We just completed our first week of summer camp. It's always fun and rewarding to see the staff put the lessons you've shared during staff training into practice. There are always surprises, both good and bad. There are also always new insights about being a leader and vivid reminders of time honored leadership principles. Here's some lessons about leadership from this week...
1. The "real" counselor emerges when the kids arrive. When we interview staff in the winter we develop expectations of how a potential counselor will perform. How they respond during staff training further shapes our expectations of who they will be as counselors. You never really know, however, until they spend those first few days with kids. Every summer, this one included, there are those who you had high hopes for who crash and burn when they get with kids. On the other hand there are those who surprise and amaze you as they blossom when they get a group of kids.There's nothing like living with and leading a group of kids 24/7 to bring out the best or the worst in people.
2. Success in one role doesn't necessarily mean success in another. Each summer we as camp directors promote counselors and other front line staff into leadership roles. Often the criteria for promotion is how they did the previous summer in a different position. Yet leadership is a a very different role, requiring a very different skills. Being a great counselor doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great leader. On the other hand, the struggling counselor might be awesome in a leadership role. As we consider who to promote into leadership roles we need to be mindful of and focused on the unique qualities needed to be an effective leader.
3. It takes tremendous focus not to become an administrator. Getting and keeping a camp running requires leaders to attend to so many details. Schedules, assignments, ordering supplies, etc. can quickly eat up all of your leadership team's time. Yet our most important role is to be leaders to our staff. That takes time; time to build relationships, time to observe, time to provide feedback, time to mentor. We have to find strategies to balance our need to be in the office with investing time in being out in our camp with our staff.
4. Leadership makes a difference. During training we shared with our staff how we expected a number of activities to be conducted. We talked about it, we showed them, we made sure they understood. Yet when it became time to put teaching into practice, sometimes we excelled and sometimes we floundered. The difference? The involvement of our leadership. Despite the time we invest in training, staff members, particularly early in the summer, need the support and direction of leaders. We can't assume they'll do something because we told them in training. We have to lead.
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.