked for more than 20 minutes, a record for the 3 years we had been working together. She began by telling me that more than 5 years ago she reached a peak of frustration about never being able to find able Scrabble partners. While smart and bookish like her, Amelia’s friends did not share her passion for the game, nor did they enjoy being defeated by her every time. ‘It was time to do something bold’, she said, and something bold she did indeed.

I had branded Amelia a lifelong introvert, an employee with many strengths but without the necessary personality traits and leadership potential necessary to manage other staff and help us grow our business.

Oh how wrong I was.

Amelia not only took initiative to find an ongoing corps of Scrabble partners but she also strategically created a pitch that made existing Scrabble-lovers feel ‘cool’ and piqued the curiosity of those who had never entertained the idea of Scrabble as a fun option for a Friday night. She created an Everything Scrabble blog, and also established a Scrabble Meet-Up Group on the website. In her forever-humble way, she told me that within only a few days she had more than 50 people signed up.

Little did I know that what I saw everyday was only the ‘Office Amelia’, not to be confused with the assertive, industrious and, yes, very social Amelia that all of her friends and family knew. Indeed, outside of the office, Amelia was the go-to person among her friends for fun gatherings that often, but not always involved a game of Scrabble.

By looking at Amelia from outside the office window, I was able to identify her:

  • Willingness to take risks and capacity to tolerate failure.
  • Comfort and demonstrated success in initiating relationships and garnering respect from people of all ages and backgrounds.
  • Strong social intelligence.
  • Ability to identify the most likely target audience among a relatively small pool.
  • Awareness of the need and ability to design a strong customized pitch that resonates with the particular style, preferences, idiosyncrasies, etc., of her target audience.
  • Understanding of the need and her ability to tap the knowledge and skills of others to achieve her goal.
  • Capacity to keep people engaged and give people a sense of ownership
  • Ability to derive gratification and pride through doing rather than through direct praise.

And the list goes on…

Like many employees, Amelia needed some hands-on coaching (from me, now a full-time communication and leadership coach) to help her learn how to apply her ‘outside’ skills and traits, and to build confidence in her professional persona. But, with a relatively modest investment of time on my part, within a year of that conversation, Amelia was promoted to Assistant Vice President and eventually to a Vice President. She successfully managed several staff for us, many of whom have also been promoted. She acquired many clients for us that I truly believe we would not have secured without her.



Thank You, Intrepid Travel, for Changing the Rules of the Vacation Travel Game

21 Aug

Intrepid Travel, you are a game changer when it comes to the significant role that travel tour operators can and, many argue, should play in giving back to their trip destinations, the places that welcome you and your guests with open arms and ask for nothing in return.

Actually, these places do ask you for something in return. They ask that your company (and all others in travel-oriented industries) treat them – their people, their natural environment, etc. – with the same respect and kindness that you’d expect if the tables were turned.

And you are obliging their request in a game-changing fashion. Sure, like some other tour companies, you are doing it through the thoughtful planning that goes into developing eco-friendly, culturally sensitive day-to-day travel itineraries, along with the financial support you provide to nonprofit organizations and projects in your trip destinations.

But, unlike other tour operators, you are also doing something else that deserves our attention and praise here, something that sets you apart from most other tour operators and is changing the rules of the vacation travel game, so to speak.

You are not only supporting and trying to leave a positive imprint on the locales you visit on your tours; you are also encouraging (but certainly not pushing) the rest of us to develop what I have coined, ‘the vacation travelers conscience’.

What you and your local partners teach your tour guests about the social, cultural and physical assets and needs of their host vacation community, coupled with the authentic, often first-time experiences you enable them to have while there, leaves your guests with a sense of connectedness and compassion towards their vacation ‘home’ that they would not have, at all or at least not as strongly without your involvement.

You also take it a step further by letting your guests know about specific projects in the places they visit that they can support through The Intrepid Foundation, a safe, trusted resource that gives 100% of the guest’s donation to the project. But, amazingly, you don’t even stop there. You also match your travel guests’ donations to their chosen project on a dollar-for-dollar basis (up to AU$5,000 per donor each year).


Understandably, not all of your guests act on their positive feelings about their travel destination with a financial donation. That’s not realistic, nor is it feasible for most people. You also can’t afford the risk of having people feel like they are being solicited or pushed to give money while on their vacation (key word) getaway.

But every time you provide your guests with a genuine understanding and meaningful connection to the place(s) they’re visiting, you are helping to cultivate a greater social conscience among all of us when it comes to vacation travel, i.e., a ‘vacation travelers’ conscience’.

We will maintain our newfound conscience long after we return from our fabulous trip with you. Thanks to you, we will return with awareness, not just of overwhelming needs but also of the many ways in which we can have a direct, meaningful impact on those needs. We will also return with confidence in our ability and, for some, even a sense of responsibility to extend a genuine (however modest) thank you to our host community and, in so doing, make a permanent, positive difference.

