Why Every Executive Should Wander

Leadership Focus Mindfulness

Why Every Executive Should Wander

There are classic images, biblical and historical if you will, of great men and women who wandered and reflected on their lives in order to “meet themselves.” At VIM Executive Coaching, we celebrate these people not as a function of their religious or political beliefs, but as to their courage in seeking their own light. They are a diverse mix; Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi, Pema Chodron, the Buddha, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and the most profound wanderer of them all, Abraham.

As to Abraham, he was not setting out to be the father of three religions, he was taking an intensely personal, transformative journey where he had the courage to challenge what was then the accepted thinking of the day. Every one of his peers was thinking “idolatry,” while he was thinking spirituality. In order to shift his thinking, he had no choice but to turn inward and to ask questions. He even went against the family business; his father was an idol maker. In essence, he turned his back on the business and its values.

All Who Wander

It was Tolkien, writing Lord of the Rings, an impressive work done in response to the rising devastation of fascism across Europe, who wrote the classic, “All who wander are not lost,” who brilliantly encapsulated the journey. To respond, to reflect, to quietly turn inward and seek a better way, is to take a journey that is profound and life changing.

I would submit that the word “wander” in the context in which I am using it, is misunderstood. The definition of the word I like the most is that to “wander” means to move without a fixed course. It is quite a different concept than to walk around aimlessly.

We have all known executives who are aimless in their decision making. It is almost an act of desperation. In an effort to please everyone and to accommodate everyone (the ultimate reaction), they will agree to most everything to keep the peace, their jobs and to remain everyone’s friend.

To move without a fixed course, another way of viewing a wanderer, is to also see an executive as being open to any and all possibilities. It is the ultimate response. If we go back up to the list of names I rattled off, each person on that list was hardly walking around aimlessly, they were open to responding to each new situation as though it was a fresh choice.

I well remember a story about Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a “card carrying member” of the DAR, the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was (in those days) a highly racist and anti-Semitic organization. The great African American singer, Marion Anderson was refused by the DAR to sing at Constitution Hall. It was 1939, a time when racial prejudice was alive and well in our country. Mrs. Roosevelt had a choice, but in understanding her values and the pain of her own personal journey, she resigned from the DAR and urged the president to open the Lincoln Memorial to allow Marion Anderson to sing. It remains a classic concert. For the time, it was a courageous and ground-breaking act. In the decision Eleanor Roosevelt responded with purpose and with a sense of justice. A week before she resigned, I doubt she gave it too much thought, but when she was confronted there was no choice except to respond based on her values.

Wandering is Not Physical

Sadly, I have known able-bodied hikers, cross-country skiers, rock climbers and long-distance runners who, at the end of the day, were not very introspective or responsive. There are some who are, to be sure, but the physical act of wandering over the trails and terrain will not necessarily change a reactive personality into someone who is compassionate or open to new situations.

Conversely, I have known relatively non-athletic, slow walking, even physically challenged people who were extremely responsive and compassionate and who made marvelous executive leaders.

The key is mindfulness. If we are authentic, if we train ourselves to be mindful and, in the moment, we can achieve great things with our work and personal situations. Wandering can take the form of Abraham’s arduous journeys across a desert, but it can also be Jonas Salk’s development of a vaccine or Jeff Bezos in his refusal to give up on Amazon.

Every executive should wander. At VIM Executive Coaching, we give executives the permission to do so, and in fact, we take pride in guiding you on that journey.

VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality