For two years, I led small tour groups through Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and into and out of Thailand. In this ‘lessons from the road’ series, I share my lessons from the road that apply to being self-employed.

Sink or swim

Leaders were regularly sent to countries that they’d never visited before to lead a trip, without training and little preparation. Leaders were sent to China or India, or further afield to Africa, without any on-the-ground experience.

It was sink or swim.

As it is in business. We are frequently confronted with situations we have little or no experience with. Particularly when dealing with clients and prospects, it’s imperative to swim with the elegance of a swan rather than splashing about like a drowning rat.

Keeping up appearances

As leaders, we repeatedly heard the story of looking like swans – managers would tell us that we should strive to look capable and graceful like a swan, while paddling furiously. It was important to appear calm and in control rather than stressed, overworked and under-rested, which we were often were.

As leaders, we needed to inspire confidence in our groups if we were to be effective.

As it is in business. Keeping up appearances is important to do when we’re asking people to entrust us with their bodies, their minds, their spirits. Trust is required.

Yoga teachers, by and large, place inordinately high expectations on themselves to authentically represent this 5000-year-old tradition while making it relevant to modern needs. It can be tempting to adopt the persona of the Enlightened One, resisting all temptations and living a life of purity and abstinence.

Yoga teachers need to walk a fine line between being human, relatable and fallible, while inspiring trust, confidence and displaying leadership.

Claiming leadership

I’ve frequently had problems with feeling inadequate when people have looked to me as a leader. When I was teaching meditation at the age of 18 (on behalf of a new religious organisation), I struggled to respond when students three times my age asked me for advice on big life decisions such as divorce, career change, or enlightenment.

As a tour leader, I didn’t start off with gallons of confidence. While I may have had a certain swagger from having been backpacking and travelling for a number of years, I didn’t start out with deep unflinching confidence in my ability as a tour leader.

Leaders don’t look and act homogenously. Their difference in style, approach, and appeals to different types of people.

As it is in business. If people are looking to you as a leader, this doesn’t mean you need to adapt a particular style or appropriate a different personality. They want you to lead as you. So go ahead and act like a leader – take the responsibility seriously, act with integrity, and be clear and honest about your agenda.

And remember that trust is slow to build and easy to destroy. So act with the grace and ease of a swan to inspire confidence from people, while swimming furiously to get done what you need to get done.

Check out lesson one: the only way out is through.