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4 Ways to Supercharge a Business Trip

Think you can't grow as a leader while waiting in a security line? Think again. Check out easy ways to maximize your next business trip.
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If you're a business leader, traveling comes with the gig. Whether it's visiting clients, prospecting new business, attending workshops and conferences, or just plain looking for inspiration elsewhere, you can't always run your company from your office.

But when you're out on the road, it can be hard to be a leader. In fact, life on the road can become such an ingrained part of the week-to-week rhythm of business that for many leaders it becomes something close to a chore--a mind-numbing routine of airport terminals, endless security queues and hotel rooms. So, if the best part of business travel is arriving home, here are four ways to turn your travel time into an opportunity to develop as a leader. 

1. Can the cab, coach a colleague. More years ago than I care to remember, I got a call from a senior partner in the accounting firm I had recently joined (he'd been part of the interview panel that hired me). He asked, "Would I bring my car around and drive him to the airport?"

In the 40-minute journey to drop him off for his flight, we had a conversation that turned into an invaluable five-year mentoring relationship. I later discovered that this was something he did with many employees, not just me, and it became a practice I've used successfully to this day.

Try it for yourself. At the start and end of a trip, grab time with someone you wouldn't ordinarily have more than a corridor discussion with--believe me, they'll get more from it than you can imagine. 

2. Learn the art of context. Most business trips these days consist of irritatingly inconvenient stops and starts, including the security lines, the airport to hotel transfers, the waiting in the terminal lounge. As a consequence, we often finish a day of traveling with a vague sense of not actually achieving anything.

But here's the thing: all those stops and starts are entirely predictable.

We know that every trip will have the security line wait, the hotel transfer, the kicking around the boarding gate or lounge area. So it's eminently possible to plan ahead to use that time wisely.

When I'm traveling, I keep to hand a folder of stuff that I know I can work on at short notice and for short periods of time. I have my phone pre-programmed with calls I know can be cleared quickly in a spare moment or two. My iPad has a screen of icons with apps and websites that I can access profitably for periods of five to ten minutes at a time.

3. Focus on input, not output. The biggest travel trap I see is when business leaders do precisely what they would be doing at the office: output, output, output. 

How often have you strolled down the aisle of an airplane and watched people pecking away at email, completing excel spreadsheets, honing powerpoint presentations?

And all this in far from ideal conditions--stale air, sleep deprived, in cramped conditions, fighting for elbow room, with no access to the tools and resources you would have back in the office.

Next time you travel, set aside time for input. Read something you've been promising yourself you'd read. Consume those reports you know you should read, but haven't had time. Watch a movie, for goodness sake. Maybe even have the foresight to bring your own, and make it something challenging and inspiring. Output always gets done in the end, so make room for input.

4. Add time and subtract stress. I used to pride myself on the efficiency of my traveling. I'd get in, do whatever I was there to do, and get out. My flights would be scheduled to arrive just in time for me to shower and change (maybe not even that), go to whatever meetings I had scheduled, then head back to the airport for the flight home, or to to wherever I was scheduled to be next.

And guess what? I learned much as a manager, and precisely nothing as a leader. Yes, I'd get the sale, or schmooze the client, or learn best practices about x or y, but I never made the time to step back and see what only a slower, less pressured itinerary would allow.

Since I changed my approach to allow downtime, I can look back at some outstanding experiences where I learned much and developed as a leader. Make time, embrace the unusual, move out of your comfort zone, and grow as a leader.

Last updated: Sep 17, 2012

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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