Learning to Lead:
How We Challenge Our Associates & Help Them Grow
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: November 2010
One-year associate Adam White gathers with travelers at Copper Canyon.
One of the qualities that sets Grand Circle apart from other travel companies is that we stay nimble in times of difficulty. We have quick reflexes. Another advantage is that we listen to our travelers and act on their criticism and suggestions.
These traits aren’t just lucky coincidences—they are qualities that we train for. From the time Harriet and I started Grand Circle, I’ve been aggressively helping our associates develop the skills they need to lead from anywhere in the company. We do this in many ways throughout the year. I’d like to tell you a bit about two recent company activities designed to improve our trips and our people: PTTs and LEADS.
Adam White experiences the beauty of our Northern Mexico & Copper Canyon trip during a Product Training Trip.
A PTT is a Product Training Trip. It’s the #1 training opportunity for associates to really get to understand our business. Each year we send out several small groups of associates to experience one of our trips. There are several goals in mind: to get to know every aspect of the vacation so we can better serve our travelers; to evaluate the trip and recommend improvements; and to encounter our travelers on the trip and get to know them and their needs.
Each PTT includes twelve associates. Two groups just returned from Northern Mexico & the Copper Canyon and The Seine: Paris to Normandy. And just this week we said “Buon viaggio!” to associates leaving for Tuscany & the Amalfi Coast.
Adam White, a web content manager who has been with us for about a year and a half, participated in our Northern Mexico & the Copper Canyon PTT. He told me he had set a personal goal of coming up with ways to improve our website.
The mysterious archaeological site of Paquime.
The group in Mexico met in the morning each day to establish goals, and then again at night to discuss the day's events. Members teamed up in pairs and took turns leading the group each day. Adam got to lead his group on their second full day, as they traveled from Casas Grandes to Chihuahua.
“We visited the archaeological site at Paquime that day, saw a wonderful pottery demonstration, and enjoyed a mouth-watering Home-Hosted Dinner with a family in Chihuahua in the evening.”
Adam had been to Mexico once before—a family vacation in Cancun—but he said this experience provided real immersion in Mexican culture.
“Everyone we met was fantastic and extremely welcoming,” Adam said. “I really loved the people, the breathtaking landscapes, the culture—and the food. I adore Mexican food, so I was very happy! The Program Director knows the region and the local people so well, and took care of us throughout the trip. We all felt very safe at all times. The PTT really gave us a great perspective on the bigger picture, and I brought back a much greater appreciation of how those of us who work on the web play into the greater whole.
During his PTT, Adam White gained insight into what a traveler’s experience is really like.
“It was rewarding experience to get out of the office, develop leadership skills, and have it all come off well. We’re all here because we love to travel, and I had a fantastic time in northern Mexico.”
The other company activity that builds leaders is called LEAD. In this program, groups of nine associates travel on one of our trips. One just returned from Untamed Iceland; another is now on Turkey’s Magical Hideaways. The goals of the LEAD program are to develop our high-performing associates in leadership positions or who show strong leadership potential; to develop open and courageous communication, risk-taking, and teamwork; to listen to our travelers, and make recommendations for improving our service to them.
Samantha Zhang, who recently completed her fifth year at Grand Circle, is a senior accountant. She just returned from the LEAD program in Iceland.
Samantha Zhang found leadership skills, along with natural beauty, in Iceland.
“I set a personal goal before we left of developing a better understanding of my leadership skills,” Samantha told me. “I wanted to learn lessons that I could bring back to the office and use. I got a lot of great feedback from my team, too. I learned that I am open to feedback. A recommendation was that I need to be more confident in decision-making. I also learned that no matter how hard or crazy things seem, I need to believe in myself, take a step forward, and just do it. I will bring this learning back to the office and share it with my team, and encourage them to take risks.”
This was Samantha’s first time in Iceland, and the country was unlike anything she expected.
“It was so unbelievably beautiful,” she said. “The mountains, the volcano, the waterfalls, the sunsets. And so peaceful and quiet. The trip went really well—I learned a lot and had fun.”
Learning while having fun—sounds to me like a great way to build leaders.