businessDEPOT’s Managing Director’s leadership lessons from Mongolia

[ A whole new experience ]
by John Knight Published

Today I return from a trip to Mongolia with Best Life Adventures [Ben Southall you are a legend] and the Qld Office of Chief Entrepreneur [as part of Advance Queensland] with assistance from Anthony Willoughby of the Nomadic School of Business.

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I went into the trip with open eyes and no idea what we were going to do over the 10 days – all I knew was that it was going to be an adventure that would challenge both my mind and body.

We met real nomads of Mongolia [slept on their floor one night], wrestled with them [although my attempt probably doesn’t even qualify as wrestling], helped them pull down one of their Gers [their tents/homes], packed it on the yak and cart before migrating with them on horse back to set it up once again. We climbed a mountain in the snow, drank and sang with the locals, built relationships with our now friends and mapped our businesses [including the barriers to success] all while challenging our thinking and developing our own life and leadership skills.

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Often it is hard to find great examples of leadership but throughout this trip they were flowing freely. The digital detox, social awkwardness and uncomfortable situations all created opportunities to learn from absolutely everyone.

  • We learnt from the intriguing, strong and grounded nomadic Mongolian tribes. There were specific examples in specific situations to learn from as well as the subtler examples from their everyday life.
  • We learnt from Ben and the adventures/challenges/missions he has undertaken himself before.
  • We learnt from Anthony and his experiences with the tribes of Mongolia, Kenya and Papua New Guinea.
  • We learnt from the entrepreneurs of an energetic Mongolian business community.
  • We learnt from each other – an eclectic mix of professors, students, start-up gurus, advisers, small business owners, a wellness yogi, subject matter experts and more.

This melting pot of individuals combined with the inspiration of the people around us and the harsh but beautiful landscape of a misunderstood and mystical country created great learnings on life and leadership.

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Here are some of my key learnings, take-aways and observations from this once in a life time experience.

Leaders need to give themselves permission to look after themselves first

A recurring theme both during this trip and in conversations with clients and contacts in recent times is for leaders to look after their own physical and mental health first. Put another way, "put your mask on first" as coined by the author Dr Gary Bradt in his book. This trip has been outstanding for me to take myself out of my comfort zone, challenge my thinking and give myself some free headspace. Business owners don’t do this enough.

There will always be challenges in your business and life that can threaten its existence

It’s how you react to these challenges that really sets the great leaders apart from the managers. In the Mongolian area we visited, if they experience an extremely dry winter they may migrate to their summer camp early. The leaders make the decisions they need to make to keep their family and herds safe, healthy and happy.

Not every path available to you is mutually exclusive

Often, we present ourselves with ‘or’ situations but what may seem as 2 different paths to choose from can instead be a multitude of hybrid paths. There are always other options [like do nothing] or a different way to view the options [you could end up with crossed paths or an opportunity to backtrack in the future].

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Dignity, gratitude and pride

The Mongolians were some of the most grateful people I have ever met. They presented themselves with confidence, dignity and pride. They were extremely generous, welcomed us into their house - never fearful of who we were or what we were doing sleeping on their floors. Their confidence was contagious. They were so proud of their family and what they had, never wanting for more, just whatever makes them happy.

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Don’t overthink things

Sometimes, it just is what it is. Great leaders don’t over think things, they make the decisions they need to make without jumping at shadows. They are courageous to say yes to new experiences, before no. They take the opportunities presented to them without looking back. With leaders often being their harshest critic, having the confidence to back yourself also locks in your business’ vision and sets an easier path for your team to be led down.

A leader needs a strong community and reliable connections

Whether it be the modern coworking space we visited, or the neighbours and extended family that helped with the migration, a leader is so much more effective when they have a strong community around them. Knowing you have a team around you, that trusts in you and your decisions, is invaluable for helping you make the right decisions.

Less is often more

You don’t need a lot of things to be happy [Mongolians are evidence of this] but love was a common foundational layer to everyone we spoke to. We met a 77-year-old lady who previously worked as an accountant in the city but decided to return to the nomadic lifestyle with her youngest son. When you pack up your whole house twice every year it is amazing how little ‘stuff’ you need.

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No judgement, just happiness

On quizzing multiple families during our stay, it was clear they all just wanted their family and friends to be happy. They are not critical of whether their kids stay nomadic or if they decide to move to the city – whatever makes them happy. A great question I was asked by one of the venturers was, "what brings you happiness on the inside?" Do you know your happy place?

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Curiosity is an attitude

Despite our almost non-existent ability to speak their language, the Mongolians were as curious about us as we were about them. One great example was their interest in Ben’s drone and their immediate conclusion that they could use it to round up their sheep.

All the above are simply my observations from the discussions and activities I was privy to – I am sure the other venturers have their own takeaways and thoughts.

A few words of thanks …

I would just like to say a massive thank you to Ben Southall of Best Life Adventures, Advance Queensland and the Qld Office of the Chief Entrepreneur, Anthony Willoughby of Nomadic School of Business.

If anyone is interested in going to Mongolia, I cannot recommend highly enough getting in touch with Ben, Anthony or directly with Adiya of New Milestone Tours in Mongolia.

To everyone I met throughout this adventure, thank you.

PS: Thanks to Anthony for some of these photos

John Knight
read more by John Knight

John uses his business improvement and strategic planning skills to help his clients improve their position and boost their profits. John helps his broad client base with his unique business improvement services, strategic planning skills and wealth of knowledge on compliance matters.

Further to his business improvement offering, John provides company and business valuations for various purposes including company purchase/ sale, entity reorganisation and matrimonial or dispute resolution.

John is an expert in all things real estate and has built a reputation in the industry for being far more than just an accountant. He also has an in depth knowledge of the Dental sector and works closely with dentists and dental practices to streamline their accounting processes.

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