It’s been a minute since I shared one of my crazier stories, so I hope you are ready for this adventure.
Shortly after college, I went to Tanzania to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. At the end of our three months of Swahili language training, a group of about 80 of us volunteers decided to go on a three-day safari before we embarked to our separate villages to fulfill our two years of volunteer service. We put down a 50% deposit with the charter company for this fantastically bonding, once-in-a-lifetime experience. When we showed up for the tour, to put it mildly, chaos ensued.
Sadly, it turned out that the “company owner” had scammed us with stolen paperwork from a legit safari business to commandeer our deposit. When this fraudulent behavior was discovered soon after we left the first national park, about 20 peace corps volunteers decided to throw in the towel and give up on the safari. Some of the volunteers wanted to steal the keys from the drivers until the situation was “resolved,” to ensure we wouldn’t be left stranded on the roadside. Many of the volunteers and drivers got angry and talked/yelled without achieving anything. Yeah… absolute chaos.
Building Rapport with a Change Agent
After a bit, I noticed that two people had a different approach to our situation. One Peace Corps volunteer and one driver were sitting apart from the rest of us, calmly talking to each other. The volunteer mainly was listening. Escaping all the useless hostility, I asked to join them. I followed the first volunteer’s lead and listened too. After a while, I asked questions to clarify. Eventually, I started to make statements to flesh out details further and make a plan for moving forward with this safari. Slowly our group grew as more people joined and listened. Each question and statement was another paving stone in the bridge we were building between the two groups. Instead of two opposing forces, we were becoming one problem-solving task force. Even during moments when a driver would try to talk over me, the original driver in the group would encourage him to be respectful and hear me out as I worked with the team to find a solution.
Understanding the Contributing Factors
The initial volunteer who choose to listen was the catalyst. He took that first step in bridging the gap, but as the conversation turned towards problem-solving, he stepped back and let others lead. And anyone who knows me will say that I am very comfortable being a decision-maker. Still, we may never have gotten to the stage where we could begin to find a solution if it hadn’t been for this peacemaker who started a peaceful dialogue. These steps were vital to making a positive impact in the situation, since yelling and attempts to steal keys were certainly not moving us in the right direction. Additionally, we had the good fortune that the original driver was both a peacemaker and a change agent. Supported by this man’s efforts, we were able to create a new plan for our safari.
Adapting to the New Circumstances
In the end, we did not get the safari experience that we had planned. With only 50% of our funds remaining, some profound changes had to be made, and corners had to be cut. Instead of sleeping in the hotel, we slept in the parking lot for a deeply discounted rate. One meal consisted of peanut butter and other snacks. All the frills were eliminated. But we still got to finish our Peace Corps orientation together, and the actual safari excursions within the National Parks were perfect. We visited all three parks on our list (Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro Crater) and saw rhinos, water buffalo, elephants, zebra, giraffes, and even witnessed lions caught in the act.
Remembering to Recognize the Team
It may seem like that is the end of the story, but that is only if we forget to tie up loose ends. I want to acknowledge that sometimes when my side of the equation is falling apart, it is hard to remember the people on the other side of the equation. In this case, those drivers were put in an awkward and potentially financially compromising position through no fault of their own. When we first realized that we were being scammed, it was clear to them that they were at risk of losing a few days’ wages or even their jobs if the situation escalated. However, they kept their heads and worked with us. They went above and beyond their job descriptions by helping us salvage this situation. It wasn’t just our problem. Those drivers were stuck with us, and their struggle needed to be recognized as well. Fortunately, one of the volunteers suggested that we tip extra generously to offer our thanks in recognition for all their hard work. For this three-day trip filled with unexpected growth, remembering to respect and appropriately recognize the efforts of others was the final lesson for me.
Back in the beginning, when we signed up for the safari, we did not realize the adventure that lay ahead of us. As with so many things in life, an unanticipated twist led to disappointment and frustration. However, because people rallied, the result was growth and a once-in-a-lifetime group experience. Here is to hoping the next time we are faced with those unfortunate turns in life, we work with the change agents in our midst to come out on top.
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.