Wednesday, May 10, 2023

2010 - Leadership Curriculum and A Copy of a Fax of a Copy of A Fax of a co...


Can you read this?
A document that has been copied and faxed several times.

In my work with summer camps and outdoor environmental education, I have encountered this concept at every organization I have worked with. My disclaimer is that I have always worked for small agency (non-profit) camps and resources were always a challenge. I know that there are larger operations that have different resources that perhaps allow for a better cohesiveness.

Here's what I know. 
Often times, what is called "tradition" (cue Fiddler on the Roof Soundtrack) is closer to "that's the way we have always done it." And as Ben Zimmerman noted in his Forbes article, "it could be the most dangerous phrase in business."

Let me describe the setting and a composite of many, many conversations. 

Picture a camp office set in 1987 or 1993 or 2000 or 2010 or 2016 (or any of the years in between). It is in California, Florida or New York. A 18+ year old is coming in to interview for a position as a cabin leader or activity leader at one of the summer camps that I have had the pleasure of serving over the past four decades. There have been nearly 5000 of these interviews in person, via phone, at a college recruitment or in modern virtual calls over that time period.

As we discuss the reasons why someone wants to work at camp the common answer has been, "I was a camper and "Forge" (Adam Haney, camp name of past staff) was my leader and he did..." And then they describe what he, she or they did and what an effect or influence it had on them. That statement is followed by, "I want to do the same for the campers this summer." 

As you may or may not know, I like to ask questions and I often ask more (peeling back the onion like Shrek) about a person from the answer that they give. My question to these answers is a version of, "what did they do..." and specify what action or activity that they did?

This is where it gets complicated. Many times they would describe an activity or "tradition"  (cue Fiddler on the Roof Soundtrack) and describe some fun (or perceived fun) camp activity or program. One example that came up multiple times at one camp was a ice cream party where the campers would file through a line and get an ice cream dish and the staff would be adding items (sprinkles, toppings, fudge, whip cream, etc.). However they would be throwing these items across the table and making a grand mess of things. Effectively a food fight or free for all.

(NOTE: I do not condone food fights. In fact I am abjectly against any food waste. Having served not for profit organizations and minimally our population had 1/3 of campers on financial assistance and lived at or below the poverty line. Food waste is not something that projects a mission or lesson that seems to line up with anything worthy of any organization.)

Other answers often reflected a program area that they saw a long time leader who was so adept at that program that they taught what seemed to be multilayered lessons and campers had no idea they were learning until reflecting later as the aged and matured. One leader Adam "Forge" Haney was greatly adept with his southern charm in providing leadership lessons on communication, team building, team work, and values clarification all while leading paint ball. He cultivated the culture of learning and leadership. And he applied what he learned to furthering the culture he described with the campers. 

These campers who were now applying for a position as a leader and believed that it all magically happened. Further, they had their ideas on how to make it even better. 

What I discovered well over 25 years ago, is that often, those activities were a reflection of what someone remembered that they saw or participated in and they wanted to convey that program from their memory. I do not believe that it was ever malicious or intentionally done with any intent other than their want to pay it forward.

The key word in that last sentence was "Intent."

My mentor, John C. Maxwell speaks about "Intentional Living" and wrote a great book about this. It was in that book that he states, "An unintentional life accepts everything and does nothing. An intentional life embraces only the things that will add to the mission of significance.”

Here's what I know, many folks get intent confused with preparedness and action. I had a team member about 15 years ago who was inspired during our staff orientation training week. He would engage in everything and constantly assured our leadership team that he would be the best staff person. He had great intent.

He did not have great follow through and was never prepared for the long days that working at a summer camp required. He pointed at those around him who he identified as being "successful." What he could not connect was that they were preparing their days and weeks and he was also chasing the schedule. 

As a leader, I learned a great deal from this one leader. What we failed to help him learn was how to prepare with something as simple developing the skill and putting into practice the tools that we shared during that staff orientation session. His success was our success and his failure was our failure. As John Maxwell says, "“A leader is great not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.”

Our team had been creating "curriculum" for sometime for our activity leaders to follow. 

Sample Curriculum (page 1) from a camp in 2004
(thanks Kaley Krick)

We also had recently re-designed our staff evaluation tool. What we missed was helping new team members to develop the skills they needed to grow in their work.

It boils down to this in John's summary, "No one ever was successful with good intentions, but a lot of people are successful with good actions."

