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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Monday, April 11, 2022

2006 – Leadership and Creativity


(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

John Maxwell says, “You can’t have creativity if you don’t have a creative culture.”

I have had some great mentors who cultivated a creativity that I never knew I had. Growing up, I always thought that other folks were truly creative because they could draw, paint, sing, dance, and any other talent that I never achieved. (Due to my own mindset)

My mentors helped me spark in ways that I never thought I was capable. It led to many times in my career that I took risks in doing things that others never thought about. In a previous BLOG about my friend Wally, I mentioned that he had vision and it is a gift he has in everything.

The analogy about one of the few geometry formulas that I remember (V = (4 ⁄ 3) π r3 is the formula for the volume of a sphere) and looking at everything from all different directions. This is how I think of creativity.


Reminders that have sat on my desk for decades.

Perhaps it is the fact that in my not for profit career working for many organizations that always struggled financially. One of my coaches asked me why I was always drawn to underdog organizations. My answer then is still my answer today. “It just seems like they (the struggling organization) needs someone to care.”

From 2004 to 2009, I was at a camp that had many different activities areas that drew kids. Things like an indoor skate park, equestrian programs, ATVs, and paintball. All great activities that required a high degree of leadership and dollars to support.

When our team decided to add activities that would also be creative and perhaps appeal to other youth, we were limited and hampered by cost. And we met the occasion with a creative mindset.

The activities had to be fun, creative, and relatively cost free. Our arts and crafts area had a small amount of basket kits left over from previous summers. This camp which was located on a Spring system in Florida also had a great deal of afternoon activity centered around the year round 72 degree water temperature.

July days at Camp Indian Springs, Crawfordville Florida

The afternoons in a Florida camp are brutal and the water temperature was a great way to spend those long hot hours of the day. Since there has always been a myth around camps and college courses about “underwater basket weaving,” our team decided to make this an actual thing.

The basketry materials would soak overnight on the shore of the spring and participants could sit and weave either with their feet, legs or completely in the water. This was an expression of creativity that allowed campers to take home something intricate that they themselves had created.

Sample photo of underwater basket weaving

Our other spring centered activity relied on the actual issue that Florida is well known for; alligators. In fact, this was the only camp that I directed that the aquatics director’s job description included an item that stated, “Daily: check spring for gators.”

I quickly learned that in Florida there are people who are qualified by the State of Florida to remove alligators should they become a problem. The Nuisance Alligator Hotline was in the rol-o-dex in the camp office. (For those unfamiliar with a rol-o-dex, it’s what we used prior to saving numbers on a cell phone.)


Sample of Rol-O-Dex

After our first call to the “gator guy,” I learned from him that not all alligators are predatory. He said that if you have a “gator in your spring” just go down to the water and touch your toe on the bank. If the gator turns towards you, it is deemed predatory and should be removed. If it turns and swims away (over 90% did this); it is not considered a nuisance.

Now, please know that I am not an expert in alligators or their behaviors and should you have an actual issue with one of these creatures, please do call the Nuisance Hotline at 866-392-4286.

Our team decided to take the “gator” myth to the next level and allow campers to learn the basics of wrestling alligators. This was also conducted as part of the afternoon periods in and around the refreshing spring water. (I'll find the pictures of the activity later.)

We named our original alligator, “Stanley.” We actually ended up with two that summer because of the abusive nature of the activity. In the field leading up to the spring, rain water would often form puddles the warmed up in the sun shine of the afternoon. A perfect spot to learn about alligator wrestling.

Stanley and the activity leader would meet potential participants and go over the basics of wrestling maneuvers and take downs. Campers would often line up for an attempt to wrestle Stanley. In fact, most ended with successful take downs of the gator. It turned out to be a popular afternoon activity that was close enough that the underwater basket weavers would watch and cheer for as those young folks who would leg lock and scissor hold their opponent, Stanley.


Luther Gulick YMCA Triangle

Perhaps the best of the creativity was an activity area we called, “Spirit, Mind, and Body. This curriculum promised parents, the following, “Parents may observe an increase in self-confidence when faced with unfamiliar or challenging activities whether done individually and/or in a group. Growth in competence of one or more skills possessed or with new skill acquired. Participants take initiative for positive performance may also be noted.”


I thought this was as creative and inexpensive as a program might get; requiring just the instructors time and abilities. Each was designed with a basic daily formula of activity circles:

Activity Circle

Body Activity- Stretch/Aerobics

Mind Activity- Isotopes Team Building Challenge

Spirit Activity- Talking to God


As many of you might know, this was a YMCA Camp and the three sided triangle has existed for decades in the YMCA on how to best lead one’s life and find one’s best self. Thanks to Luther Gulick, the three sided symbolism was an expression of balance and harmony.

(In another amusing and creative note from Wally Wirick, he will sometimes go to a local YMCAs and asks for a tour. When they ask for his name, he says, "Luther Gulick)

The creativity of a two week participation in this program for an hour and fifteen minutes each day was amazing and fun to watch and listen to. There was music (Remember this was 2005- Superchick, Green Day, Hannah Montana songs and camp songs); there were tests of mindfulness (How Long is A Minute); Tae Bo introduction; and of course the YNC March chant (Y-M-C-A-C-A-M-P--M-C-A-C-A-M-P- YCamp - YCamp – yea YCamp)

And like most things occurring in our camp, service was emphasized. Since the program took place in and around the dining hall, many times the participants would be involved in the preparation and delivery of snacks to the rest of the camp. It brought about a great deal of collective and individual free thinking creativity in our campers and in our staff team.

