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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Summer Staff Questions - Good Leaders Ask Great Questions Series (5 of 10)

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