As a leader, take action to help those young team members learn and grow the skills that establish the program culture that lasts well beyond their time with your organization. After all, as the proverb goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second best time is now.

Monday, May 8, 2023

2023 - Leadership and Gratitude to Ken Stein



Robin and Ken Stein - YMCA Mentors

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Ken Stein – I wrote most of this upon Ken’s retirement in 2012 (I've made several edits and updates as well) Ken's memorial service is Saturday, May 13, 2023 11am at the Redlands Family YMCA in Redlands, California.

I had the pleasure of working for Ken Stein from February 1998 to end of 2003 - primarily as the Camp Director for YMCA Camp Edwards. I also served for nearly two years as an operations person for an aquatics branch, three day camps, 63 after school sites, and a rural Y center that operated in schools and fields as well as and helping open a large community center (built in collaboration with a local municipality). It was one of the most complex times of learning as a leader and set me up for future success on the lessons learned (cue Sabre Dance music as a theme).

At the time I obtained the position in 1998, I had just left another YMCA Camp and I recall my conversation with Ken. He indicated this may not be where I wanted to be ultimately, but he had a need for a camp director right now and I was available. I felt wanted and needed and agreed to come and work for Ken Stein. 

As a younger version of my current self, I thought I knew a great deal about camp (the older I get, the less I know). But the lessons and opportunities that emerged over that almost 6 year period were tremendous.

I had the opportunity to watch Ken (and Robin Stein) transform the YMCA. I had the opportunity during most of each school year (summers being what they were) to have lunch with Ken almost every week. It was a front row seat to what I believe was a master’s program.

With well over 150 hours of mini-Druckeresque (Peter Drucker link) lunch meetings; this was his way to coach and direct as I worked to learn more about being a leader and transforming a culture. I am so grateful for the amount of time and investment that Ken provided. It was like a mini course of non-profit management right down to the values and culture an organization must have to move forward. 

Ken let me stretch and grow and even fail. He provided leadership and knowledge and a kick in the right direction when needed. I learned about the Y, our mission, camping and the financial and budget considerations of “innies and outies” (a term Ken used as well as Howard Pease at a previous YMCA) as well as a hundred other things. I recall that while serving as a branch director one of the things he asked me to do was always go throw the front doors as if I was a member. I had been using a side door entrance close to where I was parking and he wanted me to have the same view that participants would have and an appreciation for what they would see. It was also a way to have access to members who might be walking through at the same time. Creating opportunities to interact with customers. Simple, profound, and essential.

I recall one particular summer where I had had an extreme challenge with a few volunteers and had learned the hard way, that I did not have all the answers. That Saturday, upon departure of the campers, volunteers, and most of the staff team, I was still upset by the situation and by my choices. While finishing up with some clean up, Ken and Robin walked into camp. (Did I mention that they lived an hour away and had to drive up the mountain to camp?)

Ken had that huge engaging smile and came up and hugged me. As he did so, he said, “I know it’s been a challenging week and I’m proud of you.” I teared up and we talked about choices and how best to make decisions when you are stressed, tired, and irritated. In our discussion, he showed compassion as a leader and made it clear that he expected different choices in the future.

Our time together at that YMCA had some difficult times and some huge challenges. Throughout that it was always clear that Ken led with his values. From the simplest lessons, to the most difficult when a member of the staff team passed away, Ken always made it clear that leadership was something that he valued.

At one point, I had an office at one of the local branches and Ken had learned I was using a back door to go into the YMCA. It was not something I had considered as a camp director and Ken made it clear that leaders lead. He suggested (read directed) that as leaders we always go through the same doors that our members use; that we greet everyone along the way; and that it was important that leaders be seen. It was a simple lesson and yet so profound.

Ken gave me so many opportunities. Perhaps the best and greatest was the opportunity to grow. My last 18 months or so with Ken, were spent leading camp, three day camps and lead in a recently completed merger with another local YMCA. Ken suggested that for me to grow and get larger opportunities to work at bigger camps, I would need to grow my leadership responsibilities. That growth led to my departure and brought me full circle to where our story started. Ken and I came to a point where he indicated this may not be where I should be any longer and that my road would need to go in different direction  Again, I was available for that challenge.

In my years of work at the Y, I have worked for at least 13 different CEOs and I have to say that I learned the greatest amount of what it is to be a true leader in my time with Ken Stein. 

