Isn’t that a great question?  Well I didn’t think of it myself.  I heard it from one of today’s leadership gurus – Mr. John C. Maxwell.  I was in my car Saturday morning heading off to attend a workshop & as I do when I’m in my car, I slipped in an educational CD.  Driving is a great time for me  to absorb information because I am ususally by myself & can give the person talking on the CD my full attention.  It also helps me focus on something other than the horrific traffic that seems to plague South Florida 24/7.

This particular CD was from one of my favorite monthly series. It was the December edition of Success Magazine’s wonderful complimentary ( yes, it’s free!) CD hosted by its publisher, Darren Hardy.  I’ve raved about Success Magazine & their CDs before so I’ll refrain from gushing again.  In every one of their CDs, there’s a segment with John C. Maxwell where he shares his leadership insights. In December’s CD, Mr. Maxwell was talking about how important it was for people to start or initiate something in order to be successful. He then went on to explain all the reasons why it was important to get going on something. The first place he recommended we start was with ourselves. According to him, starting with yourself gives you experience, confidence, integrity and influence.

It was when he was describing how starting helps you gain experience that he caught my attention with the analogy of leaders being either travel agents or tour guides.  What a great analogy.  I perked up right away.  Basically, Mr. Maxwell explained that travel agents typically send you places they’ve never been themselves.  They arm you with brochures and maps and other information to get you ready for your trip. But tour guides do something else.  They take you by the hand & show you where they’ve been.  That enriches your experience because they have the inside track & can share little known secrets about the location you are visiting that makes it special.

The concept of being a travel agent vs. a tour guide leader resonated with me because of what I see happening in corporate America these days as it relates to our newest entrants, the Millennials.  I think many leaders would say that they are trying to be the tour guide for this new generation of workers but that Millennials are refusing to listen to the advice they, as leaders, have garnered from years of corporate experience.  It is true that the many years of working for a corporation is certainly valuable and leaders should be tour guides by all means.  But what happens if, as a tour guide, you haven’t visited a particular destination in years?

Although you may still know your way around & are still familiar with the old landmarks, etc., there may be new things that have sprung up in that location that you don’t know or aren’t familiar with – new restaurants, new neighborhoods, etc.   For tour guides to be effective & relevant to their customers, they need to stay current with what’s going on in the destinations they are experts in.  If not , they run the risk of becoming more like travel agents as time passes.  So it would appear that a pre-requisite for someone to continue being a relevant tour guide would be for them to keep up to date with the destinations & the clients they serve, to be frequent travelers themselves so they don’t lose touch with the latest trends & happenings in the destinations for which they provide tour services.

The same applies to leadership.  Although those of us with years of corporate management experience can be great tour guides, we can only be so if we stay relevant to the employees we are leading today and not just those that we led yesterday.  Many things have taken place in the young lives of Millennials that make them very unfamiliar to us as employees & as people.  They grew up very differently than most of us did & that impacts how they perceive work, the world & those around them.  If we don’t understand & accept this unfamilarity, we won’t be very good tour guides because just like the destination tour guides,  our skills & knowledge will become outdated. That puts us at a disadvantage and could make us irrelevant to our ”customer base”, the Millennials.

On the other hand, if we let them,  Millennials can be our  tour guides into the world of work in the 21st Century.  I’ve said many times that the future will look more like what Millennials are used to than what we are used to as current corporate leaders. That means we need to get to know them better, figure them out, live in their world & harness the goldmine that is waiting to be found.  If we are  not careful, our status as tour guides can quickly downgrade to that of a travel agent.  That would not be a good thing at this critical juncture.  Millennials need our guidance & direction.  We just need to provide it in ways that are meaningful to them and not just to us.

In my C.A.R.E. Sytem of Leadership,  I show leaders how to maintain their tour guide status in these changing times so that they are not downgraded to travel agent.  I show them how to shadow Millennials to see how they think & work, how to break down silos by bringing Millennials from different teams to collaborate together, how to leverage Millennials’ social media & tech savviness for strategic advantage.   I show leaders how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and experimenting with new techniques & practices.  As leaders, it is imperative that we make adjustments to our way of leading & thinking to stay relevant to the workforce of the 21st Century.

So what about you?  What are you doing today to maintain your tour guide status?  Are you at risk of becoming a travel agent?