May 13

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Are you bathing any elephants?

It was a hectic time. Long working hours, weeks of non-stop travelling became months. I was pushing every minute to get things done. Leading three different teams, in two different countries can be rewarding, yet tiring. Shifting from -40 to +38 is a lot of fun in the full meaning of fun. Switching roles, countries, and cultures is fascinating, amazing, colorful experience. It is probably one of the most amazing times of my life. I learned to enjoy, cry, and have fun. Stubbornly follow my passion to lead and develop people in a fascinating cross-cultural environment.

I reached Chiangmai late afternoon. Chiangmai is a great place in Thailand. Many people travel there for the sake of sightseeing and relaxation. I was there for work. The taxi driver was sharing with me different packages of fun things to do in one-day, half a day, several days or weeks. As he was speaking, my mind was confused. Why is he sharing with me these things? I am here for work. That is it! I dismissed him by simply saying: I am here on a business trip. He sighed and said: Madam, I think you would love elephant bathing.

I went to my hotel room. Settled in. Many ideas came to my mind about work items. I have to do this, and that. I need to solve so many issues, have a skype call with my team back to Mongolia and talk to the CEO for this and that and other senior leaders. My stomach was letting me know it was time to eat.

I went out and right there across the street there was a big sign: Elephant bathing. You are welcome to enjoy a half-day trip in the mountains. I was curious. Went in and without thinking I bought a ticket for the trip.

What started as a half day trip, ended up as one of the most amazing learning experiences. I learned so much by the elephant trainers out there in the mountains. I was so afraid when I first saw the elephants. They taught me to feed the elephants corn.  I fed them a lot of corn. Then the trainer said now you can start touching them and play a little. They took my hand and put it close to the body of the elephant. There were six of them. Slowly but steady I was drawn into their world. I sat closer and closer. They came too. One of the babies started playing with me and following me around. I remember all of a sudden, I had completely come out of my comfort zone into such a relaxed beautiful, restful place. My neck pain was gone. My confused mind could think straight. As I bathed the elephants in the river and then immersed myself in the most amazing waterfall close by, I felt at ease. I had not felt at ease in such a long time.

Leaders must care for self-first-I had known it forever but was not practicing it. I cannot give what I do not have. How can I encourage, motivate, inspire other team members, other leaders if I am not in that space myself? Pushing forward my career goals is great, caring for myself is vital. Even though I knew all this, still I was not fully practicing it in my life.

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Maya Angelou this quote has been ever inspiring for me.

 Because of this restful time in the mountains of Chiangmai, I started a life-changing journey. I discovered I could work by resting. I could even achieve more by doing less.

When we bring ourselves into a space of rest, we are able to think. As we think more, we can create, reinvent, review, reset and rejuvenate our leadership. Leaders are very lonely people many times. They share a space, noone does.

Resting is crucial in order to increase productivity, skills. Leading people is an unprecedented experience but it requires a lot of efforts and energy.

Have you been washing any elephants lately? How do you refresh your soul?

Do you have a mentor, a coach, a friend who is supporting your growth as a leader? How many people are you mentoring and coaching?

I want to share five tips and tricks that I have learned through the years to stop and replenish my energies. It has helped my leadership journey a lot.

  • Do you know your strengths and areas of growth? The more you know on these, the less energies you will be spending fighting to leverage from your weakness but rather leverage your strengths
  • Are you delegating to your team? Delegation is a key step in the process of growing others. As you delegate to them you are handing them keys towards more responsibilities, more growth. They grow; you are heading towards higher goals.
  • Who is your coach? Do you have a safe space where you are letting yourself to be fully vulnerable? Coaching can be a place of rest for you as a leader to stop, accept you are not perfect. As you share, you have a chance to listen to yourself, pause and find solutions to your leadership challenges.
  • Play hard and get work done. As you learn more and more to play, your creativity will increase. All the research shows that as we relax our productivity increases.
  • Sleep well & sleep some more.

McKinsey conducted a study of 196 business leaders and found that two-thirds were generally dissatisfied with the quantity of sleep they got and 55% were not happy with the quality of sleep. Interestingly, less than half of the respondents saw a link between sleep and leadership performance and over a third said that their organizations did not allow them to prioritize getting enough sleep.

Bottom line: pursuing leadership and career growth at all costs and working at all hours—at the expense of sleeping, rest and down time—is an expensive proposition.

If I do this, I am sacrificing not only my own health, but also my ability to work and lead well. I am realizing more and more that rest equals to a high quality of leadership.

I hope you will do the same.


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Are you bathing any elephants?

Are you bathing any elephants?

About the author 

Elvira Rama

I have traveled in more than 45 countries around the globe. I have met people of different backgrounds and it is always a joy to help them find their significance, walk alongside them to reach their full potential.

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