This time of year, a lot of my conversations with friends, colleagues, and clients began with the question: How was your vacation?
Typically, you hear a wistful recounting of highlights followed by comments about the shock of re-entry into the daily routine. It seems that memories and feelings from even the most inspiring vacations fade fast.
During a recent conversation, a client switched from describing a momentous trip to Ghana where she connected with newly discovered family members to a discussion of logistics for an upcoming leadership development program with such alacrity that I felt a kind of mental whiplash. As I pushed for more details about Ghana, I was struck by the irony that we were supposed to be talking about approaches to sustaining the experiences and lessons of a leadership development program when the participants return to work.
Part of the problem is highlighted by the phrase return to work. When we label our experiences, we compartmentalize them in more ways than one: this is work; this is vacation; this is learning. Vacation is often defined as “time away from work” so it’s not surprising that the first day back on the job equals the end of vacation. On the other hand, increasing organizational capability depends on ensuring that the first day back on the job after a development experience does not equal the end of learning.
The challenge of sustaining a vacation experience has a lot in common with the challenge of sustaining a development experience. While both experiences dissolve into the background as deadlines and obligations hijack our attention, I’m beginning to think that people who want to integrate lessons learned from a development experience into their daily work might be able to learn a thing or two from people who really know how to vacation. Here’s a list of ideas used to keep vacation experiences alive, retrofitted for participants of leadership development experiences:
- Take pictures; write in a journal; create a scrapbook. With smartphones, it’s never been easier to take and share pictures. Find a creative way to capture your experience so that you can easily review it and share it with others
- Heighten anticipation by talking about it before it happens. Research shows that activities and thoughts associated with anticipation have as much or more benefit to the vacationer as the vacation experience itself. Don’t miss an opportunity to talk about and plan for a development activity before you go. In part, you’re ensuring that more people will ask you about it when you come back.
- Sneak the highlights into your conversations when you return. Vacations create stories that can last a lifetime. Most stories that bear repeating include a change of perspective. Find the change of perspective that the development experience introduced and turn it into the story you tell others about what you learned.
- Bore others with a slideshow. We’ve all had the experience of politely enduring a series of pictures of a friend’s vacation. While your audience may not share your enthusiasm for the history of the fountain or the way the light fell on the cathedral, the act of reliving the experience sustains the vacation for you. Similarly, teach others what you’ve learned. Even if you can’t engage them in the lesson, you’ll fortify your own mastery of the ideas.
- Stay connected with the people you met. Those with whom you’ve shared an experience have a unique insight into a part of your life. Social networks make it easy to stay in touch and reach out. Each time you think about someone you met during a development experience, you’ll also be reminded of the experience.
Consultants and trainers that spend time designing and facilitating leadership development experiences, will often talk about the three types of participants who show up in our workshops:
- The sponges who want to soak up whatever learning they come across,
- The prisoners who’ve been sentenced to learning by someone who wants to fix them, and
- The vacationers who are grateful for some time away from the daily grind.
I’m pretty sure that people who design vacation experiences or lead others through museums and landmarks also encounter sponges, prisoners, and vacationers. I wonder how my approach to leadership development would be altered if I became less of a workshop leader and more of a tour guide?