Thursday, September 30, 2021

2013 - Leadership from a PC


Paul Cary (also known as PC)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

Paul Cary – I have met many skilled and talented people in my travels. I have only met one lifeguard, lifeguard trainer, WSI, EMT, Eagle Scout, Counselor, Math teacher, program director, master schedule builder, Challenge Course Manager, mountain bike instructor, ropes facilitator who makes great camp-out donuts, LIT skill builder, rivals Chuck Norris in the number of great things that are said about him by other camp staff and LITs, Super Star Leadership, plays several instruments, travel camp leading, volunteer fireman, only person who was employee of the year twice, (author takes a breath) makes peach cobbler in a Dutch oven, and has the best campout nights, always brings dessert or some such baked good item, has had his own Face Book Fan Page, foster parent, who can lead a rendition of “Duke of York” like it’s nobody’s business – (PAUL CARY. Like Patty Hart, one has to say the first and last together.)

I’d like to say I discovered him. However, he was already at the camp when I arrived. I know that there are at least a dozen more things to add to this list and I have already added 7 more since I started writing this sentence. Paul Cary is the kind of person that you find once a decade and has the uncanny knack to make you want to be better as a leader just so you can aspire to the level of leadership that he thrives in.

I know I will never ascertain that level and yet I still push to grow and be the kind of leader that John Wooden talked about. “The first few days of basketball practice,” he explained, “I would observe the players shooting the ball from various places on the court. When I determined the place they made the best percentage of shots, ‘their spot,’ I would take them to that place and say, ‘This is where I want you to shoot the ball. I will design plays to make sure that happens.”

Paul has helped so many find their spot and to excel. Samuel Johnson said, "Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess." One of Paul's strengths is that he seeks out what folks are doing well and helps them develop that skill.

Needless to say and if you can tell from my list, I have yet to find a place that Paul Cary can stand and not sink it. In that I am inspired. I have lived long enough to know that no one person is perfect or great at all things. It is that quiet ambition that Paul exemplifies. I do not even believe that it is intention.

I gained a great lesson from Paul and exemplified from these John Maxwell questions:

" Is someone else doing what I am doing?

• Are they doing it well?
• Are they doing it better than I am?
• Can I become better than they are?
• If I do become better, what will be the result?
• If I don’t become better, what will be the result?"

I discovered that if I got out of his way, he made our entire team better and I gained that Wooden success reality in myself.

He lives by honor and a code that he demonstrates in all that he does. That determined ambition is what I admire and aspire to emulate. I believe that leaders find greatness in groups, as JohnMaxwell contends, and then helps the members find it in themselves. Paul inspires that greatness through his deeds. The second part of that particular of John Maxwell’s rule is that, “a leaders potential is determined by those closest to them. “

This is the gift that I get from Paul as I have spent the last 50 plus years in these United States. I am grateful for being close to Paul and for his quiet ambition that helps me want to be a better leader, follower, and human. And I am happy to call him my good friend.

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Post Script - I previously wrote about PC's leadership style in my 40 Summers 40 Lessons series

Monday, September 27, 2021

2012 - Semper Gumby Leadership

A great lesson in leadership

“Semper Fi” is the Marine Corps motto and while I have never been a Marine, I have had the opportunity to work with several over 40 summers.

For eight of those summers I have had the honor and privilege of having Steve “Tigger” Waterman as part of what John Maxwell calls my inner circle at camp.

“Tigger” reminds me often, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” He has spent the last 18 or so years working in the camping world adding value to whatever team he has been a part of.

Tigger’s approach to the world is a big part of my learning as well. He has a great way with young people and this big, tough Marine is as gentle and flexible as they come. He has in his work volunteered the better part of many winter Saturdays with teens at a local store selling candy bars to help them earn their way to camp.

On one occasion, he arrives at the store, which our office arranged to have a table display in the lobby area. Did I mention that it was winter…winter in Buffalo?

