You know I get to travel North Carolina much of the time, and this week I spent about 15 hours in the car. Clear, warm weather combined with some good meetings made this week a great one on the road. I have almost completely recovered from my second bout this summer of poison ivy (note to self: review pictures of poison ivy and poison oak on the Internet before any further yard work). I had some great companions on my trips, the air-conditioning worked well in my rental car and I only got lost once (lost is being defined here as actually having to call someone to assist me in getting to my location; does not include wrong turns, missed turns or legal U-turns).

I always learn so much on the road – from the interesting people I get to meet to some human insight gained through observation. This week I have compiled my own “Top 8 list of things I learned while on the road” that I plan to apply to my leadership toolkit:

  1. Customer service matters. Good customer service makes the difference and is still something that is rare enough to remember and stand out in my mind. I had great service at Enterprise, a really helpful clerk at Harris Teeter in Shallotte and met wonderful staff at the public library in Henderson. These are folks who are willing to smile -- to strike up a conversation -- who seem genuinely happy in their work. These things combine to truly make a difference!
  2. A bad experience in the midst of a really good experience can really color the whole event. Case in point: I went to a great concert Tuesday night. The whole thing was marred by the 1.5 hours I spent trying to negotiate my way out of the parking lot. I was patient and kind to others, but inside I was so frustrated with the lack of planning on the part of the concert venue that I have told everyone how terrible it was and that I will never return. My bad experience also compelled me to write and call with my complaints.
  3. You can tell a lot about a town just by driving through. What is important -- what is valued -- and how hopeful the town is about the future is apparent as you drive through the middle of town. We have some very challenged rural communities in NC. You can honestly feel the fear and in some cases detect a sense of giving up just driving through some of these towns. Boarded up houses, closed businesses and other signs of neglect speak volumes.
  4. Having a traveling companion makes all the difference. I usually am in the car alone, but this week I was so happy to have someone with me on every trip. A companion makes it fun -- and you learn so much about each other on an extended car trip. I think it will be my new way to interview prospective staff. What would be better than driving in a car for three hours? You could really get to know how someone handles many different situations and learn so much about who they are.
  5. And this is not new, but only reinforced: that a GPS does not work in many areas of North Carolina. One day we had a Google map, Mapquest map and a GPS and still got lost.
  6. A well-placed billboard can really grab your interest, so publicity matters. The ones that caught mine during this week of traveling: “Dentures in one day,” which was intriguing enough, but paled compared to the memorable “Do not castrate your best friend!” The latter billboard featured the cutest puppy ever and promoted tubal ligation and vasectomies for dogs. Seriously? What does this even mean? Is this something I have missed? I am a loving pet owner but never knew there were these options. And actually have never used the word castration to describe my actions as a responsible pet owner. I spent so much time thinking about this on the drive back to Raleigh that you can see that I am still talking about this days later. One word of advice: do not Google.
  7. Food matters. Breaking bread together is so important and appreciated, especially after being in the car for several hours. Serve food if you can; it helps.
  8. Rest stops are best avoided in the wee morning hours. You know I love the rest stop, and in fact have my favorites across the state. I even compare notes with another colleague who travels as much as I do. But my recent stop at 1:30 a.m. reminded me never ever to stop by myself late at night. Luckily I was not alone, but the people sleeping in the grass, the large gathering of males around a picnic table and the man following us to the bathroom were pretty creepy. So I guess my lesson is to always visit the facilities before hitting the road.

 Another great week @ NCCF!


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