Sunday, August 23, 2020

2014 PC vs Mac - A Servant Leadership Story

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

Despite the title of this story, I’m not here to extol the virtues of any particular computer. In fact, I’m here to share about two vastly different leadership styles.
With that, I’d like to share a bit about Mac. He came to camp to help lead our leaders in training program (LITs). He had an excellent interview and he talked a great deal about service. Mac’s references talked about his great work with teens. Mac said he was looking for a new opportunity to learn and grow as part of a team.
PC had been there a while and was our operations leader and essentially, our second in command if that is a style you would be familiar. PC had taken it upon himself to specialize in multiple certifications in different areas of camp. I had one staff person refer to PC as an overachiever.
Mac wanted to be creative and try different things with the program. PC was always putting schedules together and creating order in what many camp folks know as chaos.
This is their story from one late evening at camp:
It was about the middle of the fifth week of camp. Folks had begun to settle well into their roles and the initial round of storming was nearly two or three weeks in the past. I had gone home (across the street) for the evening and most of this is what I collected as to what actually happened and those involved.
PC was working at a station in the office (where internet was available) to download and create the next sessions rosters, activity list, check in forms for parents, the nurse and swim test. His work never seemed to be complete, yet he was always working a week ahead to make sure that operationally things ran well. PC also ran all the risk management issues for camp and he would often meet and review drills with key staff like the Aquatics Leadership staff. He helped prep their weekly swim tests and lifeguard drills as well as often substituting himself to give guards a break throughout the day. It was just a way to be of service.
Mac was in the office late that evening working on plans for the end of the next session of the LIT program. In spending well over a month at camp, Mac was indeed making great headway with his LITs and they were enthralled with his personality. They loved him and each day, they wanted to be more like him, adopting his style of language, and wanting to spend more time with him. They wanted to hear more of what he had to say; and in turn he wanted them to hear more of what he would say. He spent most of his days weighing in with other staff as to how his LITs needed to be managed. Often, Mac was now telling activity leaders what his expectations were for each individual LIT assigned and how he wanted to check in with them each day.
In walked one of the unit leaders, James, who was looking for advice from our assistant program director (Jeff) on an issue in the unit. Mac, overhearing decided that he would intervene. The conversation went nowhere fast as Mac decided to offer his opinion on how James needed to crack down on his people to make sure they were following the rules. He told James to “man up” or he would get run over. The Jeff’s jaw dropped and asked Mac to excuse himself from the conversation. Mac decided that his opinion was the only one that mattered and it was about time that James learned a thing or two about managing people. He quickly pointed out how his LITs followed all his rules and didn’t do anything without checking with him first.
By the time that Mac had denigrated James several more times, PC walked into the room overhearing the escalating voice. At that point, PC excused everyone (with the exception of Mac) from the room in what was later described to me as the most commanding tone that any of them had ever heard. Jeff called me on my cell and as I answered and heard the shakiness of his voice as he asked for me to come back over because “PC and Mac were having it out in the office.”
Within minutes I had come back across for my home and met James and Jeff in the driveway in front of the office. I could hear Mac inside but was unable to make out what he was saying. Jeff told me that Mac had been inappropriate with James and when PC intervened, Mac got boiling hot. I walked into the office.
PC was sitting in a chair, hands clasped in what appeared to be a listening stance that I had grown to expect from him. Mac was pacing and talking about how people at that camp needed to manage their staff of he would do it himself. I sat on the desk with my back up against the wall and asked “I’d like to know what has been going on, Mac, let’s start with you.”
Within 15 minutes, we had reached a state of truce and agreements as to how we would proceed and behave. I can’t claim credit for that since PC had already initiated most of what needed to occur. He wanted there to be growth as a result of the experience and I concurred. The rest of that summer became about the leadership cult of Mac versus the value of service from as exemplified by PC. Lessons learned.

MAC vs PC - lessons in servant leadership

I am sure by now, it is clear what the styles of leadership are demonstrated here. I heard the term "Servant Leader" as far back as early as the late fall of 1985 when I was asked by Wally Wirick (one of my first mentors at Bluff Lake and beyond) to consider working at camp that next summer. He and Sam Brown (who ran the downtown YMCA in Pasadena) had just spent a retreat in San Diego learning with Rich Collato (also a Y mentor) about how to support your staff to success so we are all successful.
That journey of servant leadership and the subsequent displays of the traditional hierarchical leadership have equipped me to know that the better model is PC over Mac. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

2013 - George – George – George (Lessons in Planning)


George - George - George - 3 types of leaders and planners.

