According to family legend when I was three years old I set off from home and pedaled my tricycle a mile and a half to the nearest gas station—before my parents realized I was missing. It was the first time and certainly not the last time I exhibited a spirit of adventure.
In my twenties I traveled a little further from home—nearly 9,000 miles—to Sydney, Australia. I stepped off the plane with two suitcases, $1,200 in my pocket, and no return ticket. I had a sponsor and a working visa for four years. And a greater awareness than three-year-old Jason of the adventure I’d embarked upon.
Years later I stepped away from a senior executive position with a major corporation to launch my own company, a giant leap into the unknown but born out of the conviction that I could truly make a difference.
These diverse anecdotes spanning so many years of my life sprang to mind when an interviewer recently asked me about some of the qualities of a leader that can lead to business success and asked, in particular, about a spirit of adventure. Here’s what it means to me and how it can positively impact any organization.
Leaders with a sense of adventure are more likely to foster a corporate culture of innovation where challenging the status quo is demanded and outside the box thinking encouraged. This may well require calculated risk-taking that sets a company ahead of the competition and leads to groundbreaking products or novel solutions.
Think Elon Musk. No one on the planet has more audacious innovative goals whether colonizing Mars, creating high-speed transport, and advancing neural-machine interfaces, never mind what he’s done with electric vehicles and Starlink communications. Says Musk, “Failing is an option here. If things are not failing you are not innovating enough.”
An adventurous leader is likely to display a zest for living that becomes infectious stimulating camaraderie in the pursuit of a shared mission. When a company’s CEO leads the way in exploring new horizons employees are happy to join the ride.
The most obvious example is Sir Richard Branson who has said, “The spirit of adventure has changed my life in so many ways. It has helped me to build businesses, meet brilliant people, stretch my mind, and discover new perspectives. Most importantly it has helped me discover my limits and to go beyond them.”
Of course, you can have a spirit of adventure without jumping off a building in Las Vegas, ballooning around the world, kitesurfing the English Channel, or soaring into space!
A larger-than-life CEO is not just a figurehead but an inspirational leader whose force of personality, drive and energy attracts like-minded individuals. Today’s workforce, particularly the younger generation, values dynamic and forward-thinking corporate cultures. Such cultures have a magnetic pull bringing on board top talent who are keen on working in an environment that promotes growth, challenges, and exploration.
Adventurers know that here is always going to be a new challenge, a bigger mountain to climb or a wider river to cross. Similarly, executives with the same mindset know that it’s vital they and their teams continue to stretch themselves, upgrade their skills and knowledge, while they seek greater opportunities for personal growth as well as corporate growth. They go beyond the borders of their own organization and recruit help from expert coaches and trainers.
Being adventurous doesn’t mean being reckless. In fact, you’ll find that most explorers and adventures go to extreme lengths to research and plan their expeditions. True adventurers appreciate the importance of preparation and risk management, especially when lives are at stake.
Google’s Project Aristotle study concluded that the teams that felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable with each other were the most successful. The balance between risk-taking and caution is critical in the business world where the existence of companies is on the line.
My favorite hobby is to travel. I’ve been all over the world. I make a point of enjoying every element of the experience from the moment you pass through customs, make use of foreign currency, and enjoy local food and wine.
I immerse myself in the culture of each country I visit. I always tell people not to live behind the camera taking photographs of everything that moves (and doesn’t move). Appreciate the world around you. Don’t walk into a bar and expect them to have Budweiser on tap but do make an effort to learn at least a few words of the native language.
Revel in everything around you and store memories forever. Adventurous leaders explore the culture of their clients and make an effort to understand what makes them tick. They learn their business language and preferences.
Bold leaders not only push the envelope but also are far-sighted. They look beyond quarterly financials and chart a course for the company’s future. Instead of staying in a safe harbor they seek to set sail across oceans to new destinations. For them it’s not the thrill of the moment, closing a significant deal, or creating a pioneering product—it’s what that will all ultimately lead to. They want to establish a lasting legacy.
Embrace a spirit of adventure. You never know where it will take you. It’s the daring and the bold who will achieve the pinnacle of success. Wrap your arms around change because like the most intrepid of explorers you can’t afford to stand still.
Written by Jason Richmond.
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