|Camp Fox (Circa mid 1980s) Note: green hills behind the dining hall.|
(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)
In the late 80’s, I had a great tour of a camp that was one of the premiere places to go in Southern California. And the director, Carl, gave me those great words of advice about 20 times during the tour. "Camp is all about where you put the poop." (He may have used a different word.)
I had recently been promoted to a leadership position at a camp and was told to expect a call from Carl. He was from a nearby association and was known as one of the premiere camp directors on the West Coast. His reputation was derived on how he built up the facilities and made huge investments in the infrastructure of the Camp and drove the program forward (as well as enrollment).
Camp Fox was a destination. Situated on Catalina Island, (cue song, “26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina…”) it was a great place to spend a summer or even just a week during one of their sessions. Water features and traditional programming for a YMCA Camp.
Carl was proud of the camp and he liked to share the upgrades and what he accomplished. He was one of the first people to share with me, which was “no one likes to donate to a toilet” at a camp. It wasn’t sexy or attractive.
Needless to say, I got that call form Carl and met him in San Pedro for the early boat over to the island. The tour was classic Carl. It involved the best features of what he had invested a great deal of his time and dollars raised. The septic system.
As we strolled around he talked about the system and how it was designed and managed. He described that on the Island, the leach fields for a septic system could not go towards the beach and the water. His solution was simply brilliant. A series of pumps from the dining hall and restroom facilities that pumped everything uphill in several locations. He was particularly proud of the hillside where the series of underground leach fields dispersed and made that area’s grass and growth, just a bit greener.
Throughout the tour he keep sharing how “camp is all about where you put the poop.” It really did not matter how many people attended, how much you had for them to do or even how good the quality of food was. Ultimately, where the poop went was extremely important. He talked about different challenges that had occurred in his tenure. The conversations always led back to septic issues.
I thought I had an idea about what he was referring too. The previous years, I had been a part of several backpacking trips in the Sierras and upon each night’s camp set up, we would determine, “girls tree on the left, boy’s tree on the right.” I shared that with Carl in an attempt to show my understanding of just what he was talking about.
He stared at me as if, I had no clue. It was confounding. I had the time and attention from one of the premier camp guru’s of the day. He, on the other hand, was shaking his head like I was never going to get it and should just go back to my journalism focus and work at newspaper. He didn’t say it, but in my head he thought I had no business working as a Camp Director.
He had asked me if there were things that I wanted to know about camp and he would gladly answer my questions. I asked about volunteers, and the board, as well as managing staff, new program ideas and activities. It was as if each time I asked a question, he would describe some detail aspect of his septic and engineering that was required to pump the poop uphill.
I’d like to say that I had a deep connection with Carl and he became a mentor. In fact, he seldom ever gave me the time of day again. I’d see him from time to time at training's or camp gatherings. More often I would introduce myself to him and he would get that same look as if he recalled, “oh yeah, that guy who doesn’t get it about the poop.”
Like a good septic system, my ability to process what he was distributing took some time and eventually I benefited from the nutritious information.
It occurred to me, sometime later, that the wisdom Carl was dispensing had everything to do with leading others. Carl shared what John Maxwell shares as the Law of Intuition. Carl framed everything through a leadership lens. He was sharing how intuitive leaders as they lead. They share that intuition through their area of strength. He just had the most fertilizing method with which to say it.