2013 - George – George – George (Lessons in Planning)

(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

Top-Down Planning

“George” was the nickname of a major non-profit organizations attempt at creating a universal membership and program management system. At the turn of this century, this agency spent millions of dollars and thousands of man hours working on what was thought to be the best system that would provide for the needs of everyone of the agencies in the country. It turns out that as they planned and spent, no one ever thought to ask the front line staff who dealt with the agencies customers as to what they thought or perhaps needed.

The best intentions are often misguided and I believe that top down planning to determine the needs of those on the ground require a great deal of ego at that the top.

Many of you may know and have been a part of the long term or strategic planning process. It is (in the past) about taking a group of stakeholders to a retreat and having a consultant lead mission planning and "wordsmithing" and then that plan becomes a dust catcher on a shelf. (Oversimplified version, I know) 

There is a great article by Henry Mintzberg (Harvard Business Review) called, “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning” that may interest you. Feel free to do an online search of that publication and make sure to note the year, 1994.

As the leader of an organization like a camp, solid leadership is necessary. Often times to be able to look out on the landscape and position what and who is needed to help define the plan. Get those folks in place, help equip them, and then get out of their way.

Middle-Out Planning

I have participated in several planning sessions with middle management in my career. The pattern that I have discovered can be summed up from a controller that I worked with. His name, George, had spent 11 years in that organization and he spoke about how change was needed at every level of the organization.  

He spent his work week providing the much need financial analysis and controls in regard to cash flow and planning. Working in a multi-million dollar non-profit, his work is vital when it comes to having accurate information for annual reports provided not only to donors and volunteers, but also for the needed 990 reports for tax purposes. And, when it came to seeking funding from foundations in the form of grants, the information had to show not only accuracy, but how a need would be met and how many individuals would be impacted by the funding.

Back at our planning session, there was discussion of how things needed to flow with-in the organization. I suggested a stream lined system for budget planning. This particular organization was using Lotus as a planning tool. Those of you unfamiliar with Lotus, I am not talking about the classic 1957 car manufacturer. I am talking about the software designed in 1982 and discontinued by IBM in 2012. Let me restate that - 1982.

This particular planning was taking place in the last decade. George said, “Lotus is the single best software ever designed to manage budget planning.”

What I learned that day, is that most of the time when middle management is involved in making plans and decisions about the needs and influence to better serve customers, they often make decisions that reinforce what their needs are and not that of the customer.

Relying on the defenders of the status quo is a misguided approach to planning and leadership. Doing the same things to support those who are adapting to change on the front lines often leads to more of the same.

Bottom-Up Doing

George Finnerty was a volunteer I worked with for nearly a dozen years and I learned so many lessons and this is perhaps the best one. He would just say something like ask yourself, “how does this help camp? If it is a good decision, which will help the kids, then that’s the right thing to do.”

I began to use that filter on so many levels. Over the years, working with young staff and helping they realize that because they want to try and do something “new and innovative” it had to pass the test. “How does this benefit the camper experience and fit in our mission and values?” I never asked the question in that manner. I asked questions that helped me understand what they had in mind and in my head; I was seeking to answer that question on behalf of the participants.

As I have served at different camps and organizations, I have hit the
“That’s the way we have always done it” wall on numerous occasions. It is sometimes mislabeled as “tradition.” One of my favorite leaders, Catherine Meyer, recently shared that one of her take a way lessons of working at camp was, "
Adhering to tradition for the sake of tradition is, 99 times out of 100, more harmful than adapting and apologizing for harm done to make a space safe for everyone.

Those of you who have used a fax machine to send a copy of a flier or letter, you know that upon receiving that fax and making copies of it to share with others; there is often degradation in the ink and image.

In camps (and many organizations), I have often times believed that some “traditions” are just that. Someone had a great image of a program, activity, game, or event. It was replicated for several seasons. That original provider or leader left and the program was replicated for several more seasons. At some point one of the campers who saw the activity happen, became part of the staff. That person made modifications and the activity continued.

