5 More Leadership Lessons I Learned in Tuscany
Returning home from Tuscany, my 3rd trip back to this beloved region of Italy in the past 13 months, it’s beginning to feel like a second home for me. With much more intention and purpose behind this trip and 20 travel days, new discoveries emerged about myself, my work and my view of the world. The greatest breakthrough? Doing this with a group of 12 amazing women.
After a year of nonstop research, trusting the locals in Tuscany to guide me along, a stubborn stick-with-it-ness to stay the course, even in the midst of chaos, tight budgets, and a family and business to maintain, I officially “launched” Retreat to Tuscany, a 1-week full immersion experience based in the heart of southern Tuscany, designed for women leaders who are masterful at leading and caring for everyone else in their lives but themselves. This Retreat is all about self-care and well being, for amazing women who have the courage to say “YES!” to themselves, and to each other.
While I can’t share with you all of the private, precious moments that were shared among this group, details about the deep connections that were made and the sacred unspoken agreements that were adopted, I can share some of the most powerful discoveries that I made in the process of leading this group through a life-changing week of wins, gains and personal breakthroughs.
5 New Leadership Lessons
Lesson #1: Just do it! If not me, then who?
A year ago, I made a commitment to bring groups to Tuscany for a guided 1-week Retreat. And what’s so lovely about it all is that it has happened so organically.
I’ve had many incredible women, who are running families, running businesses, or running teams within organizations, who have been touched by my journeys, my triumphs and crazy experiences in Tuscany this past year, and wanted to come along for the ride. These people have fueled me to move forward and take a crazy leap to make real work out of this by creating a unique one-of-a-kind Retreat experience, which proved to be a wonderful success. Of course, the self-doubt and chatter has shown up almost daily in the process, but I had to believe that the feedback, encouragement and support that I have received throughout the country and now in these little pockets of Tuscany, were genuine and real.
I am a Coach. And after all these years doing this work, I’ve learned that I naturally inspire people to take on new challenges and execute their plans. I provide a service that keeps my clients pointing in a positive direction, even when they are ready to give up and throw in the towel. I believe in them and see their potential and their gifts, and I now know this is my life’s work. So, when my colleagues, clients, friends and family asked me to bring them to Tuscany to stretch them, challenge them and open their lives to another world, I knew that I needed to develop this retreat.
Inspiring 12 women to say “YES!”, responsibly leave behind their families, businesses, teams and lives for 1 week, rent a collective 5 cars and navigate their way through the back roads of Tuscany in a country where they don’t speak the language nor understand most of the street signs is a HUGE win! I am SO proud of these women for what they accomplished and how they solved problems together every day. And in this process, lives have been changed in pivotal ways.
How does this apply to Leadership? If you’ve been called to do something that can positively impact the lives of others, especially those you serve and care about, then do it! It’s scary as hell jumping into something unknown, but it’s very exciting and keeps YOU on your “game” so that you can stay inspired!
Great leaders have the courage to do things that others won’t do. They trust their gut and go “first” so that others can follow their lead. The old saying, “If I don’t do it, someone else will do it” just isn’t true. No great service, program, invention or opportunity would be available to others if someone hadn’t gone boldly before them to make it happen.
Find the courage to make things happen if you have the talents and wherewithal to do it! Maybe there is a legacy for you to leave behind. If you don’t do it, who will?
Lesson #2: Slow. Waaaaay. Down.
How did our world get so frantic? And why do we get sucked into the whirlwind of wearing so many hats and trying to be so many things to so many people so easily? It’s exhausting and depleting to try and keep everyone happy all the time, at work and at home, and it breaks us down physiologically when we are constantly in a reactive state to all that is going on around us. But oh, my! The Italians know how to slow waaaay down and enjoy life.
Prior to this last trip to Tuscany, I noticed that the minute I jumped out of bed and my feet hit the ground I began racing through my day, reacting to everything that was going on around me, focused on the first, and next thing on my “to do” list. Some days I forgot to eat. Other days I ate too much because I was stuck at my desk shoving whatever I could get into my mouth to get me through the next 3-4 hours. It was getting ridiculous! And more importantly, this isn’t an enjoyable way to live because I lose track of relationships and other things in my life that are important to me when I try to keep up that kind of pace. When I move at such a fast pace, I don’t notice the little things all around me.
When I am in Tuscany and truly settle in, I am always amazed at how slow of a pace I can operate, and still be incredibly productive. I generally have a list of things I want to do while I’m there every day, yet it’s so easy for me to abandon many of them because I seem to be seeking fewer, more impactful and enjoyable experiences. I am able to savor each moment and take it all in, and I notice when I am in that state I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything.
This is especially true when it comes to mealtime in Tuscany. One evening early into the retreat I heard someone in our group say, “the service is slow here…”, after waiting 15 minutes for the waiter to take her order. However, in reality, it is rude for a waiter to intrude too early in a group gathering for dinner. The experience is in slowing down and not rushing through a valuable mealtime ritual, which often lasts 3 hours, without cell phones, interruptions, or distractions. The virtue is patience and enjoying the experience. It’s about being in the moment. Everything important happens around the dinner table. And it’s so lovely.
