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What I Learned from Paris Then and Now

What was the best family vacation YOU have ever taken and what did you learn about yourself and your leadership journey?

Almost five years ago we took the family on the vacation of a lifetime with 10 days in Europe….7 of those days were in Paris. It was an unbelievable trip all around! We had no major issues…we saw everything that was on the top of our list…the weather was good….the accommodations were perfect…our daughters were spectacular…we had everything we needed…we took our time…we were flexible….pure happiness!

This was my fourth trip to Paris. Even though there is 24 years between the two photos below – Paris hasn’t really changed…and from the look of my photos…one could think there is not a lot of change in me either.

I have often thought a lot about the years in between these two moments…what was different about the trips even though the place was the same? What I came to was the following:

  1. Even though the places hadn’t changed much and I had travelled the path before there were things I had forgotten. That meant I had a chance to learn and experience it for the first time again
  2. Because my husband and I had visited there before – we knew what to look out for, what we needed to be successful and how best to navigate. This gave us numerous ways to lead by example and teach the girls the ropes so that someday they will be able to do this trip on their own
  3. Even though we had a good idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it we did not let our old paradigms get in our way. We were open to doing what the girls wanted and we found some new places…some new things that made the trip more colorful than it otherwise would have been
  4. The experience of having done it before left us more at ease and more comfortable through uncertainty than it was when Jon and I went 24 years ago. I remember on our trip in 1989, we argued on a street corner in Paris when we first arrived over directions. We didn’t want to ask for help, we were tired and hungry, and all of that culminated in frustration. This time around, we made sure to eat at regular intervals, we took our time and stopped for rest, and we plotted out our courses so that we did not feel so lost (even though we did take a wrong turn sometimes but it was no big deal).
  5. We had a high level strategy on how to navigate through the trip and we did not spend time trying to rework it from last time. We also focused on having a quality experience with a few things, rather than trying to do everything. Executing successfully/happily to the strategy was more important than being all over the map…changing things and not really seeing anything or being disappointed with the outcomes.

So….what does all of this have to do with our leadership journey? Over the years I have found that when things get tough in organizations the immediate reaction is spend a lot of time and money to completely redo the strategy. If you are not growing and losing market share…it must be the strategy… right? WRONG! Like the Paris Then and Now photo…the basics of the business haven’t changed in 25 years. The roadmap and city are the same…but what we need to do is focus on a few things…do them well and execute. Innovate and disrupt specific areas of the business to move forward….disrupt with purpose and to achieve a specific outcome also knowing that the team is ready…willing and able to execute. Don’t just disrupt for disruptions sake.

Here are the top 5 things that we can learn from Paris…then…and now…..

  1. The business (like the city) doesn’t change much but there are things that you discover that are new, different or that you have forgotten. Be open and flexible to that.
  2. Don’t get sucked into the trap that the change is dramatic…stick to your strategy…focus on doing a few things really well and leverage your past experience to make you even more successful this time around.
  3. Seek feedback of those around you to enhance the strategy to make it richer and more meaningful for the new generation but don’t feel the need to change everything
  4. Leverage technology to make your experience more efficient and productive.
  5. Leverage subject matter experts who have done this before to make sure you don’t miss anything important

My advice to organizations is a lot like taking the family vacation of a life time

  1. Plan your course
  2. Assign a budget
  3. Communicate the vision and goals
  4. Take action – execute…execute…execute
  5. Be open and flexible to change as needed
  6. Learn from the experience – take time to coach others
  7. Take stock on if you are accomplishing your vision and achieving what you set out to do
  8. Have fun along the way…life is the no regrets tour!

Leadership questions of the week for YOU: 

 – What was the best family vacation YOU have ever taken and what did you learn about yourself and your leadership journey?

 –  Do you have any other lessons learned or would you add or change any from the 5 above?

 – Why do you think we spend so much time trying to rework strategy rather than leveraging experience and executing?

 – Why are leaders so afraid of asking “for directions” from people who have navigated the business before only to fall victim to the fate of those that came before them (as I like to say…those that came before us were not stupid)?

 – What advice would you give to others to balance strategy and execution?

Thanks for reading and remember….YOU make a difference!

Please continue the conversation by liking…commenting or sharing this article. You can also follow me on twitter @marciedwhite

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