Hard to read, imagine this after copying it, faxing, copying and faxing again.
(I did not attend this event)
(It may have been found in a lodge at camp after cleaning up from summer staff 1981)

At some point, the program becomes a memory of what happened when someone who was not even there, provides their version of what was once a “great game.” Just like a copy of a fax, that had been copied and faxed and sent again several times and faxed again. I am not sure that is what Alexander Bain intended when he invented the FAX machine in 1843 (not a typo).

I take one of my planning lessons from George Lucas. He storyboards all his stories that lead to his film making. As a visual learner, I love my color coded note cards and using them to plan training sessions, pair staff leaders based on their personality types, and even take notes on calls and training sessions.

Here’s what I know. When planning for the future and the near future, always make sure that you included those who are using your product, service, or program. Leadership at the top should be listening (carefully) to what is being said at that level. Avoid the approach of using or listening to information from those in the middle. They are often just looking to perpetuate their role and function for fear of losing a misguided notion of control.

I have never been in control of anything. I ask my staff who is in charge of camp. And I wait as they reach the same conclusion that it is and always will be the campers (customers/members). They know it and they deserve the best from us in planning and leading in a manner that serves.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

1983 - Here’s What I Know (Invite to Podcast)

ALF Circa 1985ish at Camp

Here’s what I know:

As a leadership development professional I have worked with over 53,000 young people. Those experiences have been in outdoor programs helping influence their skills through amazing camp and leadership opportunities.  

My family and I moved to the United States when I was 4 years old. And in celebration of our 50th anniversary two years ago, I spent that year reflecting on individuals and lessons that have made me who I am. I’d like to share a lesson about two of those great mentors and one of those years.

Here’s what I believe.

Small moments often teach you life’s greatest lessons. It was Benjamin Disraeli, who served as the British Prime Minister twice during Queen Victoria’s reign, and was quoted as saying, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

In 1983 as an 18 year old, I was working for a local camp in Southern California and I was one of the cabin leaders.

It was during that week that I discovered who I was to become. One evening, my junior leader, Mike, and myself were taking a break.  It was raining and a bit cold so we went down to the KYBO to stay warm and dry.

Now a KYBO is a restroom and shower facility. There were some benches in the shower area and we sat there to stay warm and talk.

At one point the camp director, Ron Perry came in to say hello. Now Ron is this big gregarious guy who was one of those people that everyone just wanted to be around. He was tall with lots of curly hair and he spoke in this sing song mesmerizing way. I am sure each of you has known someone like this.

So we are in the KYBO, oh did I mention that KYBO, besides being a radio station outside of Barstow California - at camp KYBO or K Y B O stands for “keep your bowels open.”

When you’re at camp it’s really an important place to know where to go.

So we’re in the KYBO and in walks Ron and he starts asking us questions and just checking in. After a few minutes he asked, “So, how long is your break?” I told him we had to get back up to our cabin now. This is where it got interesting. Out of no-where, he pulls two soda bottles out of his back pockets and says, take 20 more minutes, I’ll go and watch your cabin for you.

He handed us the sarsaparilla and walked out. I turned to Mike and said, “Someday I want his job.”

I learned 4 things that day and later I found out from my mentor, John Maxwell, that those were simply Laws of leadership.

You see, Ron had this great moment of leadership with me. His influence sent me down this road and that impact was that simple.

By the time I was 25 years old I was the director at that camp. His moment of serving others, in that case Mike and I, he truly was adding value to what we were doing.

And since then, I have had the opportunity to influence the lives of so many at four different YMCA camps, a 4H camp, a Boys and Girls Club Camp and several Scout camps.

You see that day back in that KYBO, it wasn’t really what Ron said. It was really how he made me feel that had a lasting impact on everything I have done over the last 40 summers. He connected with me on an emotional level. I totally bought into him as a leader and then took on that mission and vision that he set. He gave me a reason to follow him.

As a youth and leadership development professional I have lived to demonstrate those lessons every day.

You see, campers find riches in themselves through the activities that build and nurture self esteem, personal growth and what I call positive risk taking.

My vision now is to carry those lessons forward in a camping program that I have been developing that serve teens and share those leadership lessons and so much more.

My promise is to help develop the best leaders that lead and guide campers and to discover within themselves their own riches.

I am eternally grateful to Ron and John and so many others. I want to thank all of you for checking in today and helping me keep my promise.

I am AL Ferreira and I have the greatest job in the world…serving others.


Part of this story is from our latest podcast so, please consider listening and following the Youth Development Professional guidebook (I’m the co-host) podcast at:

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