To this day, when faced with a choice or difficult situation - I often think about what would Ken Stein do? Peter Drucker stated, “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves - their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” Ken Stein clearly taught me this concept. He was clear about what he knew, and he wanted to help me be clear as well.

For this I am extremely grateful as I have spent these last 50 plus years in these United States.


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Year End "Leadership"


How does one define "leadership" in a year of reflection? At best, its been a transitional year. As some of you may know or have read, I pick a word each year that represents my focus for the year. This year (2022) was renewal.

However, I choose to make it "Re-New-AL." 

The word is a representation of the past two years in regard to my health and the world's health. I like to spend time at the end of the year, reviewing my calendar and the challenges and accomplishments that have been a part of the last 365 days.

A great deal of my time was spent in various different doctor offices (about 13 days each month on average). My calendar was also full of opportunities at church. I am a faithful person and I have spent at least half an hour each day in what I call my "focus time" to reflect and contemplate my faith journey.

During the summer, I had occurrence to spend time at camp and in service of over 400 folks and moving my service total to 54,017 youth in over four decades. This was a huge renewAL for me in what I did not know I had had the stamina or energy to continue that mode of service. 

I reorganized my focus in early fall and took a break from writing and choose to spend some time listening. I choose to join a new group of voices (The Summer Camp Society) and I have gone into that group with the mindset that "I want to speak as though I am right and listen as though I am wrong."

In the late fall, I had opportunity to re-connect and renew in Southern California with friends and family. Noting three trips to In & Out burger while on that trip.

As I contemplate my new word for 2023, I think about the leadership lessons from this year of Re-New-AL. I want to sum it all up and tie it in a bow (as the season dictates). I know I am learning from my own family and especially my children.

I am working towards managing my life to continue to seek ways to improve. I long to reconnect and I had many moments to do so throughout this past year. I long for those late night conversations at camp that go nowhere but mean everything.

Many a summer night's spent in conversation on this porch.

So, here's what I know.  I want to say these things I learned and gained in my renewAL. It is clear to me that I am influenced by a competing thought where I am living my best life versus being the best version of myself. It has been incremental and miniscule change. I am leaning towards living the best version of myself and knowing that I don't have to be in one particular location or role (camp) to do so. As Becky Bursell (from Maxwell Leadership Podcast) says, "Faith it 'til you make it."

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

2022 - Mid Summer Staff Praise Suggestions


My view at camp in Upstate Western New York

1. Praise the effort not the outcome “ I really like the way…(insert behavior you observed theming doing or continue)

2. Catch and praise folks when they are hard working, kind, disciplined, consistent, caring, compassionate, helpful, giving, and positive. Avoid praise that is about a fixed mindset (pretty, smart, talented, or gifted- things that can’t be controlled)

3. Don’t overpraise ? ( Example -that was the best evening activity we have ever done) This sets up an impossible standard to ever meet that standard again.

4. Be sincere - folks know when you are not.

5. Don’t praise what is easy. Easy tasks set a low expectation mindset.

6. If folks enjoy a task, be careful not to overpraise - the potential to praise something every time it is done could lead to loss of motivation.

7. Avoid public comparison praising. “You are my favorite lifeguard” Other folks self esteem is on the line. Praise the process or behavior.

Inspired by my mentor Darren Hardy 

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Sunday, July 24, 2022

54 - 463,364 Hours of American Dreams

54 Nifty Year in these United States

On July 24 this year (also my birthday) I as well as my sister, Jackie, and my mom, (my dad passed away last year after 53 years) celebrate living in the United States for 54 years. Yes, we came to these United States on my 4th birthday from Brasil. That’s was 18,262+ days that my family and I have been a part of this American experience.

I know that I  have already said so much about this the last few years and I feel like I want to say so much more. Our family came here as part of the South American migration in the late sixties for the promise of opportunity. My parents rarely talked about the process they went through. My mother said that the entire decision making conversation was my father came home and said that there were jobs in America. She told him, "I’ll go where you are."

473,364 hours in the US. Okay, I have been to other countries for short vacations. But most of that to me was spent living, family, in school, working, camping and more living.

Over the last several years I have posted a series of stories and lessons that I have learned and grown from as I have been living in these United States.

