Are You Ever Traveling Through Foreign Territory at Work?

Are You Ever TravelingThrough Foreign Territory at Work- (2)

I’ve been vacationing in the UK these past couple of weeks – so in lieu of a full article, I’m sharing my top 5 lessons learned as a “stranger in a strange land.”

1. People Want To Help You

True confession: I lost my cell phone in London. I left it in a taxi ride after a long morning of touring, I jumped out – so eager to be back at our rented flat.When I realized a half-hour later, I was pretty angry – at myself. Eventually I had to stop berating myself, stop using my husband’s cell phone to repeatedly dial my phone in the hopes someone would pick-up, and continue to enjoy the day. During dinner out at a well-known pizza joint, we dialed the phone again – and this time someone picked up. It was the cab driver. He hadn’t heard my ringing phone (on silent), but a little boy had found it in his cab. He drove it back to me that night and refused any reward. He said, “I’m just doing what a good person should do, I can’t take money for that.”

Have you given up hope about some aspect of work? Do you ever feel overwhelmed, under-qualified, or lacking influence? Who have you asked for help?

Sometimes people will just help you because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’ll owe them or need to pay them back later. Have you tried just asking?

2. The Wheel Always Looks Different When You Recreate It

I lived in London for 5 months as a tween. My fondest memories are of my mom taking me out to a fancy hotel for afternoon tea. There were sandwiches, scones and sweets. To this day, it’s still one of our favorite rituals together. So of course, I had to take my daughter for high tea in London. She hated the sandwiches, refused to drink the tea, and only ate one bite of scone because I begged her to. But our lovely waiter enticed her with smoothie and fries (aka chips) and she did love the pastries. Was it the afternoon tea I remembered? Not quite, but we sat and laughed and talked and had a girls’ afternoon together – and that’s the point, right?

I was recently talking to a client who was bemoaning the fact that her go-to strategy of putting her head down and working hard was not working anymore. So now we’re talking about how to work hard without putting your head down, and without ignoring the people around you.

Some of the old tactics with a new spin…

3. Memorable = Special

One of my favorite stops (both as a kid and now) was visiting the Tower of London. Within one of the oldest structures of London, lie the crown jewels. And while the crowns, enormous gems, and scepters were encased in glass when we saw them, the British often see them worn by their monarchs; the British monarchy has mastered the art of pomp and circumstance. They know that while gigantic jewels don’t give them their power, it does give them a special place in the hearts of their people.

A few years ago I did a 360 for my client (where you survey colleagues, superiors and direct reports). His staff told of Christmas bonus gift cards that were appreciated and never used. . . until one year he took them all out instead for a special and fun day together. They loved it, and it became a yearly tradition.

Sometimes being more practical isn’t as important as being unforgettable. Are there ways you can acknowledge your staff and co-workers that are a little more memorable than a staff meeting shout-out or thank-you email?

4. Waste Not, Want Not (or one man’s trash is another man’s treasure)

We flew Virgin Atlantic. On both flights they collect all the spare change you leave the country with, and donate it to charities that feed homeless kids around the world. What an amazing use for those unusable foreign coins that many of us leave weighing down our pockets.

Is there something unusable to your department that others would benefit from? ‘nuff said.

5. Sometimes You Need To Care More About The Community Than Your Own Legacy

When London’s fire raged through the city in the 1660, the mayor had a choice. He could purposefully burn down some buildings to create a fire break so the fire wouldn’t spread any further. Yet apparently, he was too worried about having to pay for the cost of the buildings and postponed any decisions. So the fire raged on for days more (with exponentially more devastation) until the King stepped in and ordered the building burned to create a firebreak.*

Sometimes you might not be the best person for the job. Or your idea might pale in comparison to others. The best leaders have a vision larger than their own success and legacy.

Is everyone in your org aware of the bigger vision? How can you make it even more important and vital for them, and yourself?


There’s nothing like travel to help us remove our minds from the day-to-day and see the big picture. If you were a stranger viewing your position, what might you notice with your new perspective?
*History based on our double-decker bus tour guide and Wikipedia

Posted in

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

Leave a Comment