Leadership Lessons from Summer Camp

by | Aug 15, 2019 | Blog, High Road Leadership, Leadership

Summer is a time for having fun. Summer is also a time of hard work.

Does that sound incongruous?

During summer, more often than not, Americans take bigger vacations. Friends and relatives come to visit us. We go to amusement parks, lakes, zoos, and museums. We hang out in our backyards. Our children attend camps. That is the fun!

We know that these warm sunny days won’t last [except in Florida and California!] so we pack summer days with yardwork, home repairs, outdoor exercise, climbing Mt. Rainer, and cleaning up after those camping trips or overnight guests. That’s the hard work!

I eat and breathe leadership. So, it should not surprise you that I can find leadership lessons in the season when I should be kicking back. For those of you who know me, I cannot help myself.

My Awesome Grands Come to Visit

Our two grandchildren spend part of their summer vacations attending camps since both parents work full-time. My wife likes for them to spend time with us, especially for days at a time so she can really spoil them. To satisfy that desire, she created her own version of camp. Last summer she launched “Granny’s Camp.” [Don’t criticize… I had no part in naming it!] Camp Granny operates three times a year – summer, winter, and spring.

After the recently completed summer of 2019 camp, I feel a need to share some highlights and (obsessively maybe) 4½ Keys on how you can become a better leader.

Keys to High-Quality Leadership

Let Them Have Choices. Ann starts by crafting a list of many fun activities. When they arrive, she shares her list. The grands choose activities they want to do and that becomes The Plan. The list contains more activities than we have time for, but that is okay. She wants them to have choices and feel happy making those decisions.

This is a lesson about leadership because all your employees have a strong need to feel that they are in control of their destiny. Despite fixed goals and rigid deadlines, you can help them satisfy this basic need by giving them options, within limits. This requires you to think strategically. This requires you to know their talents and interests.

When employees feel a sense of control, they are more engaged in their work and the outcomes.

Treat Them as Capable. Our number one goal, during Granny’s Camp, is to keep the grands safe while under our watch. But we are not helicopter grandparents. We know from experience that they make good choices and like to think for themselves. We can leave them alone. They can choose to opt out of a card game or a hike through the forest. We trust them.

Our second goal is help them experience variety and have fun.

This 2nd lesson applies to the way you treat your employees and is as self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe they are incompetent and cannot do their jobs, that is exactly the sort of employees they will become. Reversely, if you treat them as competent, smart, and capable, members of your team will live up to those expectations.

To lead employees who consistently make good decisions and think for themselves, you must always demonstrate through your words and actions that you believe they are capable. Even at those times when you feel the urge to be a helicopter boss.

Let Them Explore and Try New Activities. Ann (a.k.a. Granny) always selects an activity or two that they have not experienced yet. This year that was painting rocks. But the only items Ann and I have ever painted were walls and furniture. No requirement to be artistic. This would be a new activity for us too.

Ann bought the supplies with the hope that it would be fun. Relaxing in the backyard, we tried our hand at being artists. Each of us selected a rock and tried a design with some trepidation. After the first one, another was selected, and another. The complexity of the design became bolder each time. By the end, the four of us painted 25 unique rocks and the results were amazing. We then revised The Plan with a goal to leave some on the nearby trains for others to enjoy.

This is a lesson in leading others that pays off in many ways. Most people on your team want to grow their skills and abilities. As leader, you must create opportunities to do that. When employees get stuck in routines, they quickly become numb to the work and quality suffers. Use your own creativity to develop new and different experiences so they can test themselves. Your hurdles will be 1) your feelings about your ability to do this (i.e. your competency and confidence issues) and 2) their resistance to try something new (i.e. their competency and confidence issues). Focus on how you will get past these barriers so that quickly everyone is having fun while becoming even more capable.

You need to lead the way if you want innovative ideas and fresh perspectives. You only get them from employees who are growing and becoming more.

Provide Comfort. Our grandchildren have chores and responsibilities at home, in their day-to-day routines. Ann wants them to relax and feel at home whenever they visit. She stocks their favorite foods, snacks, and beverages. She usually treats them to a new toy. (Did I tell you that she spoils them?). They don’t have to wash dishes or keep their beds and suitcases neat and tidy. This is THEIR vacation. Her joy comes from taking care of them and making sure they feel like a vacation.

The new toy this year was a water balloon device that makes 35 of them in under 2-minutes. [But that story is for another blog.]

Ann tells me she is ‘on vacation’ because she has the time to sit and converse, hike, or watch movies with them. The cleanup chores will happen when they leave. (Did I already tell you that summer is work?).

This fourth lesson is to remind you that you have ultimate accountability for the culture enveloping the people on your team. If you create a culture where they feel comfort and experience little external stress, you will discover that people work harder. They are willing to take more risks.

Be Flexible. Unfortunately, at this year’s summer camp, my grandson felt poorly in the later part of the week. When ‘pops’ came to take him home a day early, he took his rock creations home with him. He will get to choose where and when to share them. Unfortunately, I had to be at the office two days after that.

Ergo, we could not engage in all the activities planned. Ann constantly adjusted The Plan with goal #2 in mind: experience fun and variety. We know this was accomplished because both grands want to know when the next Granny’s Camp is scheduled!

This 4½ leadership lesson deserves the ½ label because being flexible is a trait that all great leaders have, and emerging ones need to work on. Life at work is dynamic and constantly changing. If you become rigid in your routine and thinking, you will lose respect. You will always feel stressed.

A good leader develops their people so that they know how to adapt to change, easily and quickly. A high-quality leader knows that flexibility leads to success in the short run and long term.

Granny’s Summer Camp 2019 was a Success!

How do I know? I posted photos of our camp that week and several friends asked me, “Can I attend?” and “Will you adopt me?”

I want you to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of leadership. I want you to have a successful career. Let me know how I can help you do that.