“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
– Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States
As camp leaders we work in a unique industry where we have the responsibilities of managing staff, facilitating programs, activities and even making executive level financial and operational decisions that benefit the organization and further the mission.
Many years ago, serving as a camp director for a special needs organization, I recalled having a conversation with my program director who was aspiring to one day become a camp director. She asked me, what makes a camp director so valuable? At first, I was going to tell her about having significant formal education, various certifications and requirements paired with fundraising skills to help her decide if camp was going to be the best career for her, but then I paused… deciding instead to speak with her about being an effective leader versus a ‘manager’ of camp. Throughout my experience as a camp director, I have realized that time and again there are three qualities that make for an effective camp director and a leader.
Leader vs. Manager
Lead more than you manage. As a camp director, we are often taught in our formal education to learn to manage various day-to-day tasks, whether it is coordinating the daily schedule for counselors and program staff to diffusing issues brought about by campers or parents in a professional but fair manner. The difference between being a leader is that we must lead our staff, not just manage the tasks they perform. Through our actions as leaders we inspire others to be successful by defining these tasks and trusting in staff to perform as required. This requires communication, patience and developing mutual trust so that your staff will follow your lead, so long as you trust in their abilities and skills to make the best decisions in order for camp to be a success. Leaders are always looking ahead on the horizon, not just on the bottom line. Don’t accept the status quo, challenge your staff to reach their potential.
Have confidence in yourself and your decisions. If your staff sees that you are not committed to your decisions or easily swayed by others, they won’t respect your leadership, especially in tough situations. Remember, making the best decision is not always most popular and what is most popular is not always the best decision. Having poise and self-assurance will help your leadership grow.
Learn to inspire others through your actions. This attribute is by far the most challenging as a director because it requires you to persuade your staff to follow your lead without coming across as trying to be adored. Throughout the camp season, staff will look to you to see how you handle situations and based upon your actions they will either be hesitant or follow you. It is important to remain poised and continuously keep staff motivated and engaged. If you are able to successfully inspire your staff to the point they follow you as their leader, you will be able to overcome future challenges that may arise.
Possessing these qualities and applying them to the decisions and relationships among staff will allow you to achieve both successes as a director and in leading your camp.