We will also share our vacation traveler’s social conscience – through our words and our behavior – with friends, family, colleagues, etc. Indeed, we will bring our greater consciousness and concern with us in the form of genuine interest and appreciation and, for many of us, a thank you in the form of a financial donation to the places we travel on vacation for countless years to come.

Just the other day I learned that more than 23 million US residents traveled abroad for leisure travel in 2011. What if even a quarter of these travelers gave just $5 to one of the places they visited? That would increase charitable donations by $29 million. Intrepid Travel, I believe that your company – through your socially conscious trips, and the altruism you compel from your guests, and the dollar for dollar match you make on their donations – is moving us so many steps closer to making this phenomenal possibility a reality.

So, Intrepid Travel, both for your own give back efforts and for cultivating a greater desire to give back among all of us who travel, I thank you.

Ever feel like saying ‘Thank You’ to the place that just provided you with a fabulous vacation?

21 Aug

Let’s say, for sake of conversation, that you reside in the United States and take a vacation every summer, be it alone or with friends and/or family, to anywhere in the world. What if you made a $5 donation to address a major social or environmental need in the place that just provided you with a fabulous vacation? Consider it a ‘give back’ of sorts to a location that just welcomed you with open arms. If you travel to countless places throughout the year, and giving $5 to each one is not feasible, what if you chose just one, two, or even three of those places?

Would you do it?

Have you ever felt inclined to say ‘thank you’ to your vacation destination? An island, city, mountain range, or anywhere in between. Near your home or far, far away. If not your destination, maybe it’s the tiny town where you stopped for lunch on the way, i.e., that shoebox-size restaurant where were blown away by the delicious food, the kindness of the people, and the beauty of the surroundings. Or, the national park en route where you spontaneously stopped for a hike.

What if you knew that your ten dollars would provide a hot healthy meal to three families at the local soup kitchen, or that your modest donation, when pooled with modest donations from other vacationers, will help prevent tidal flooding that ruins homes and businesses. Or, it will support development of a water irrigation system that ensures clean drinking water and prevents water-born illnesses. How about basic school supplies for 100 children at the only local school? Or, funds that will pay for blankets at the local orphanage? Etc.

There is definitely power in numbers. If you give your $5-$25 to a trustworthy, reputable nonprofit charitable organization, and you encourage your friends and family and even strangers like me to start giving a modest donation, the multiplier effect would increase giving in a truly phenomenal way to so many places across the globe where social and environmental needs prevail and the opportunity to improve conditions exists.

According to the Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, approximately 23 million people in the United States went abroad for tourist travel in 2012.[1]  This means that if just 50% of these people gave $5 to one of their travel destinations (or somewhere en route), it would generate approximately $58 million in charitable donations on an annual basis.

A noteworthy figure, don’t you agree?

For you corporate travelers, it’s understandable that when you travel for work you want to get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. As socially conscious as you may be in your everyday life, when it comes to business travel, there’s simply no time, and perhaps no inclination, to give back to the place you just visited.

But, what if all you needed to do was click on a website and select, from a simple list of your travel destination’s needs and worthy projects, the one you want to support, and then your employer makes the modest donation? Better yet, what if your employer gave you a stipend each year to make a donation to your favorite business travel destination(s)? You can decide if you want to give your whole wad to one place or spread it across the many locales you visit on your business trips throughout a given year.

Your efforts are a win-win for you and your company. The company strengthens its reputation and stands to capture greater market-share of an increasingly socially conscious customer base through a marked increase in the geographic reach and greater diversity of causes that it supports. Also, as studies attest, engaging employees in grant making efforts leads to a notable increase in engagement and morale. You, on the other hand, get to go to sleep each night with the knowledge that you (yes, you) are playing a pivotal (yes, pivotal) role in making the world a better place.

So, would you do it? Would it be with pride, or out of social pressure because some of your colleagues are doing it?

The notion and practice of ‘travel philanthropy’ is not new. Thanks to individual trailblazers like Michael Seltzer, and game-changing travel-oriented companies like tour operators, IntrepidTravel and Elevate Destinations, and retailers Patagonia and REI, giving back to vacation destinations is gaining momentum.

But, there is still so much more that we, as individual travelers, can do. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. We can ‘give back’ in a modest way on our own and also encourage our friends and family to do the same.

Making a modest donation to the places we have come know and care about through recreational and corporate travel seems such a simple way to feel a little better about ourselves and improve the world while we’re at it. Together, we have the power to generate the public will necessary to make a ‘give back’ to the places we visit – on vacation and for work – not only common practice but a social norm.

[1] This figure may include repeat travelers, in which case the total number of unduplicated travelers would be lower. At the same time, it is also the case that this figure does not include recreational travelers who traveled within the United States during 2011. Adding this pool to those who traveled internationally increases the actual total figure by a substantial amount. Thus, for purposes of this piece, 23 million is considered a reasonable estimate to make the general point that a modest donation of $5 among even 50% of annual recreational travelers would increase giving by a substantial amount.