Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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 education, I have encountered this concept at every organization I have worked with. My disclaimer is that I have always worked for small agency (non-profit) camps and resources were always a challenge. I know that there are larger operations that have different resources that perhaps allow for a better cohesiveness.

Here's what I know. 
Often times, what is called "tradition" (cue Fiddler on the Roof Soundtrack) is closer to "that's the way we have always done it." And as Ben Zimmerman noted in his Forbes article, "it could be the most dangerous phrase in business."

Let me describe the setting and a composite of many, many conversations. 

Picture a camp office set in 1987 or 1993 or 2000 or 2010 or 2016 (or any of the years in between). It is in California, Florida or New York. A 18+ year old is coming in to interview for a position as a cabin leader or activity leader at one of the summer camps that I have had the pleasure of serving over the past four decades. There have been nearly 5000 of these interviews in person, via phone, at a college recruitment or in modern virtual calls over that time period.

As we discuss the reasons why someone wants to work at camp the common answer has been, "I was a camper and "Forge" (Adam Haney, camp name of past staff) was my leader and he did..." And then they describe what he, she or they did and what an effect or influence it had on them. That statement is followed by, "I want to do the same for the campers this summer." 

As you may or may not know, I like to ask questions and I often ask more (peeling back the onion like Shrek) about a person from the answer that they give. My question to these answers is a version of, "what did they do..." and specify what action or activity that they did?

This is where it gets complicated. Many times they would describe an activity or "tradition"  (cue Fiddler on the Roof Soundtrack) and describe some fun (or perceived fun) camp activity or program. One example that came up multiple times at one camp was a ice cream party where the campers would file through a line and get an ice cream dish and the staff would be adding items (sprinkles, toppings, fudge, whip cream, etc.). However they would be throwing these items across the table and making a grand mess of things. Effectively a food fight or free for all.

(NOTE: I do not condone food fights. In fact I am abjectly against any food waste. Having served not for profit organizations and minimally our population had 1/3 of campers on financial assistance and lived at or below the poverty line. Food waste is not something that projects a mission or lesson that seems to line up with anything worthy of any organization.)

Other answers often reflected a program area that they saw a long time leader who was so adept at that program that they taught what seemed to be multilayered lessons and campers had no idea they were learning until reflecting later as the aged and matured. One leader Adam "Forge" Haney was greatly adept with his southern charm in providing leadership lessons on communication, team building, team work, and values clarification all while leading paint ball. He cultivated the culture of learning and leadership. And he applied what he learned to furthering the culture he described with the campers. 

These campers who were now applying for a position as a leader and believed that it all magically happened. Further, they had their ideas on how to make it even better. 

What I discovered well over 25 years ago, is that often, those activities were a reflection of what someone remembered that they saw or participated in and they wanted to convey that program from their memory. I do not believe that it was ever malicious or intentionally done with any intent other than their want to pay it forward.

The key word in that last sentence was "Intent."

My mentor, John C. Maxwell speaks about "Intentional Living" and wrote a great book about this. It was in that book that he states, "An unintentional life accepts everything and does nothing. An intentional life embraces only the things that will add to the mission of significance.”

Here's what I know, many folks get intent confused with preparedness and action. I had a team member about 15 years ago who was inspired during our staff orientation training week. He would engage in everything and constantly assured our leadership team that he would be the best staff person. He had great intent.

He did not have great follow through and was never prepared for the long days that working at a summer camp required. He pointed at those around him who he identified as being "successful." What he could not connect was that they were preparing their days and weeks and he was also chasing the schedule. 

As a leader, I learned a great deal from this one leader. What we failed to help him learn was how to prepare with something as simple developing the skill and putting into practice the tools that we shared during that staff orientation session. His success was our success and his failure was our failure. As John Maxwell says, "“A leader is great not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.”

Our team had been creating "curriculum" for sometime for our activity leaders to follow. 

Sample Curriculum (page 1) from a camp in 2004
(thanks Kaley Krick)

We also had recently re-designed our staff evaluation tool. What we missed was helping new team members to develop the skills they needed to grow in their work.

It boils down to this in John's summary, "No one ever was successful with good intentions, but a lot of people are successful with good actions."

As a leader, take action to help those young team members learn and grow the skills that establish the program culture that lasts well beyond their time with your organization. After all, as the proverb goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second best time is now.

