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December 10, 2007
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The Guiding Light

The HR Doctor just returned from an amazing second trip to the Republic of South Africa. Besides having the opportunity to speak at the annual conference of the Institute of Municipal Personnel Practitioners, the HR Doctor, wife Charlotte and the amazing HR Daughter, Elyse, spent nearly two weeks at safari camps meeting many people, seeing thousands of animals and building on what we’ve been reading and studying about the customs, history and society in South Africa

The key to an extraordinary experience was the work and support of an absolutely great safari guide and friend, Hayden Elliott. The job of the safari guide is to identify the client’s hopes, desires, limits and other considerations and then design the most wonderful experiences possible within those constraints. 

The guide’s job is also to challenge those constraints and point out opportunities that can improve the experience and convert it into life-long memories.

The best of the safari guides, like Hayden, anticipate needs and questions and are there before the client even realizes there is a need. In our case, we were met at the airport by Hayden and soon realized that transportation, accommodations, security and opportunities were prearranged. Game drives in four-wheel drive land cruisers had to be the highlight of the trip in the company of very knowledgeable rangers and trackers.

Long walks on pristine beaches, where there were no signs of another human, provided time for peace and solitude along with amazement. A forest walk with a tracker, meeting with a community leader and a member of the Tembe tribe’s royal family was interspersed with seeing how Lala palm wine is made. Getting to sample the wine added to the experience. So did time spent at a new and struggling preschool in a remote community in the homeland area of the Zulu. 

From the moment we were met at the airport to when our luggage was checked in for the return flight, the guide was with us and continued to make the whole trip marvelous. 

As with our safari guide, it’s important to recognize that throughout our lives we need all the help we can get from all the guides we can find. At work, guides may be called mentors, supervisors, directors or elected officials.

The positive behaviors of our career guides achieve the same outcomes of seeing to our security, providing opportunities and opening insights for us to follow if we choose, or if we are wise enough to do so. 

The same is true of people we encounter in our personal lives outside of work. As parents, we are the safari guides to the adventures that our children are experiencing as they grow up. However, we also soon come to realize that they have perhaps more to teach us than we have to teach them. 

There is a safari guide inside each of us just as, in a previous trip to Africa, the HR Doctor noted that there is a warrior inside each of us (Oct. 30, 2006). What kind of guide do we want to be?

Some guides get people lost, intentionally or not. They lead them in the wrong direction and into dangerous situations that don’t work out well. The young person who may choose a gang leader as her safari guide will likely come to realize later in life the meaning of what the HR Doctor just said in the prior sentence.

Some employees pay lip service to taking advice or seeking it, but then disappoint or surprise you by doing something different than what they said they would do, failing to follow through on commitments or betraying the trust placed in them.

Of course, there are always disappointments on the safari of life. You may miss seeing the leopard or the cheetah. You may be at risk for auto accidents because you don’t wear your seat belt, or health problems because of poor diet or no exercise. Relationships may be strained or broken. Financial trouble may weaken the spirit.

But there is much more on the positive side of how a career or a life will evolve when you find a good guide and you make a conscious choice to follow sound advice and seize opportunities. Whether the safari is at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa or in your own office, in your home or sitting next to you as you read this article, the need for extraordinary guides, rangers and trackers remains the same. You have to seek them out. They will not come knocking at your door and be recognized unless you pay attention to how valuable a great guide can be. 

To my friend and favorite safari guide, Hayden Elliott, thank you for the adventures and the opportunities you brought us on this most recent trip. We will see you again and as we now say in Zulu, “Hamba Kahle”   — go well.


Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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