August 13, 2015
About 10 years ago, a good friend of mine who is a management consultant shared an odd thought with me, “You know what I hate? I hate ‘problem solvers’.”
Thinking this an odd comment, I responded, “That makes no sense. Do you want your problems to always be around?”
“No, I do not like problems, but many ‘problem solvers’ spend their time looking for problems. That is fine when they are only focused on their own work, but it can become grating when they start to point out everyone else’s problems.”
“What, then, would you suggest?”
“I strive to find that truly rare individual who can create an environment in which problems are unlikely to occur. This person can be positive and excitatory while overseeing a smooth operation. Of course, the occasional problem will happen. When they do, the leader will address them, but they are not the focus.”
I really thought about that comment a great deal. I reflected on leaders who had inspired me and created groups that I truly wanted to be a part of. I also thought about the more dysfunctional groups I had been a part of. Sure enough, I saw that certain individuals led in a way that brought out the best in my teammates and me; and these groups simply had fewer problems. When they did have problems, they felt like small stones and not boulders.
We have since endeavored to create an environment where problems are unlikely to occur. We start by hiring the best counselors we can find. We also have high behavioral standards. I have mentioned these before.
But we also do a few other things that I think you might find interesting. We have as long an orientation as any camp I know – a full 2 weeks. We could do our important safety training and teach our rules in roughly one week (like most camps), but we chose to double the length. We do this so that we can give our counselors the experience we want our campers to have. We want them to fall in love with our mission and our community. Susie Ma’am (a tea enthusiast) likes to say that they “steep” in our culture.
By the end of orientation, we have people who are not only trained, but also passionate about working with our campers.
We also use our one weekly meeting to reinforce our culture. We do not have a meeting that talks about upcoming events or problems. We communicate upcoming events through a daily written report. We address challenges one-on-one with the staff.
So our weekly meeting is designed to be a celebration of our community and a “mission booster shot”. We have it Wednesday night after the dance (with the Leadership Team watching the sleeping campers). The meeting has 3 parts.
First, counselors give each other “shout-outs” to recognize exceptional acts of counseling. We will hear about the young man who swims with his camper for 85 minutes during the kilometer swim or the woman counselor who defuses a “mean girl” situation. The type of recognition raises everyone’s energy level while simultaneously acting as “in service” training by sharing best practices.
Second, we award our three most outstanding counselors of the week: the Tiger, Tigress and Activity Tiger. The leadership team votes on these awards each week. When we announce the winners, we share the actions that made us select him or her. Once again, this reinforces our values and our mission.
We then conclude with comments from one director as well as Susie Ma’am and myself. The messages are generally short, but designed to remind the counselors of the impact that they can have. Here is an example. I tell them about the counselor I had 42 years ago who showed me love and kindness. My summer at camp that year taught me that I was worthy of love from people other than my family and that I was more capable than I had imagined.
I also tell the counselors that I never saw my old counselor after the summer of 1972. He has no idea that I am running Camp Champions.
Yet if he had not gotten down on his knee that first day and helped calm me; if he had not shown the kindness that he did, I would certainly not be running Camp Champions now. If that were true, then our counselors would not be here.
His kindness sent ripples through time and space that still matter 42 years later.
So we ask the counselors a simple question, “What will you do tomorrow that will send ripples through time and space? What will you do tomorrow that will make a big difference in 30, 40 or 50 years?”
On Wednesday night, we had our last counselor meeting of the summer. In attendance was a longtime camper and counselor who had been working at another camp this summer. He had returned for one week as a Batter Up counselor and wanted to share his thoughts, “I have been part of camp as a staff member for 4 years, but I have never seen a group with as much energy in the final week. I am so happy to be part of this team, even if for only one week.”
Not a bad way to end our last meeting.
Want more like this? Also see: Falling In Love With The Best Summer Camp In Texas