3 leadership lessons from a 900km walk

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In April and May 2013 I walked 900km (560ml) through Spain, on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

It is in this city in North West Spain where the remains of Saint James the Greater were discovered in the year 813. Since then, people began to undertake a pilgrimage to visit the grave of Saint James. 

The Camino has intrigued me for a long time. I was fascinated by this ancient route:

Why is it that many thousands of people have walked the Camino over the centuries and what does it do to a person? 

In 2013 I took the plunge and walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. 

If you are a follower of my work, there is a good chance you have already seen some pictures from my Camino or heard me tell stories about the parallels between walking and our daily work. 

I never expected the real impact the Camino would have on my life. Down to earth I thought to do the walk and simply pick up life again after returning. Now I know that it does not work that way: once you have experienced the Camino it will never leave you! You might as well say that walking the Camino is a life altering experience. In fact, the Camino only really starts after arriving in Santiago de Compostela, when you are back home again.

There are many elements that walking the Camino has brought me from a personal leadership development perspective. Let me share three of them with you: 

Take a walk!
I experienced that being out and walking on your own allows you to disconnect and take a distance from the everyday life. Walking helps you to get into a conversation with yourself, and it allows you to reflect on the things that are happening in your life and work. The long moments of reflection during my Camino taught me a lot about myself and allowed me to say farewell to my mother who passed away a year before.

Nowadays I start every morning of my day with a one hour walk. It provides me with an excellent moment of reflection and many times I come home after a walk with a solution for a challenge that I could not have seen from working behind my desk. So, lesson number one: Stuck with a problem? Time for reflection: get up from your desk and take a walk!

The Camino will provide!
There is a saying amongst the pilgrims who walk to Santiago de Compostela that says “The Camino will provide!” and the Camino usually does. Whenever you are in need for directions, food, a bed for the night, or anything else, the Camino will magically provide a solution.

I experienced it myself one day after setting off without breakfast when the Camino provided me with a table of food in the middle of nowhere. 

This and many similar experiences on the Camino taught me to release my desire to control everything and to trust in things working out on their own, either as designed or in a good alternative way. Lesson number two: Let go (more) of the control and have faith: the Camino will provide!

Many small steps create a journey! 
When I tell people that I walked a journey of 900km through Northern Spain, they are often fixated by the total distance. They don’t see themselves walk 900km, but I did not do this in one stretch either. The journey was divided into 28 intermediate stages: every day I set my goal for that day. In fact that daily goal was to find a bed for the night in a next city approximately 30km further down the road.

Of course, I kept my final destination in mind, but I realized that the intermediate stages were necessary. In 28 days it brought me to my final destination, and thus I averaged 32km a day, without the stress and anxiety that a focus on the total distance would bring.

Setting goals is an important element to help us be effective in our daily work. The better you are in cutting the big goal into sizable pieces, the easier it is to accomplish big goals and to adjust them along the journey if required. Lesson number 3: Many small steps create a journey!


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