Monday, May 8, 2023

2023 - Leadership and Gratitude to Ken Stein



Robin and Ken Stein - YMCA Mentors

(Fifty Nifty Years in United States Series)

Ken Stein – I wrote most of this upon Ken’s retirement in 2012 (I've made several edits and updates as well) Ken's memorial service is Saturday, May 13, 2023 11am at the Redlands Family YMCA in Redlands, California.

I had the pleasure of working for Ken Stein from February 1998 to end of 2003 - primarily as the Camp Director for YMCA Camp Edwards. I also served for nearly two years as an operations person for an aquatics branch, three day camps, 63 after school sites, and a rural Y center that operated in schools and fields as well as and helping open a large community center (built in collaboration with a local municipality). It was one of the most complex times of learning as a leader and set me up for future success on the lessons learned (cue Sabre Dance music as a theme).

At the time I obtained the position in 1998, I had just left another YMCA Camp and I recall my conversation with Ken. He indicated this may not be where I wanted to be ultimately, but he had a need for a camp director right now and I was available. I felt wanted and needed and agreed to come and work for Ken Stein. 

As a younger version of my current self, I thought I knew a great deal about camp (the older I get, the less I know). But the lessons and opportunities that emerged over that almost 6 year period were tremendous.

I had the opportunity to watch Ken (and Robin Stein) transform the YMCA. I had the opportunity during most of each school year (summers being what they were) to have lunch with Ken almost every week. It was a front row seat to what I believe was a master’s program.

With well over 150 hours of mini-Druckeresque (Peter Drucker link) lunch meetings; this was his way to coach and direct as I worked to learn more about being a leader and transforming a culture. I am so grateful for the amount of time and investment that Ken provided. It was like a mini course of non-profit management right down to the values and culture an organization must have to move forward. 

Ken let me stretch and grow and even fail. He provided leadership and knowledge and a kick in the right direction when needed. I learned about the Y, our mission, camping and the financial and budget considerations of “innies and outies” (a term Ken used as well as Howard Pease at a previous YMCA) as well as a hundred other things. I recall that while serving as a branch director one of the things he asked me to do was always go throw the front doors as if I was a member. I had been using a side door entrance close to where I was parking and he wanted me to have the same view that participants would have and an appreciation for what they would see. It was also a way to have access to members who might be walking through at the same time. Creating opportunities to interact with customers. Simple, profound, and essential.

I recall one particular summer where I had had an extreme challenge with a few volunteers and had learned the hard way, that I did not have all the answers. That Saturday, upon departure of the campers, volunteers, and most of the staff team, I was still upset by the situation and by my choices. While finishing up with some clean up, Ken and Robin walked into camp. (Did I mention that they lived an hour away and had to drive up the mountain to camp?)

Ken had that huge engaging smile and came up and hugged me. As he did so, he said, “I know it’s been a challenging week and I’m proud of you.” I teared up and we talked about choices and how best to make decisions when you are stressed, tired, and irritated. In our discussion, he showed compassion as a leader and made it clear that he expected different choices in the future.

Our time together at that YMCA had some difficult times and some huge challenges. Throughout that it was always clear that Ken led with his values. From the simplest lessons, to the most difficult when a member of the staff team passed away, Ken always made it clear that leadership was something that he valued.

At one point, I had an office at one of the local branches and Ken had learned I was using a back door to go into the YMCA. It was not something I had considered as a camp director and Ken made it clear that leaders lead. He suggested (read directed) that as leaders we always go through the same doors that our members use; that we greet everyone along the way; and that it was important that leaders be seen. It was a simple lesson and yet so profound.

Ken gave me so many opportunities. Perhaps the best and greatest was the opportunity to grow. My last 18 months or so with Ken, were spent leading camp, three day camps and lead in a recently completed merger with another local YMCA. Ken suggested that for me to grow and get larger opportunities to work at bigger camps, I would need to grow my leadership responsibilities. That growth led to my departure and brought me full circle to where our story started. Ken and I came to a point where he indicated this may not be where I should be any longer and that my road would need to go in different direction  Again, I was available for that challenge.

In my years of work at the Y, I have worked for at least 13 different CEOs and I have to say that I learned the greatest amount of what it is to be a true leader in my time with Ken Stein. 

To this day, when faced with a choice or difficult situation - I often think about what would Ken Stein do? Peter Drucker stated, “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves - their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” Ken Stein clearly taught me this concept. He was clear about what he knew, and he wanted to help me be clear as well.

For this I am extremely grateful as I have spent these last 50 plus years in these United States.


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

   Good Leaders Ask Great Questions Inspired by E.J. Lugo This is our 5th week this summer, I'll be posting several questions that you s...