Brasil '67 without Sergio Mendes Mas Que Nada
(that's me on the right)

Our country (United States) has been through a great deal (along with the rest of the world) and here is what I believe.

There are still ten of thousands of folks from nearly every country in the world who long to be in the US. There are families who save for years just to make sure that their children get to these United States without them. They send them off on journeys by them selves and cross borders in order to have greater opportunity than the will ever have in their home nation.

There are parts of the history of the US (and things that continue) that are difficult to understand and accept. 

Here's to those families and folks who make the journey and take up the American Dream. For me it has been the journey of my lifetime. Prayers to all! 

Please consider reading my journey (if you have not already done so) on my BLOG alfcoaching. The stories are headed with "50 Nifty Years in the United States Series"  and begins in 1968.

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Friday, June 17, 2022

2016 - The Summer I Never Used A Plate - Systems in Leadership


Typical Camp Dining Hall Melamine Plates

As many of you may know, I have spent 40 summers (since 1980) working and serving in various capacities at overnight camps in the United States. Officially I have worked at 6 different camps in that time period and several summers ago (2016 to be exact) I never used a plate, bowl or utensil in our dining hall; and yes, I did eat there at nearly every meal that summer.

Why is this important?

You can see by the photo below, that an orderly Dining Hall is emblematic of a good system. An orderly dining hall will feed dozens, if not hundreds of meals per day and up to three times a day. In 2016, we often had well over 5000 meals served in about 48 days of summer camp.

Being good stewards of our environment is part of the culture that many camps endeavor to teach. I know the word "Steward" may be an antiquated term and I wrote about it in a previous BLOG: Stewardship, Leadership Lessons on Investing.

John Maxwell states that, "The Value of Systems: 1) They Help Us Manage Time, 2) They Help Us Conserve Energy, 3) They Help Us to Multiply Creativity, 4) They Help Us to Maximize Progress."

Typical Camp Dining Hall

I am fond of saying that the folks who designed camps (some 130 years ago when the camping movement began in the United States) that these folks were quite genius at what they did. The fact of the matter is, that they were very deliberate about nearly every aspect of camp.

Time, energy, creativity, and progress are all aspects of our roles as leaders. Each of the camps that I served had systems in place; some good and some were extremely inefficient. Utilizing these to maximize your time and allow you to invest in others is one of your greatest assets.

The conservation of plates at the dining hall was a metaphor for how I was spending my time. I circumvented the system that was in place and conserved energy for myself and others (our dishwashers were very pleased about my choice that summer)

As you approach summer, take a look at what is eating your time up. Are there others that can take up those tasks? If you can delegate, than do so. Carve out time to do that tasks you do need to do in private. I would get up early and take care of email messages before our first activity each day, so I could focus on spending time at our Morning Watch chapel. It was this time each day that set the tone of how everything could flow and I felt it needed my undivided attention.

Allowing myself time to connect with others during meals  to check in, scan for emerging issues, and head off challenges was my main goal of attending meal times. Maxwell also shares that there are three ways to maximize your time.

While it became a bit of a game and folks made light of the fact that I would often use my coffee mug (see below). I would use it to hold chocolate pudding and chicken fingers (my favorite camp meal - you dip the chicken fingers in the chocolate pudding) as well as other items like tuna salad, or baked beans and hot dogs, etc.

I have had this coffee mug for about 12 years now

I took it upon myself to create a tiny system with in the larger system and I gained an entry to others when they would comment or intrigued by my practice. There was not a day that summer that I did not connect with our staff team or campers. 

Summer overnight camps are a a microcosm of our society. Those institutions run a full time hotel (as it were) that houses hundreds if not thousands full time for one week and up to 10 weeks. Camps have full time restaurants and meal service serving thousands of meals three times a day as well as snacks, desserts, and late night raids on the ice cream freezer. My first camp was powered by a generators system (BLOG story The Power of F-Sharp) That generator also powered our water well system. Those systems and so much more are effectively little towns that house hundreds and thousands each season.

You may think it's too late to start; and if that is the case, you will prove that it's true. I on the other hand would like to believe that systems are there to support us and when we need new ways to create efficiency, ask yourself, "How will this benefit the camper experience?" (or my customers experience)

Here are some measurable things that I saved by not using any dishes, bowls, plates or cups in our dinging hall in our outdoor education and summer season of 2016.

432 plates over 144 days or 27 trays of dishes.