I read recently that "if students have ideas but never put them into practice, they are practicing imagination, not creativity." Just like Mauricia Shiroma writes in that BLOG, I have wanted to create that incubator in the work we do at camps to challenge team members to find creative answers when things go in unexpected ways. To look at the sphere from all the different angles.

I started this BLOG with one of my friend John Maxwell’s quotes about creativity. I have been so inspired by those moments and I cannot take credit for how each of these examples evolved. I do know that it was seeing that our lack of money was not a lack of ideas. Scarcity is such a mind numbing mind set. I believe that we can achieve and grow in abundance by framing things with that abundance mindset.

 Our team wanted to do new and fun things for our campers. We seldom said “No.” We embraced different things and we never kept sacred cows for “how things were always done.” John Maxwell offers fivesteps to sparking creativity. I happened upon these similar mindsets over the forty years of camp under the tutelage of so many amazing leaders that I have had the privilege of serving along side.

Stanley pictured below with one of our Staff team (Megan K.) who was featured in a previous BLOG post.

Stanley the Alligator from our program activity.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

2021 - Ceaser, Fonzie, Zoom and Social Media (Communication in the Post Pandemic World)

 Thumbs Up - A Reflection On 2020, 2021, and 2022

If you have been following my BLOG, you know that 2021 (besides the pandemic) my life turned upside down after a car accident that divinely revealed a case of Hairy Cell Leukemia (or as I call it, Harry Styles Leukemia - he's my favorite from 1D). I spent quite some time in doctor offices, cancer centers as well as physical therapy and chiropractic offices and a neurologist  or two.

We have all been or dozens and dozens of Zoom, Teams, and other virtual platforms. As we have become more adept and proficient on these platforms we have learned a "new" communication style.

Sitting in those Brady Bunch or Muppet Theater squares, on those different platforms, one of the things I noticed, is that we have increased our use of the thumbs up as an indicator that we can hear the speaker or in agreement with whatever was happening.


It is the historical significance of this and other items that have a negative beginning that intrigues me. It's like the term "drinking the kool-aid" that is used everywhere today as an indicator that someone has bought into whatever the hype may be. I heard someone at Disney World say "wow, that cast member has really drank the kool-aid." All in show for the fact that they were very much into their role/job.

Little do they know that the origins had such a dreadful and awful origin just back in 1978 during the "Jonestown mass-murder suicide." The term is used in so many connotations now, that most have little regard that it was meant for horrific examples.

Caesar (the emperor, not the salad) pictured above in the guise of Joaquin Phoenix in the 2000 movie, Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott uses the thumbs up as a show to save someone in the fights to the death that took place in the Coliseum in Rome. 

The historical accuracy of this may or may not be linked to the 1872 painting "Pollice Verso" by Jean-Leon Gerome. There is some historical artifacts dating back to the first and second century that show a closed fist around a thumb indicating to save a gladiator.

More recently (1974 actually) Henry Winkler (seen above) portrayed Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli in the show Happy Days. Fonzie's cooler than cool late 1950's greaser became the run-a -star with his trademark saying "Sit on It" and the thumbs up to show his approval when other characters did the right thing.

In our fascinating modern world, the "thumbs up" has context in every social media category. Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, and so many other versions of the thumb and even have developed an encyclopedia of emojis. (Emojipedia)

Pictured Apple Trade marked Thumb

I have found myself on those Zoom and Teams calls where someone asks, "can you hear me okay?" Or "Is my slide deck showing?" And folks in the various Brady squares either indicate agreement with the zoom Thumb emoji or just by raising their thumb (s) in view of the camera. I am not sure how I feel about all of it in a world where more and more folks seem to be split on having face to face conversations, interactions, and worse so, discussions that seem to divide so many.

I am grateful for my experiences at Camp and while we were in Florida (2004-2009) we worked with the three Deaf schools in to provide a week of summer camp for deaf, hearing impaired, siblings of deaf youth, and CODA. Sign language is amazing and as the camp director, the deaf staff assigned two hearing interpreters to me whenever I had anything to say to the campers. It felt like I was in the United Nations. The deaf director told me it was because when I spoke, I was exhausting to the interpreters. 

Signs and signing are a part of our lives. And have become even more so during the past few years.

At the onset of the pandemic, back in the Spring of 2020, Zoom and teams became a lifeline to so many. There were dozens of calls and that summer, my camp experiences went digital with "Camp In A Box" platform helping hundreds of Scouts across three states complete camp and merit badge activities via Zoom.

Again, I find it odd that something that began with such a negative connotation as life or death in an arena has become part of a lifeline to so many. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this story, my doctor visits have become numerous and I find myself at physical therapy a few times a week. One of my great pleasures became a traction device (and yes, I have a home version now as well) for my neck. The therapist would set me up for 15 minute sessions and often check back to see how I have been doing. My indicator to them...yes, you may have already guessed...a thumbs up.

Post Script:
Let me know your thoughts on the "thumbs up" and the impact of living digitally has had in your life. Share a comment and let me know that you too have drunk the kool-aid.

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...