Leading the CAMINO Way

We all have bucket lists and dreams, and walking a Camino pilgrim trail in Spain this month has fulfilled one of my lifelong passions.

Starting in Sarria, hiking daily with hundreds of people through the rolling Spanish countryside and ancient towns, my husband and I absorbed the mood, the beauty, the emotion… the blood, sweat and tears that is the Camino.

I had heard and read so much, yet didn’t quite realize until I got there that there are many Camino paths (deeply ingrained paths from hundreds of years of pilgrims’ feet) stretching from all corners of Europe and culminating in Santiago de Compostela, where a ritual Mass is held at noon daily to welcome the pilgrims (peregrinos) from all countries of the world, all walks of life…each of them there for a different reason. As the botafumeiro swings from side to side of the gracious cathedral (with incense descending…reminiscent of a time when it was used to sanitize disease ridden and sickly pilgrims), it would seem impossible not to feel the humility, the common humanity, the thread that binds us all.

Along with thousands of others, I feel deep gratitude to the Camino for my journey, for gifting me the life space for self- reflection and holding a mirror to my personal leadership.

We are all leaders of ourselves before we can lead others – and we need to grasp the opportunity to deepen our awareness when opportunity arises.

          Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another” John C. Maxwell

So many lovely images have remained with me: the lovely singing, people walking with their dogs, bicycles, the Camino clam shells and country flags proudly adorning backpacks, people crying, hugging and laughing, a man with one leg on crutches.  The four young men who stopped to grasp each others’ wrists & make a human ‘chair’ for an elderly man who was struggling, an Irish lady with torn knee ligaments painfully limping, a painful hernia slowing another down. Parents whose daughter had taken her life. A lady recently divorced. School children on a class camp walking into Santiago to rousing renditions of their school song. The stamping of pilgrim passports along the way – the many stops in the shade for a coffee, jamon and cheese or a beer. The goats, sheep, donkey, cattle, cats, dogs and birds that championed us along the way!  A trail of humanity, of emotion, spanning decades and yet so very present in the now.

Every person walks the Camino for their own reasons. I was searching for insight about leadership – what makes a truly outstanding and memorable leader – and this is what I found.

C.A.M.I.N.O leadership is a special, emotionally intelligent way of leading ourselves and others. It comes from first recognizing that we are all in this messy life together, and that the invisible thread we share is the trust we have for one another and the willingness to become lifelong learners in a self-reflection journey that never ends.

C.A.M.I.N.O leadership has a few special qualities that showed themselves to me along the Way:

C: Caring and connectedness. Simon Sinek wrote in his wonderful book ‘Leaders Eat Last’ about how trust grows when leaders take the time to genuinely know their people; to ask questions about their life and recognise that the ‘whole’ person comes to work. Just as the whole pilgrim walks the Camino – speaking to strangers and hearing their stories is integral to growing our ability to sit with all emotions and grow our personal leadership. Making a committed effort to perform random acts of kindness and search for the opportunity to do so every step of the way/every day. The other side to this is to accept help from others graciously.

                        “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do                                                                         nothing for him.” Simon Sinek                                                                                                

A: Awareness. We are called to step off autopilot, challenge our relationship with technology and reconnect with nature. To question our beliefs and our biases – and tune in to our values with a renewed commitment to living them. A deeper awareness of our capacity to influence others and to lead with purpose – to understand our own ‘why’ and how we can lead in a way that sustainably makes a difference to creating a world of giving and improving the lives of others.

     “Every organisation or group with the ability to inspire starts with a person or small group of people who were inspired to so something bigger than themselves” Simon Sinek

M: Mindful Presence. The Camino sharpens your senses – after all millions of pilgrims have traced the very steps you walk, each one with their own histories. The quiet of the forests, the bubbling brooks, the sunsets and the endless sound of ‘one step after another’.  The hours of walking every day – how I wish I could keep doing this for a lifetime! Not worrying about the future or the past – rather finding acceptance of the present with many strangers and loved ones by my side.

                         “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”  Maya Angelou

I: Insight generating. We bring to the Camino endless questions to which we genuinely don’t know the answers. Conversation flourishes as we delve more into curiosity, connecting with others through having the space to listen. When there is little to distract us, we create the conditions for insight (quiet, reflection, questions and listening to connect with others). Many times I found myself thinking ‘why do we have meetings sitting in boardrooms…and not walking in nature inspiring insight?’

         “Leaders who focus on learning how to craft great questions gain great benefits. They help people to think about issues in new ways, engage people in positively challenging each other’s  thinking, and create a culture of ownership for the outcomes. “ Judith E. Glaser

N: Non-judgmental (more Empathy). Being non-judgmental demands vulnerability and empathy, a curious openness to seeing life from all perspectives. To challenging our fixed beliefs and appreciating that every person has a different upbringing and life experience, and that our way is not THE way.  Our addiction to being right gets in the way of thriving relationships – thank you Camino for highlighting this to me so many times.

                              “Empathy is …communicating that incredibly healing message of…’you’re not alone’ ”  Brene Brown

O: Optimistic viewpoint: People walk the Camino searching for personal answers to the endless challenges life throws our way. Optimism helps us to know there are possibilities, even when we can’t see them. The Camino gives hope – a ‘knowing’ that most things aren’t absolutely permanent or pervasive, and with effort (grit and determination) we can shape positive outcomes.

                         “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope” Helen Keller

Thank you Camino for helping me to carve my own Way. I have returned home to Australia with beautiful images in my mind – of people from all nationalities who seek to learn more about themselves and the world around them; of people who seek to grow personal leadership and experience what I call, a ‘leadershift‘.

And from this leadershift will stem flourishing relationships – across families, teams and organisations, even countries. It’s a thriving global story.

The Camino has attracted people for centuries, and the well worn trails will continue to feel feet long after we are all gone.

Thank you Camino for reminding me what is important in this life.

Buen Camino

Alison