The average dining hall Dishwasher (our was an industrial Hobart brand) utilizing 3 gallons per load or a savings of 81 gallons of water. The ratings guide on a brand new dishwasher is 6000 KW per load or 162,000 KW or $34.56 of electricity saved.

I also used some creativity, managed my time, conserved energy, and maximized my process to connect and serve others.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

2022 - Listening and Leadership - A Reminder For Summer's Leaders


Another summer is fast approaching and some of you may have already begun staff orientations or you may even be in your first few sessions of summer camp. I was inspired from the latest Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast about skills to utilize in listening.

As a camp leader for over 4 decades, I have found that listening is one of the most vital skills in leadership. As we prepare for the summer in all of our camp and leadership programs, I was recently reminded of how important it is to use your ears twice as much (or more) as your mouth.

The Maxwell podcast talked about “Why am I talking” or W.A.I.T. I had first learned this from a YMCA branch director nearly 35 years ago. He would write WAIT at the top of his notes during meetings. Sitting next to him, I asked why he would do so and he told me that he would always need to remind himself to WAIT before any response or action.

D. Brown's WAIT Chart

Curiosity is part of listening. John Maxwell reminds me often that he asks questions with such genuine curiosity that allows him to learn so much more from whoever he is speaking with. Good leaders ask great questions due to curiosity and attention to the speaker.

I had a team member one year who was asking about what items to bring to camp. He mentioned having a "FAN" and I told him that I would be his biggest FAN. It took him a moment to get the joke/pun and several years later he mentioned it again. It's a lesson that I have learned in leading others that John Maxwell talks about frequently. He talks about imagining a 10 on the forehead of every team member. A reminder that he thinks of them as the top in their game. 

I wrote about in a previous BLOG called "What Gift Is This Person Giving Me." I find that having this genuine curiousness and encouragement for the speaker to continue leads me to be a better listener. And the speaker see's and hears my attentiveness.

This leads to the next attribute and that is to listen for understanding and not for responding. I had an team members from our camp leadership team who always picked the first few words in any conversation and immediately began over talking the other person. I have been guilty of this as well. It is truly a gift to the other person when you are present enough to hear their points and to use this skill. And it is a skill that you can learn when applying some simple steps.

1) Pay Attention – give your undivided attention.

2) Physically show that you are listening. (Bob Ditter, once shared that just a relaxed on leaning stance with young people was a huge indicator that you are listening.

3) When giving Feedback.. start with “what I hear you saying is…”

4) Respond without judgment.

I ask more questions in trying to learn more about the other person’s point of view. I have been fortunate to lead others and have others lead me as well. I wrote about this in a previous BLOG, "Is It Time yet?Essentially, listening to understand and learn from the other person. I know that I learn something from everyone that I have met.

Having to be present when there are so many distractions for your attention and time. I schedule times for leadership check ins and more importantly, how we meet. Patrick Lencioni who wrote "Death By Meeting" suggested a Daily Check In that is a standing meeting. I have used it for well over 15 years and it is a great way to teach and lead the skills of listening and prioritizing. 

I prefer to use this after lunch and having the leadership team stand in a circle and go around and share their top three priorities that they are working on. Some might not have three and some might have more than three. Those who do, have to choose what their top three are. It forces them to determine what is the most important thing. The meeting is no longer than 10-12 minutes.

As folks go around the circle and share, it gives them each an opportunity to seek support and share where they may be struggling or where they can offer support to other team members.

My final suggestion is to "SHOW UP." Being present to other's is vital. What ever you have to do as a leader to show up every day; do those things. John Maxwell talks about The Law of Sacrifice: “A leader must give up to go up”. As the leader, you have to seek your support elsewhere. And you have to lead your folks and understand that there is a price to pay for your role as the leader. Listening and being present for others and often times having to expect that that is a one way skill as the leader. Yes, you have to get your team to hear you as well; however you may not be able to fill your bucket on the needs of your staff team.

Be Present - Be Here Now!

I know this BLOG has been very focused on Camp and my leadership has focused on those experiences. I wish all leaders a great summer season as well a success and influence throughout the year.

Please consider listening to the original Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast at 10 Tips for Improving Your Ability to Listen.

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2010 - Leadership Curriculum and A Copy of a Fax of a Copy of A Fax of a co...

  Can you read this? A document that has been copied and faxed several times. In my work with summer camps and outdoor environmental educati...