How does this apply to Leadership? If you are running businesses and leading teams, there is no way you can be proactive, creative and resourceful when you are in a frantic state of racing through your life and reacting to everything that is before you. Furthermore, it’s not a fun way to live! When is the last time you turned off all your
social media, your phones and TVs, slowly savored each part of your meal, taking thoughtful time between courses, sharing experiences and ideas, laughing and enjoying one another, at home…or at work? Imagine if you treated your team meetings with such regal enjoyment and focus as a beautiful gathering at the dinner table?
The depth of conversation and the bond of relationships happen when a group gathers and slows down so that they can be present with one another. Breakthroughs happen. Creativity gets stirred. Ideas come to life when you become this focused. As leaders, we have an amazing opportunity to teach our people how to do this, and it can carry over into every area of one’s life if mastered well. Turn off the phones once in a while, be present for one another, and slow down.
Lesson #3: Everyone in a group will lead if given the opportunity
As I gathered this inaugural group, I ended up with 12 women, ages ranging from 20 to 63. Forty-three diverse years spanned of experiences, perspectives, and lessons to learn and be shared. I listened to the 20 year-old express the excitement of learning new things and learning about making responsible choices early in life, and I witnessed the wisdom of the 63 year old saying “Life is passing! Do the *&!%’ing thing before life passes you by! One of the women in our group recently discovered she has breast cancer and we listened to her passionate determination to kick cancer in the ass, and we prayed together and held on tight to one another in a chapel one day, knowing we all are vulnerable to this precious thing called life. During the week, we each held space for one another to lead and be led, to listen and to share. The lessons from all; don’t waste life’s precious moments.
Our retreat also offered daily yoga offerings. Some of these ladies had never taken a yoga class before – this was a breakthrough for them. One of them expressed at the end of the week that yoga is a new practice that she will begin incorporating into her daily routine, because it was changing her life.
On the last full day of our retreat, I found myself unexpectedly leading the yoga class! (I’m a struggling yogi so this was very much outside of my comfort zone!) However, I embraced the opportunity. I decided to lead the class by asking everyone to demonstrate their favorite yoga pose that they learned during the week, share with the group why they liked that pose, and guide the group through it. Everyone had time to share, and it was the most magnificent thing to lead.
Watching my yoga instructor witness her students share what they had learned during the week and how they planned to integrate what they learned into their everyday lives was powerful. Everyone, at every level, was given an opportunity to lead the yoga class. And they dove in to the deep end with such courage! I ended the class by saying, “Now, you can all go home and say that you led a yoga class in Italy!”
How does this apply to Leadership? None of us has arrived in a leadership role alone. At many points in our lives, we are given opportunities to lead, take charge, “jump in”, and try something new because someone in our lives believed in us. Whether you are young or old, new or seasoned at your job, we all have gifts that, if given the opportunity, we can share and develop. Great leaders understand the balance between learning and sharing, and master the art of helping to develop their people.
Sometimes it’s the brand new hire who has the most fresh and unique perspective on things, who perhaps has more to teach the team than then team has to teach them. Find out what’s right about your people and give them leadership opportunities so they can grow and your team can benefit! When you have a talented, resourceful team and each is given opportunities to lead, it also makes your job so much easier!
Lesson #4: It’s OK to be attached to an outcome, just don’t focus too much on the process (There are lots of right ways to get something done)
One of the highlights of Retreat to Tuscany is the day we spent at an organic family farm in a private cooking school. One reason I love this location is because of the outdoor dining experience on the property. People come from all over the world just to sit in this spot and take in the amazing views of Pienza and the Val d’Orcia. Typically, at the end of the cooking class, the group gets a tour of the farm, meeting the farm animals and witnessing the cheese-making that happens on the property. And then, after the tour, the group gathers al fresco to enjoy the lovely meal they made. Due to the weather that day, a storm was coming, and the proprietor decided that she wanted to seat us indoors, in her private kitchen, where we had all cooked together. When I heard the news, I was sad and a bit disappointed, because the remarkable view from the outdoor dining area is so picturesque! I had a vision of a perfect meal, gathered around a beautiful table outside, where I had experienced one of the most remarkable meals of my life last year.
Following the tour of the farm, much to my unexpected delight, when we arrived back at the kitchen where we had spent hours cooking together, laughing, wine tasting, rolling out pici pasta and making hand made biscotti, the kitchen had been transformed into a beautiful, cozy table for 12. It looked like an image out of 5-star Tuscan Country cook book. To share the wins, gains, and breakthroughs we experienced that day around the very table we had made this incredible meal together, was not only heartwarming, it was emotional for all of us. We talked about our families and our relationships, our desire to feed them healthier meals and gather like this with much more intention at the table when we return home, and it moved us all. Right there, unexpectedly, in Sandra’s kitchen, we had a most magnificent meal and experience. Our view was of each other’s beautiful faces, smiles and stories. And I don’t know that we could have had that same experience outside. It was perfect.
