Leadership Lessons From Summer Camp

Last week I was helping out at a local father-son summer camp outside of Calgary called Arcatheos.  A lot of theatrics and explosions and all those great things.  We like to joke that it’s a camp for teaching boys to become men and men to become boys again.

Leadership Requires Service

This year the theme of the camp was “To Serve is to Reign”.  We really focused in on this theme of service with the teenagers who would become our version of camp counsellors, called “knights.”  To be able to effectively lead the boys in their charge, they couldn’t simply order them around all day without a care for their well-being.  They had to be emotionally invested in both the boys they were in charge of and in the other members of their teams.  With that, every order or directive is followed because the boys know it’s for the good of everyone.

I was struck by how well this carries into the workplace.  If an employee feels that his boss is invested in him and his life, that he’s not just another cog in the machine, the extra overtime needed to finish an important project becomes a lot easier to deal with.  It no longer feels like a forced task from a faceless overlord but like an urgent request from a friend.

Leadership Requires Respect

We taught the “knights” that the easiest way to serve their boys is to respect them.  If you respect those around you, they’re more inclined to respect you.  If they respect you, they’re more likely to incorporate your feedback into their behaviour and truly listen to what you’re asking them to do.  They won’t merely sit around after completely a task waiting for you to hand them the next one, and instead they’ll proactively seek out ways to be helpful.

Don’t Be a Drill Instructor (unless you are one)

If people feel they need to walk on eggshells around you out of fear that the slightest mistake will cause them to get raked over the metaphorical coals, they might try to work their hardest to not make a mistake. On the other hand, a lot of their energy and attention that might have gone towards doing their job right is wasted going towards looking over their shoulder to ensure they haven’t awoken the dragon.  In addition, people prefer leaders who are caring and compassionate instead of leaders who are taskmasters and drill instructors.  So if your employees have a choice, they will eventually leave for greener pastures.

Don’t be a Door Mat

At the same time, you won’t have respect if your employees feel they can walk all over you.  If employees are disrespectful and undisciplined, sure, they may not leave your company for better conditions. However, your employees will be inefficient and waste the company’s time and money. This will ultimately result in them, and possibly even you, being let go.

Leadership Requires Compassion AND Effectiveness

Don’t simply choose either of the two extremes: a balance between the two will be more effective.  There are times when you need to lay down the law and reprimand the people working for you.  There are also times when those people need an ear to understand the difficulties they’re facing and a helpful hand to guide them.  Using only one method or the other cripples your leadership abilities. It is when you are firm and compassionate as a leader that you will earn the respect and trust of those you manage. You will then unleash your full potential.

Whether or not they’re in a position that requires leadership, lessons we taught to the boys are vital for everyone.  Everyone at some point in their lives will be in charge of something.  Regardless of the size of the organisation, effective compassionate leadership inevitably leads to further leadership opportunities down the road.

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