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5 leadership lessons from my European vacation

Chris Cebollero shares the encounters that tested his patience and the lessons that helped him embrace change in his recent travels

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“When it comes to culture in our organizations, we just have to be able to respect others’ beliefs, values and backgrounds,” Cebollero writes.

Photo/Chris Cebollero

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy and Spain teaching leadership pearls of wisdom to some clients in the European Union (EU). I was able to enjoy a few days of R&R and enjoy some of the finer things the EU had to offer.

Throughout this trip, there were several leadership lessons that resonated with me. Below are the top 5 leadership lessons that caught me by surprise during my trip.

1. Ask for help

In my younger years, I lived and went to school in Italy for about a year. It was here I learned to speak the language. My memory served me well; however, I was having trouble communicating in certain situations. I was constantly using the term, “Como se dice;” Italian for “how do you say?” This was a regular occurrence in my search to find the correct words.

This was a bit frustrating for me, but everyone who I imposed upon was eager to help me learn the correct pronunciation.

As a leader, we must be able to be comfortable to ask for help as we need it. Often, leaders feel they are immune from the need for help. I remind people often, “if you know everything there is to know about leadership, raise your hand.” It is vital to know that we need assistance on a regular basis, and it is OK to ask for help.

2. Embrace change

Change is inevitable, and not something that is well received in the workplace. Well, this became evident to me in Barcelona. I was on my way to Florence and needed to check in at the airport. Now, I am sure we are all familiar with self-check-in at U.S. airports.

Well, Barcelona has a next-level spin. Once you have done self-check-in, you then go to the counter, scan your own luggage, place it on the belt, hit the button and watch your luggage disappear. I have to tell you; I was a bit out of my comfort zone, wondering if I would ever see my bag again. I was looking around, trying to find a real person to ask if I was correct in my practice, and noticed a 15-year-old staring at me who said, “you look a little lost; you did it the right way.” With a sigh of relief, I said “thank you.”

When we think of change in an organization, sometimes we feel lost as we set a new practice. Think about how our workforce feels as change is coming their way. If we feel lost as leaders, they will feel lost with our lack of confidence in managing that change. Always remember, change is coming and EMS leaders must be ready for the foreseeable transformation that will occur in our organizations.


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3. Ask more questions

Taking things for granted landed me in trouble a couple of times on my trip. As an example, in Palermo, offices close between 2-4 p.m. for lunch. I needed to get some money changed at the bank, and of course the bank was locked when I arrived. I also had the same challenge when I went to the pharmacy, which was closed during mealtime.

From there, I found myself asking more and more questions to ensure I had the latest and greatest of information. The questions I asked allowed me to learn information that was valuable to my decision-making for the rest of my trip.

On the leadership side, we need to beware of gathering information and acting on that information without having the whole truth or story. As a best practice, we really need to spend more time asking questions and allowing the information we receive to guide our responses.

4. Learn something new every day

Something positive that I experienced every day was learning something new. Maybe this had something to do with culture, food or from visiting the various museums. From learning what establishments close for mealtime, to the best wine to pair with fish or that there are no paintings in the Vatican (what looks like paintings are all mosaics), the things I learned were a great addition to the experience of being in another country.

From a leadership side, my favorite quote comes to mind. The Dali Llama tells us that “when we speak, we are only repeating what we already know, but when we listen, we may learn something new.” This also holds true with our leadership knowledge, skills and abilities. Sometimes, we are set in our ways and do what we have always done. For leaders to be successful, it is vital we grow on a continual basis. If you practice learning something new every day, you will be on a great path of continual growth.

5. Practice patience

Was my patience ever tested. First, folks in Europe have one speed; slow. Getting something you want does not happen fast. In Sicily, I waited for my luggage for 93 minutes. Why, you ask? Breaktime; it was breaktime. How did I handle breaktime? I was angry, antsy and frustrated.

But, I realized, I was in Sicily. So, I went to have a coffee, sat and watched people, and answered a few emails. Over the next couple weeks, I needed patience in many other scenarios as well. More and more, it just did not matter as much to me as when I first arrived.

As leaders, we need to practice our patience and how we deal with our everyday responsibilities. Now, patience does not mean losing your sense of urgency, that is a whole other article all together. But know that sometimes, we can wait and have a cup of coffee.

Embrace culture

It was a great trip and overall a success for me both personally and professionally. If I were to add a sixth lesson, it would be to embrace culture. One of the things I noticed was the way we do things in the U.S. are not the way things are done overseas.

As an example, I went into a restaurant in Rome at 6:30 p.m. for dinner. The waiter commented, “you must be from America.” I responded “yes, how do you know?” His response was that Americans eat early; people in Italy do not sit for dinner until about 8:30 or 9 p.m.

When it comes to culture in our organizations, we just have to be able to respect others’ beliefs, values and backgrounds.

Chris Cebollero is head of operations for QuickMedic. Cebollero is a nationally recognized Emergency Medical Services leader, best selling author, and advocate. He is a member of the Forbes Coaching Council and available for speaking, coaching and mentoring. Cebollero is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Follow him on Twitter @ChiefofEMS and on Facebook.
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