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Many programs talk about fostering leadership, but most suffer from a fundamental shortcoming:

It is hard to learn how to lead if you have no one to lead.

Typical leadership weekends involve seminars and speeches from famous people and informative readings. But they do not give the participants the chance to actually try out the different skills involved.

Before I go any further, I should explain my belief about leadership. It is not so much an innate talent or personality, but a series of learnable skills. These include active listening, empathy, confident posture, vision-sharing, collaboration/facilitation abilities, and real emotional connection.

Of course, some people can learn and adopt these skills better than others, but all can learn.

I sometimes compare leadership to basketball. Michael Jordan has a body and mind that made it possible for him to be a transcendent player. But I can learn to dribble, pass, shoot and run plays. If I were to practice a LOT, I could become a formidable 56 year-old player, but the NBA will not come a-callin’.

Some people have the ability to become world leaders, but everyone has the ability to become a strong local leader.

This brings me to our Senior Camper program – our high school leadership program.

The Senior Campers focus on two areas of growth – service and leadership.

I believe that we need to learn to give back and to feel the satisfaction of hard work done well. The people I most admire all have that philosophy.

But we also give the Senior Campers people to lead – people to practice their leadership skills on. Every Senior Camper adopts a cabin of younger kiddos – typically those who just finished 2nd through 4th grade. This is a perfect classroom. They have fun because the kids are adorable. They get instantaneous feedback on what works or does not work because the campers either listen/follow or they do not. It also makes for highly motivated learners.

In a leadership weekend, “leading” is a hypothetical idea. You plan to use the skills described, but you do not know when or on whom. Suddenly, when 10 8-year-olds are looking at you, the motivation to hone your skills goes WAY up.

In this way, a Senior Camper who spends 3 weeks at camp will leave with much, much more leadership practice than any of their peers. In the off-season, we get emails from Senior Campers who report that they find themselves “suddenly” in leadership roles. They soon learn that most of the leadership skills learned at camp apply equally to older people.

We love getting those emails.

The photo I include with this blog is one of the Senior Campers with all her campers’ nametags. They are at the waterfront and she does not want them to lose their nametags, so she wears them all. I assure you, she is not suffering from multiple personality disorder. Nor is she imitating Michael Phelps (though it does look like a lot of medals).

Steve Sir