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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Travel Agent or Tour Guide

Tour Guide

Over the past couple of days, I’ve introduced some terms to describe why we often struggle leading our students. First, I wrote about the Police Officer and the Personal Trainer. I suggested we often begin our work with young people as a Personal Trainer—focused on developing and building students to help them reach their potential, just like a trainer in a fitness club. Over time, however, we drift into a police officer role, looking for stuff to go wrong and hoping to keep students within the boundaries of our rules.

Then, I compared and contrasted another scenario. We are either a Navy SEAL or a Peace Keeper. These are two very different military roles. The Navy SEAL is on a mission, doing whatever he must do to achieve an outcome. He is there to win a war. Peace Keepers are also targeting an outcome, but theirs is simply damage control; making sure everyone is safe and alive. They are simply keeping the peace; hence the name. This is another drift we experience over time in working with youth.

Today, I want you to consider a third scenario. Are you a Travel Agent or a Tour Guide? You already know the difference don’t you? A Travel Agent’s job is to tell you about all the places you could go on a holiday; to show you brochures, describe the sights and sounds of vacation spots and even book the tickets. But—they don’t go with you. The Tour Guide, on the other hand, actually takes the journey with you. They walk with you through the jungle or the canyon or the park and along the way interpret what you see. The key? You do it together. Although the Tour Guide is clearly the leader, the experience is shared not virtual.

Very often as we age and grow tired of the mundane tasks of teaching kids, or coaching athletes or working with the youth group, we migrate from Tour Guide to Travel Agent. We accumulate a “been there, done that” attitude that screams to the students: “I don’t need this anymore. I’m tired of this.” They can sense it. It actually happens to parents, to faculty, to employers, to youth pastors…you name it. The only solution is to get back in the game, or to hire someone who actually will experience the journey with the students. They don’t need anyone else “telling” them about stuff they need to know. They have information at their fingertips 24/7. What they need is a caring adult who shows them the way; who does the work or the project with them and interprets the experience along the way.

Let’s get out of the travel agent business…what do you say?

What ideas do you have to stay in the Tour Guide position?

Looking for ways to communicate better with the next generation?

Check out Habitudes for Communicators.



  1. Tim Carpenter on April 16, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Two years ago, my wife and I were thinking about taking a week long cruise. We actually spoke to a travel agent who we had just met at a coffee shop. As the agent pulled out multiple brochures and attempted to describe to us the joys and excitement of taking a cruise, we both felt something on the inside that just wasn’t right. Someone said, “like taking a shower with your socks on, it just doesn’t feel right”. She sounded good and I admit very convincing, but it became confusing. We finally asked the agent if she had ever taken a cruise and her answer was..”well…ah not actually…, but I know all about them…and I intend to.”
    I believe whether we fit the role of a travel agent or even more importantly ,a tour guide, we can only lead to places we have first been ourselves.

    • Tim Elmore on April 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Wow! Perfect illustration. Thanks for sharing. Great reminder that we must go first before we can lead others.

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Travel Agent or Tour Guide