Several years ago, Kaye and I went white-water rafting together while on a summer vacation. We planned it for months as it was something we were looking forward to doing together. As we planned the trip, we noticed a big difference between travel agents and tour guides. We talked to travel agents who could book a trip for us. They didn’t seem to care that much about the trip we would take, or what river we would experience, or what class rapid we would go for. They just passed out the information and let us decide. There wasn’t passion in their voices, and if there were a love for the river or the adventure, it didn’t come out in the conversation.
And then we met our tour guide for the several hours journey down the river. We could tell right away that the journey we were going to take together was more than a job. He spoke with passion about the river, told stories of times when the river was at her fastest, lamented the lack of respect some showed the river, and bragged on daring stunts his friends had attempted on the river.
The travel agents passed out brochures for adventures they thought we should consider. The tour guide got in the raft with us, rowed alongside us, and led us to places he had been before and places he loved going.
I have noticed the same is true in organizations and ministries among those who lead and serve. Some are travel agents and some are tour guides.
1. Travel agent leaders bring advice; tour guide leaders bring action.
There is a mammoth difference between a leader who can offer insight and one who acts on insight. People love to follow leaders who are willing to jump in the boat and row, who offer their hearts to the work, not just their heads.
2. Travel agent leaders offer knowledge; tour guide leaders offer wisdom.
Ultimately wisdom is not merely knowing what one should do but putting sound thinking into practice. Thus, a wise leader pushes for robust and grandiose thinking to be put into real practice.
3. Travel agent leaders are above the work; tour guide leaders are in the work.
Travel agent leaders are often disconnected from the work, from the people, and from how decisions made in offices impact real lives. Tour guide leaders are in the work because of their love for the people and the mission.
4. Travel agent leaders can tell you where to get a paddle; tour guide leaders row
It is impossible for leaders to row in every boat, to be in every discussion, and to be in all the activity of those they lead. And it is unwise and unhealthy for leaders to attempt to do so. At the same time, servant leaders long to row alongside those they are leading and find ways to do so.
5. Travel agent leaders are not emotionally invested; tour guide leaders love the journey.
Travel agent leaders don’t really care that much about the work or the mission. They are not deeply invested. Tour guide leaders love the journey. They care.