Leadership: Travel Agents vs. Tour Guides

I’m absolutely fascinated by professional soccer which is mainly due to the fact that I grew up playing the sport at the highest level throughout my high school career. One of the reasons my development as a player was so rapid was because I had some of the best coaches available. Many of the coaches I played for were pros themselves at one point and, as a result, whenever they talked, I listened intently. The reason I took their advice so seriously was because I trusted them. When a player trusts his manager, he looks to exceed his manager’s expectations and usually plays to his highest potential. For me, this is how true leadership works. First, it takes trust and then comes buy-in and support.

There’s a great analogy that John C. Maxwell uses when it comes to leadership, and it’s this concept of Travel Agents versus Tour Guides. Travel agents sell you vacation packages to cities and destinations that they oftentimes have not been themselves. Whereas tour guides walk you through the cities themselves and point out the historical and cultural significance that the city or destination has to offer. Poor leaders often give their people direction without any concept or knowledge of how to get there. Great leaders give direction while participating in the journey. Great leaders are the ones who’ve been there before and don’t just give a “road map” for their team members. Instead, they are invested in the work and cognizant of what it takes their team to accomplish it.

Gaining trust as a leader has to start with integrity. Integrity is essentially “leading yourself” and is built every day, especially when no one is looking. Integrity leads to trust and trust is something that inspires people to act. Great leaders are the ones who set the tone for how work gets done. The former Mayor Giuliani of New York City is often used as an example of leadership for the way he helped the city recover and rebuild from the tragedy of September 11th. When reflecting on leadership in his book he remarks, “You cannot ask those who work for you to do something you’re unwilling to do yourself. It is up to you to set a standard of behavior.” In short, if you want to be a successful leader who inspires people, you need to be the tour guide for your own business.


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