Anyway, the store had no record that we were supposed to be there. He called and calmly rearranged everything and made it happen with the store manager. And he made sure that the teens took turns sitting in his car for warmth while they rotated out to the store entry while he stayed there the entire time himself supporting their endeavor. This is the essence of “Tigger.”

Tigger (Pictured Left) with Camp Nurse (R)

(Fifty Nifty Years in the United States Series)

At camp (during Outdoor Education season) when a school would arrive late, or when it rains, or when someone calls in sick - name the circumstance - Tigger would  make things happen in calm, cool and collected sense. He will rally the staff around the trouble and he stays as flexible as the old 60’s clay-mation show “Gumby.”

He is a leader who adapts and inspires other to do so as well. With that he takes customer satisfaction to a higher level. Many parents, school teachers, staff, chaperones and campers adore and admire his abilities. So, if you can imagine this big burly Marine guy with a goatee standing around saying “you wanna buy a candy bar to help kids go to camp this summer?”

Steve would also help lead through his examples of service to others. One of the long time camp program activities was a game called "Dutch Auction." It is one of those cross camp activities where all age groups participate from youngest to oldest; typically by cabin/age group. Ultimately as scores are added up by the judges, Steve always made sure that the youngest campers score was slightly skewed higher. His philosophy was, "when do the youngest kids ever get to win anything." In our truly modern world that we live in; it may seem an unfair bias. 

Clare Trageser states (writing for PBS SoCal), "Creativity researchers ... say that's actually creative problem solving, to come up with new directions," she says. "And so kind of letting them play along with that is interesting. But maybe rather than having them moving the goalposts during a game, changing the rules on the spot, what I could do is say, 'OK, so why don't we set up the rules this way this time, and we don't have to play by the same rules we did last time. We can do different ones next time, but what are the rules for today?'"

It is this that I am grateful as he adapted a servant leader attitude to every situation. And I have adopted and learned his motto as one of my own. I am grateful for Steve as I have moved on this journey of 50 plus years in these United States. “Semper Gumby.”

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

2011 - Leadership; "Never Take Yourself Too Seriously"


Steve Martin as "The Jerk"

(Fifty Nifty Years In United States Series)

Steve Martin played Navin Johnson in The Jerk (One of the best 3.5 minutes ever in a movie). And I quote. “Well I'm gonna to go then! And I don't need any of this. I don't need this stuff, and I don't need *you*. I don't need anything. Except this.” [picks up an ashtray] “And that's the only thing I need is *this*. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. - The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this. - The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I'm some kind of a jerk or something! - And this. That's all I need. [walking outside] “The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, and this magazine, and the chair. And I don't need one other thing, except my dog.” [Dog growls at him] “I don't need my dog.”

And with that, Julie and I are roaring with laughter. It defined our relationship serving at the YMCA together. I would say or do things. She would call me an Idiot. We would roar with laughter.

At the core of it all was a genuine respect for what needed to be accomplished and how we choose to do the work and offer ourselves up to a mission in delivering a program to develop and grow young people in an outdoor setting. I could count on Julie for everything.

For six years, hardly a day went by that we did not speak to one another to check in and determine what needed to be done to fulfill our mission. As many of you know, I enjoy a good joke, prank or and business that leads to a pun. Julie provoked that in me unlike any person I have worked with before. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

In Your Roadmap for Success, John Maxwell says we need to be able to laugh at ourselves, “… success depends more on your attitude than it does on how important you think you are.  Life should be fun.  Even if your job is important and should be taken seriously, that doesn’t mean you should take yourself seriously.  You’ll go farther in life and have a better time doing it if you maintain a sense of humor, especially when it comes to yourself.” Our work and the fun that we had was authentic, healthy, and helpful.

I consider the numerous obstacles and challenges that lay before us in our work with that organization and at that time and I am grateful for the provocation of humor from Julie. (I have never been referred to as an idiot – to my face that is – more times than during that six and a half year period.)