How does this apply to Leadership? There are so many ways to accomplish something and enjoy success! I tie this in closely to my Talent Management work, helping business owners assign roles and responsibilities to their team members and defining success in those roles. What I’ve learned in the 20 years I’ve been serving small business owners as a consultant is that we all have unique talents and approaches to getting from “Point A to Point B” in achieving a certain outcome. And when we are so fixed on one particular way of achieving results, we lose an opportunity for creativity and discovery in the process.
As a Kolbe Certified Consultant, I have spent years helping my clients gain clarity around their talents and build strategies for leveraging those talents in their jobs and in life. It’s fascinating to watch a team of highly productive individuals achieve results, all while striving in their own unique way and using different approaches to hit their targets! It reminds me that the most important thing we need to define is the outcome, and then be open to the “how”, the process. And when we hold our people creative, resourceful and whole, we often discover new, more effective ways of doing things that create impactful results.
Leadership requires clarity around the end-game, the outcome, and being clear about the objectives. Lead your team to the table and have a clear outcome. But allow yourself to let go of the process. Engaging others to solve problems is part of the fun, and a chance to have new experiences. To me, it’s about surrendering to the journey and enjoying the process. When you are able to do that, the sweet rewards of accomplishment can be so much richer.
Lesson #5: Don’t book yourself so tightly – it leaves little room for creativity and the surprise of the unknowns
I have had so many adventures in Tuscany, driving through the hills on my way somewhere (or so I thought), and got completely lost! One day my navigator took me on the back roads of Rapolano Terme due to a construction detour and I was sure I was going to end up somewhere I didn’t belong! The road was long, with hairpin curves, and suddenly I had no idea where I was. Within moments, I was coming around a corner and gasped at the remarkable view in sight! Where was I? I had no idea, but the view brought me to tears and suddenly I didn’t care. As the road stretched out and sun slowly started to set, I realized I was given a gift through the back roads. My initial state of being in a hurry to get home the way I usually traveled became an unexpected adventure off the highway through the rolling hills, and I decided to just enjoy the ride. Little did I know, the back road dropped me right into the neighboring town of Sinalunga, and from there it was very easy to find my way home. And I arrived in plenty of time to make my evening dinner plans. I had completely forgotten why I was in such a hurry to get back so soon.
Hosting a full week of events designed for a group of 12 women was amazing! However, we all realized that our intended slow pace and agenda still needed room for more “down time”, to journal, to “be”. Being in an environment so rich with culture, history and beauty is overstimulating to one’s senses, and when you don’t carve out enough time for introspect and being present with your thoughts, you lose precious opportunities for creativity, breakthroughs and new discoveries. I think it’s why the Italians add an “ish” to the ending of every appointment or meeting time, because they know they need room for the beautiful unexpected. And somehow, it just works.
How does this apply to Leadership? Every day we have an opportunity to set intentions, get very present with ourselves, and not overbook our schedules. But for some reason, we get in a habit of jumping out of bed and immersing ourselves in the whirlwind of our day. Steven Covey used to talk about this “whirlwind”, where we are simply responding to everything that is going on around us all day long! And this leaves no room for being proactive, creative, or mindful. It’s a very chaotic and stressful way to live one’s life. Yet, we are all vulnerable to it as leaders, at home and at work.
I see the vulnerability in work groups. As Leaders, we have to create time for the unexpected and allow extra time for anticipating the unknowns. Yet, we book ourselves to tightly. I watch groups get together with tightly designed agendas, putting limited time frames on critical topics. Individuals stand at the front of the room making announcements and racing through their agendas so they can get to the finish line. What a sad and terrible way to spend time with a talented group of people! No one wants to receive information in a meeting that they can read on their own time, and it’s an absolute loss of beautiful resources when you don’t spend meeting time sharing
ideas, and co-creating solutions to challenges that need to be conquered. What I’ve learned is that people come to meetings so they can share, connect, learn, be inspired. But we miss this opportunity when we overbook our agendas and schedules.
Many of my colleagues and clients are sales professionals, who have opportunities to qualify for amazing trips by hitting their sales targets. And I know the travelers aren’t going on these trips just for the sake of traveling. They strive to qualify for these trips so they can spend valuable time with their colleagues and other leaders. They share “down time” learning, reflecting and savoring the unknowns that come from each amazing adventure, away from their businesses. They understand that surrounding themselves with other high-performers keeps them inspired and reminds them of their overall mission, which has a powerful underlying theme of leading high performing teams and enjoying this precious life.
We all need time to be reflective and introspective, so we can realign our course. Embracing the unknowns along the journey is the reward, because it leads us to a richer sense of well-being.
In closing, I realize that each time I return to Tuscany, I learn something new about myself and about my role as a Leader. It’s fascinating to watch it all unfold, yet I don’t take any of these learnings lightly. I am privileged to do this work and honored to support other leaders as I do. And whether you travel with me to Tuscany or design your own journey, I encourage you to go. Bring your journal and be ready for some life-changing experiences along the way. Just be sure to pull out half of your wardrobe from the suitcase before you leave and commit to cancelling half of the “to do” items on your Itinerary, or you will miss the richest reward that Tuscany has to offer: The gift of just Being.
Ready to enroll in the Fall Retreat to Tuscany event, scheduled for September 29 – October 6, 2018?
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