On a cold February day 34 years ago I learned to fold my underwear...horizontally in equal thirds and vertically six inches from top to bottom. Today, if you were to look in my dresser drawer, my underwear would be folded in roughly the same manner.
As a young airman going through Air Force basic training, I learned to fold my underwear, socks, and other items to exacting specifications. Everyday our training instructor (TI) would inspect our underwear...with a ruler. Not exactly equal thirds? Not exactly six inches? Be off by as little as a quarter of an inch and you incurred the wrath of the TI. All of your clothes would end up being dumped on the floor and you started over. Why? Did it really matter how our underwear was folded?
A year after learning to fold my underwear, I found myself on the flight line at an Air Force base in Arizona. My crew and I loaded bombs, rockets, missiles and other things that exploded onto fighter aircraft. Attention to detail was crucial. Attention to detail prevented accidents. Attention to detail kept us from destroying multimillion dollar aircraft. Attention to detail was a matter of life and death for us and the pilots who flew the aircraft.
That attention to detail was learned and became a habit, not on the flight line, but in a barracks the year before, folding underwear, over and over again in exactly equal thirds and six inches. Out TI set exacting standards. He was crystal clear about what he wanted. He continually checked our performance. He gave us regular feedback on how we were doing. He held us accountable for what we did or didn't do correctly.
Under the tutelage of our TI, attention to detail became second nature to us. We payed attention to every small detail. We discovered that while certain details really didn't matter, the discipline to focus on them was invaluable. We learned to not only accept, but to appreciate our TI's feedback as a tool to make us better. We became determined to never do just enough to get by. We committed ourselves to doing things right, not just some of the time, but all of the time. Our standards became as high as those of our TI. We began to hold ourselves and each other accountable.
Over the past several weeks I've been thinking about this upcoming summer, our staff training, and how I can help the young people I lead to learn the lessons I learned folding underwear.
Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.