Like being called “boss” by a previous co-worker (and previous BLOG) well over a decade prior, I know that it was meant with care and respect.

There was also a special mission to Julie’s heart and I felt like we connected at that level as well. I know what a devoted Christian she is and how much that helped lead my decisions and our work together. Even if you are not a Christian or have a faith base in your life, you would get a sense that this woman believed in what we were doing was inspired by a higher force.

In my time as a leader, I have had some amazing people come in and out of my life. I can tell you that Julie helped keep me on a path and delivering mission centered work to those we served. I was led by her belief that we served in a manner that could only come from a higher power. And given the choice that we could linger in the stress of those challenges and allow the negativity to bring us down or just laugh at it. We choose to laugh and laugh and laugh.

Julie (L) Al (R) laughing on our way to leadership

One last item. Julie is a just a few years older than I am and I was in fact her supervisor. I say that only to make this point even stronger. Many leaders find it difficult to allow others to lead. She led the way in our relationship and I felt that gift from her nearly every day we worked together. Since our time together, she has attained greater significance as a leader that I could imagine. I am blessed by the gift she gave me to allow our work to thrive.

I guess that we spoke nearly every day for six and a half years. That’s nearly 2400 times. I cannot think of one single time that we did not have laughter in our conversations.  Can you imagine what that might be like?

In my 50 plus years living and working in these United States, I am so grateful for learning to laugh and for Julie who led with her faith. I know she is working hard right now with another YMCA and I hope that as she leads them, she’ll fondly remember our times and think, “you idiot.”

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

2010 - Leadership and "fatherly" Lesson


Lesa Culpepper (L)

(Fifty Nifty Years In the United States Series)

Lesa Culpepper – So this is the year after our last year working together in Florida and the reason I picked it was the true impact of Lesa’s influence on my life was felt. For most of our last three years in Florida; Lesa became a tremendous part in our lives.

I recall that we (several staff and I) were at a conference for camping folks in Orlando, FL and I was there to recruit summer staff as well. There was a bulletin board with plenty of resumes and fliers of potential candidates. None jumped out at me. I did notice what appeared to be a the word “tern” on a small 3x5 card under the corners of several other resumes.

There was something about that card that led to a phone call and a meeting and eventually that internship. It was buried beneath so much and I still noticed it like the bright shining object in a sky of so many other shiny things. It was a guiding hand that made me look deeper. That has been the lesson with Lesa.

Her camp name is “SuperNova” and I found that that has been how she leads. A bright light that explodes and leads you on a path. I have read a theory that the Star of Bethlehem was in fact a Super Nova and the wise man followed it to the Christ child. So it may not come as a surprise of how this wonderful servant leader helped me become a better father.

Lesa lived at Camp and then near-by as her internship became a full time position with our camp. Her faith led her to a church that actually met at the YMCA. I on the other hand, did not want to be a part of a church that essentially met at work and declined attendance over and over. Lesa never wavered and decided that my children needed spiritual guidance and would drive my kids to attend and participate. I did not see this as a issue and I enjoyed my Sunday mornings at home drinking coffee and watching the Sunday morning magazine shows on television.

It was only after leaving Florida and moving to a new camp in New York that my faith woke up again from a nap. I realized that Lesa was providing the fatherly example to Alec, Kelly and Brian that I was not. I see that as a lesson that has meant so much for me.

In a previous BLOG, I wrote about a call I received when I first became a father. I consider myself a servant leader and I learned and gained from Lesa what should have come naturally. I learned from that 23 year old how to lead and provide what I believe is the most important part of parenting.

This has led me to a path of taking on a leadership role in my church working with youth and developing their spiritual education. I am so grateful for “SuperNova” and her explosion into our lives and in my 50 plus years living in these United States I am blessed by her example of “fatherly” service.

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...