Angkor Leadership

Angkor Leadership by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

Jungles. Mysteries. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tomb Raider. … These are the thoughts running through my mind as we made our way around Siem Reap, Cambodia. Our group had traveled to visit ancient ruins and historic sites. In my mind, we were adventurers. Explorers traveling to the ends of the earth for archeological wonders.

In truth, we were a handful among thousands of tourists from all over the world, a small fraction of the millions that come to Siem Reap and its surroundings every year to visit the temple ruins of Angor Wat, Ta Prohm and the like. Yes, it’s true that Tomb Raider was filmed (at least in part) at Ta Prohm. And, yes, if you used a bit of imagination, you could envision being a jungle explorer (vs. a modern day tourist with digital camera and bottled water).

So why were we there? Because it’s a cool place to visit. To see ancient structures in the jungle. To see a glimpse of history. To “feel” like an adventurer. It was a great trip! One of the best I’ve even made. Though hot as blazes (with a heat index of over 120 degrees), the sites and views were spectacular. We rode elephants. Saw monkeys. Walked through old temples. Rode ATVs around the country-side. Saw monks climbing a waterfall on a mountain top in the jungle. In sum, we did all the “touristy” things. We played the part of “tourista” pretty well.

A few observations. I thought it was ironic that I was celebrating Easter and the resurrection of Christ in ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples. No worries. Christ came to save all who would call on His name and He does not put restrictions on our travel. … As mentioned, it was H-O-T!!! I’ve lived in the Sonoran Desert and this was much hotter. In fact, I was born in the Mojave Desert and Cambodia made it seem temperate. The temperature was upwards of 40 degrees C and the humidity was 70+%. In sum, the heat was impressive. … The War Museum was a sobering experience. Seeing pics and tools of destruction used in several wars, including the civil war in Cambodia, and the evil acts of genocide directed by Pol Pot was humbling, frightening, and alarming. … The Angkor National Museum was simply amazing. It was a world-class museum. I wasn’t expecting such a treat, especially given the recent history of strife in the country. We spent a couple hours there and could easily have spent another 2 hours (or more).

As you may know, I always take notes as I’m out & about. I think about what I’m learning and how it applies to my life. And generally, I think about what, if any, leadership implications there are in what I’m observing.

Here is a sample from this trip.

  1. Pol Pot committed countless atrocities and is responsible for countless deaths (numbering in the millions). Is it possible to be an evil leader? Or does being a leader imply a sense of positive value-add and benefits to the organization at large.
  2. People are amazing. I stand in awe of the human spirit. The ability of people to persevere. To be resilient. To withstand difficulties. The people of Cambodia impressed me with their ability to move on after a tragic civil war and genocide.
  3. Believe in people. They will amaze you.
  4. Things of man (e.g. temples, palaces) don’t last forever.
  5. The creative genius of people is impressive. I cannot fathom the human brain that can plan, create, and execute such impressive architecture, works of art, sculptures, etc. It blows my mind.
  6. Appreciate art, culture, history, music. There is something(s) to be learned from all peoples and cultures everywhere. Some learnings may be what you should do while others may be linked to what you shouldn’t do. But the learnings are there for the observant and reflective leader.
  7. Travel opens your mind and adds perspective. It also increases your sense of wonder.
  8. 3rd World travel helps you see where humanity has come “from.” It’s a link to the past.
  9. Leadership basics over the millennia remain the same. The tools of execution may change (e.g. laptop, tablet, smartphone), but the basics of communication, vision casting, project management, reinforcement, organization, etc. stand the test of time.
  10. Sometimes sleep is overrated (not always, but sometimes). I crawled out of bed while it was still dark so I could arrive at Angkor Wat before the sun came up. Was it worth it? Yes! … Those who are lazy often miss out on great experiences life has to offer.

In the end, I’ll leave you with two key questions: 1) What are you learning? and 2) How are you using your talents? Your skills? Is it for good? Or evil? Is it for self? Or others?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]

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