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Giving the Gift of Time at Summer Camp

May 8th, 2010 · No Comments · Admin and Office, Books, Linchpin

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 7: April 12th – 18th
The Powerful Culture of Gifts
Pages 150-173

What is the gift you have to give as a camp director? For me, it is the gift of my time. Seth Godin discusses, in this section of Linchpin, the culture of reciprocity and gift giving. I was reminded of the research on reciprocity by Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University. Below is a clip of Dr. Cialdini on youtube talking about reciprocity.

The important element that Seth Godin talks about is the self-less act of the gift giving. In Robert Cialdini’s video clip, it can be easy to see reciprocity as a selfish act. Most people are sensitive to a gift-giver who has selfish intentions. It is difficult for most people to fake selfless gifting when you have the intention of wanting something in return. Seth Godin calls this “the capitalist misunderstandings of what it means to give or receive a gift.” page 165

That leads me back to what summer camp directors have to give to our staff. We all have the same allotment of time and for camp directors, it is always in short supply. We protect it, manage it, try to save it, but we can’t get more of it and we certainly can’t get it back. If you’re a psychologist or someone who bills hourly, your time also has an hourly rate. “Every hour is a billable hour.” Once I started my private practice, I realized I could not give my time away or I would be working at a net loss. While I protect my time, I also have priorities at camp and the people that work for me at camp are at the top of the list.

1. Divert Non-Essential Communication
So that sounds a little cold but when you look at your time and attention in black and white terms, it can help you see where the black holes are. Once my staff grew too large for me to supervise individually, I moved into that role of supervising supervisors. It took a few years of having a staff of over 100 to realize that everyone was still coming to me, despite them having their own supervisor, and that was eating away all my time. It was also not helping grow supervisors since they did not get to troubleshoot and solve problems. Mike Anderson, a good friend and speaker colleague, used to tell his middle school students, “Ask three before me.” I instituted that and it worked! Staff realized they had other people around to help them with questions besides me! That freed up my time to talk more with staff with problems that could not be solved at other levels.

2. Not Everyone Gets the Same Amount of Time
Once the “Ask Three” rule was in place, I had to come to terms that I was not going to be able to “be there” for each staff member. Everyone had a team leader and that could no longer be me. My time needed to be invested in the core administration team who then invested their time in those on their team. It was a hard shift and took years to change the camp culture.  Staff needed to see that supervisor time came from their team leader and not me. I also give my time to my top performers at all levels. Those individuals are the future. Some people may think you should spend your time with the lower performers. I just don’t think that is very effective in the long run.

One habit I have condition my self to do is allocating and sitting in one place when someone wants my full attention. Space it at a premium and I share an office with 15 people. No way to focus in there. Just out side my office is a curb next to the disabled parking space. It has become known as my “office” and it is where I go to give away my time. Those parking spaces are typically free during the day. Everyone knows when I am there that I am not to be bothered. It is protected space. I often think about installing a bench but the terrain is unaccommodating. It is where I can really focus on someone and give my full attention. By having a set spot, it has also conditioned my brain over time to truly “be there” when someone is talking. You would think training as a psychologist would mean I am an expert but the sights and sounds of camp and tasks are debilitatingly distracting. It takes all my might to really be present with someone. It doesn’t count as a gift of your time if you are only partially present.

What challenges do you have giving your time away at camp?

What are the gifts you give to others?

What selfless gifts have you been the recipient of?

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