This post is part of a digital book club of summer camp directors and recreation professionals reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. To see all the posts in the series go to our linchpin start page. You are welcome to join in at any time.
Week 2: Thinking About Your Choice & Indoctrination: How We Got Here
Pages 28 – 48
What role can camp serve in teaching campers and staff to be remarkable?
I started my tenure as a camp director and was a bit too involved in every decision. As the camp I ran got bigger, necessity forced me to learn to delegate. I discovered that made for a better camp and a stronger staff. I often fight the tendency to have things run perfectly rather than have them run in a way that provides the most growth. In Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin says that when encouraging people to take initiative, someone might get upset in the process. I was immediately reminded of one of my staff members who had great initiative. Martin (not pictured on left) was young but took the lead. He was running one of the camps that had extra room and a parent inquired on registering her camper but since it was half-way through a session the parent wanted the price pro-rated. Martin said no problem, since his camp had room, and he arranged the registration. As any camp director knows, each camp has their own policy on prorating registration and late registration. Ours was not to pro-rate camp. For logistical and safety reasons, we just can’t manage it. Martin didn’t know because he worked in the leadership camp. His camp was small and he felt he could handle the extra camper. At that moment I knew his long term growth was more important than me getting upset about some policy. His willingness to take initiative in the future at camp was dependent on how I handled his first try at it. I thanked him for working with the parent to get it all taken care of and at a later meeting that week, I explained to him that typically we don’t pro-rate and why that policy came to be. Timing is everything. I can’t commend him in one breath and correct him in another. It was important to me that he knew how much I appreciated him taking the initiative. It was in fact a new skill for him to be working in an admin capacity and he was so proud that he brought in another camper.
How I Encourage Initiative at Camp
- Set up the goals for the task and let the staff determine the best ways to meet the goals. This works a lot better than setting the goals and micromanaging the way they get there.
- Give people opportunities to make decisions and plans. Let them work the plans and make corrections along the way. Those plans are often related to the goals and standards we all have agreed upon. Don’t jump in when they are mid plan unless they ask for help. Of course if safety or customer service is in jeopardy, I would offer support.
- Help staff determine what their strengths are. I think we are often the most remarkable in the area of our strengths – that which invigorates us, not that which we do well. This is based on much of the work by Marcus Buckingham.
Despite doing this, staff are always in a state of development. I recall one morning when a staff member came to tell me there was some vomit on the floor in the hallway by the building. He had coned it off but a bio-hazard kit was needed to clean it up. He had kids waiting for him for class so either needed his class covered or someone to clean it. I would guess over 25 staff had walked passed that spill and this first year staff member was the only one to report it. There was even a building clerk about 20 feet away. We all know the studies of people being less likely to report or call for help when there are more bystanders. I am sure most people who passed it thought someone had already handled it. It goes back to Seth’s illustration on page 34 asking, “Who has the job of installing the second can in the restroom?” We need to empower the staff to speak up, notice problems, and apply solutions. When staff feel like what they say matters, when they see the results of their suggestions in action, they are more likely to speak up in the future. I try to let staff carry out their ideas when they feel passionate about something, even if I think it won’t work. It is far more important for them to get the experience taking initiative and problem solving than it is for me to be right or remind then that we tried it that way 5 yrs ago. This could be the time their fix works.
Do You Really Want Indispensable Employees?
At camp we all know people come and go. I remember the first time I lost a linchpin. I wondered how camp would run without them. As I saw the cycle repeated year after year, I realized that if I got better creating linchpins, when one left I could train-up a new one. It was not so scary to lose key players. The show goes on. It is the Win-Win as Seth describes it. Sure, camp is different than in most workplaces. Other workplaces train linchpins to stay, we train linchpins to leave. It starts with hiring. “Letting people in the organization use their best judgments turns out to be faster and cheaper – but only if you hire the right people and reward them for having the right attitude.” page 37