My wife and I recently decided to take our summer holiday in Iceland…….yes, you heard me right, I did say Iceland!
Even now, I’m not quite sure of the reasons why we decided to make Iceland our choice and thinking about it now, I doubt I will ever be.
I can say that Iceland appeared to be as far away from a ‘typical’ summer holiday destination as one could imagine; it just seemed like it was the craziest thing, but also the right thing, to do. Or perhaps it can be explained as us both simultaneously having a moment of madness.
Now, whilst Iceland may not immediately come to your mind as a must-visit summer destination hot spot, you know, where you can imagine yourself relaxing on the beach, sipping your sangria whilst whiling away the hours watching the world go by; it certainly was a place that as each day unfolded, gently but purposefully offered some new and exciting natural beauty to immerse ourselves in. There was constantly another surreal and magical experience for us to discover and enjoy, and just occasionally or in terms of the rather horrible sulphur smells at Namaskard, an experience to have to endure!
I must confess that I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but Iceland is undoubtedly a spiritual place.
I found it was almost impossible at any point during my time there, not to feel at ‘one’ with it and yet, at the same time as being ‘one’, also being totally in awe of it.
And I suppose it was in those moments of being ‘one and in awe’, I began to realise Iceland had many lessons in leadership to offer.
There are many lessons I could write about, but for now, three will have to do.
Lesson 1 – Passion
I couldn’t help but feel passionate about Iceland and all it had to offer.
Even when trying not to feel passionate about the place, that persistent feeling would just not go away and it would get me thinking.
The very best leaders I have worked for, with and alongside, were passionate about what they did, what they achieved and the people they accomplished those achievements with.
Most important of all and as clear as the waters in an Icelandic glacial river: it wasn’t just what they did they were passionate about, it was why they did what they did.
In addition to that, they were persistently passionate about the why.
Just as each day in Iceland was a gift to behold, leaving me persistently wanting more, so was their passion a gift; it genuinely was refreshing, motivating, inspiring and infectious.
Their passion created an energy that generated an enormous sense of belonging to something that felt important; that would make a positive difference and that would always endure; their passion rubbed off on others and it created incredible positivity.
When the big challenges came, as they surely did from time to time, I noticed their mind-set was always positive and as a result, so was the mind-set of the teams of people working for and with them.
Just as each day in Iceland had me literally jumping out of bed, excited about what the new day would bring, so those great leaders created excitement about what could be accomplished, why those accomplishments were important and how you as an individual would not just contribute, but grow as a person and a leader in your own right, as a result.
Lesson 2 – Vision
Iceland is a place with some of the most astounding scenery and awe-inspiring landscapes that I have ever had the privilege to witness.
Every day, it painted a vision of beauty in my mind that I never wanted to fade, whilst at the same time reminding me that to get to that place of beauty would be a long, hard and challenging trek but would most definitely be worth it when I arrived……have I told you of the hours my wife and I spent trekking up the side of a volcano crater?! I never thought we would reach the summit, but eventually, after many hours and near exhaustion, we did.
Was it a long, hard and at times precarious and frightening climb? Absolutely yes!
Were there times I really thought we would never reach the summit? Absolutely yes!
Was the climb worth it once we got there? Absolutely yes!
During our climb, all we seemed able to do was ‘look up’ at what appeared to be an eternal and ever steeper incline.
Somehow though, it felt like Iceland itself was ‘willing us on’ and so we kept on putting one foot in front of the other, even though every step was harder.
Once we reached the summit and adjusted our vision to now look outward rather than upward, what we witnessed was the most magical and mysterious Icelandic scenery that you could ever imagine; so beautiful no words could do it justice.
The best leaders I have worked for and with also created a ‘magical’ vision; not only of what they believed their team could become, but also what they believed I could become and achieve for myself.
They were honest in saying that ‘in looking up’, it would be a tough climb full of challenges but it was up to me whether I saw those challenges as stepping stones or stumbling blocks.
They were first to remind me ‘I could do it’ when I felt I did not have the strength ‘to put one foot in front of the other’ and helped me to remember, I would soon be able to look outward, not only upward.
They showed me how my efforts helped the ‘bigger picture’ and moved me closer to realising my vision but they also told me that ultimately in reaching my ‘summit’, it would be a journey I would have to take alone.
Why? Because when it came down to it, no matter how much they believed in me, they made me realise I had to believe in me.
Even though I knew that to reach my vision would mean a journey taken on my own, just like Iceland itself on that climb, I knew those leaders were still there, right alongside me and always willing me on.
Lesson 3 – Authenticity
Iceland is one of those places that does not pretend to be anything other than it is….it doesn’t need to. What you see is what you get and what you get is what you see; there is no pretence.
It is a humbling and genuine place and whilst I found it freely gives you all it has to offer, for which you feel incredibly and overwhelmingly privileged, it is also not afraid to demonstrate that just like us, it has its own vulnerabilities in letting you know it might need your help and your action.
When proposals were made to build new hydroelectric plants (meaning building dams in glacial rivers and flooding unspoilt flat-lands) for example, the ‘call to action’ and subsequent protests really were quite something to behold!
As much as it might need – and appreciate – your help, Iceland also wastes no time in letting you know that you need to get out of the way; do you really want to be around when those volcanos on red alert actually do spit their fire and ash?
Thinking about this got me thinking about the traits of the best leaders I have worked for.
They were genuine, they were honest and had integrity in spades and every now and again they would allow just a fleeting glimpse of their vulnerabilities.
They were authentic when praising and honest when chastising. They focussed on your behaviour and not on you. They would be quick to ‘call for action’ when there was a greater cause and even quicker in making sure that if the ‘volcano’ was about to blow, you were out of harm’s way, even if they were not.
They knew what they were good at, what they were not so and they would not be afraid to say they depended on you. That was a sign of their strength, not weakness, because you knew they meant it and if the wrong outcome came from the help you provided, that was their responsibility, not yours.
The best leaders I’ve worked for, with and alongside, did what no one in the world could do as well as them and that was to simply be themselves.
What you saw was what you got and what you got was what you saw; there was no pretence.
They were who they were.
They were leaders.
They were authentic.
Iceland as a summer destination?