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Leadership Lessons from Costa Rica

“Last year my wife, Mary Kay, and I realized we couldn’t stop the clock and we were actually going to both turn 60. We decided to celebrate in a big way and take the kids to a place we have never been before and one they would love for a variety of reasons—a trip to Costa Rica to an all-inclusive resort for five days in 2014.

We invited friends from 30 years ago, friends from today and, most importantly, three adult kids and their spouses. We chose the Allegro Papagayo resort in Liberia, Costa Rica. I learned many leadership lessons in those five days.

Proper Planning

I learned this phrase many years ago: “proper planning prevents p- – – poor performance.” It is true. After landing we looked for the Avis rental car desk. Other companies had desks but Avis didn’t. (Try harder, Avis!)  I asked another company where Avis was located. I learned it was way off property, and they made me a better offer I couldn’t resist. The instant we walked outside I saw the Avis sign. Oh, well. I was now going to save $40.

After we got to the rental car location I assured them that I had full insurance coverage. They called USAA and it was then I found out that I didn’t have coverage in Costa Rica. To be expected, they offered insurance for the low cost of more than my rental car was going to cost me. I’m sure if I had called USAA before the trip we might have found another alternative. Too late. Oh well.

I also didn’t take into consideration that a seven-passenger van really couldn’t hold eight of us—with the luggage. After a few minutes of studying the situation, including input from my daughter-in-law, the engineer, my son was standing on top of the van tying all the luggage to the top. We felt like we were in a scene right out of the movie National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” with three feet of luggage tied on the roof with 50 feet of rope. I’ve never been more careful driving in my life as we crept to the resort making sure nothing flew off the top. To add insult to injury, it rained about 5 minutes on the drive to the resort and the adventure continued—wet suitcases and all.

Communication … and You Get What You Pay For

Each year I take my two sons and son-in-law on a golf weekend. This year, we rolled our annual event into the Costa Rica celebration. Thursday was to be our golf day. There were a couple choices close to us—the Four Seasons and the Papagayo Golf and CC. ($100 cheaper!) I’d made reservations, but didn’t know how to get to the Papagayo Golf and Country Club. We got there, thanks to our dinner waiter who taught us how to ask “Where is the cemetery” in Spanish. The course it is next to the cemetery. As we pulled up we didn’t really see a “Country Club”—at least none that I had ever visited before.

The country club had a special. Only $120 for tee times, clubs, ice and memories we’ll never forget. The club manager came out and asked us who we were. Apparently the owner of the golf course was out of the country and didn’t tell the club manager that he confirmed two 8:30 tee times. There was room for us but they didn’t have enough rental clubs so we had to share.

I’ve never, before last week, played on a course where the yardage makers are written in spray paint. I’ve never rented clubs, until last week, that were new, probably, at some point, and had virtually smooth grips. I’ve never played golf on greens that should have been called the green/brown stuff greens.

The next day we went to a beach a few miles away and low and behold it was adjacent to one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen. Later that afternoon two in our group played it. The next day three in our group played it. What course? Four Seasons. I was told that it was one of the nicest courses some have ever played with views comparable to Hawaii courses.

I could have booked advance reservations from the States at the Four Seasons course but, after all, it was $220. I was much too frugal to spend the extra $100 (especially since I was paying for four of us), and did not understand the value difference. If I had done my proper research, I would have made a different decision.

Ask for Reviews

On Saturday a dozen of us went to the Papagayo Floating & Canopy Company to go zip lining. Amazing experience. Mary Kay negotiated a great rate and, for many, it was the highlight of the trip. Great staff. Great training. Incredible fun—several zip-lined like superman with one of their staff hooked on behind them (including my son and daughter).

Many of us had zip lined before and this experience was like, uh, the difference between the Four Seasons and the Papagayo Golf and CC.

I will go on each of the websites of every place we visited and share some thoughts. Hey, it happens to each of us, right? If you deliver the same experience as Marvin and his team at the Papagayo Floating & Canopy, wouldn’t you want your customers to post their experiences for others to see?


Have you ever come back through customs only to find you are in this non-ending line of people? The Dallas airport has eliminated this with technology. There are now machines where you swipe your passport, answer several questions online, and eliminate the process of filling out the “customs form” when you come back into the country. It was amazing and sped up the process thus shortening the time to get through. Wow!

Reward Yourself

Yes, leaders plan properly, they communicate well and they aren’t worried about being the cheapest; rather they provide quality goods and services, and they get great reviews. Finally, they reward themselves for a job well done. Those rewards include involving their loved ones.

We made a lot of mistakes last week but the best thing we did was include our loved ones. This will be one trip that provides a lifetime of laughs, a lifetime of stories and a lifetime of memories. Leaders learn to celebrate the wins and forget the losses.