40-Days of Inspiration/ Day 1

Welcome to your first day of camp!

Some of you have been preparing for this day literally for the entire year. You run a full time camp that has been running for years. You have tried and tested systems that have been refined over the years. You have veteran staff that are in place that have been with you for ages, these veterans are in place to mentor and shepherd the younger staff.

Or maybe you are like me my first year of camp. Finishing up your first year as an afterschool director and being told that in three weeks you were going to be running a camp, that was basically falling, and they were giving you this camp basically because no one else wanted it… so good luck!

Wherever you are in your camp journey remember that first day of camp can be the best or the worst day of your professional career. It is really up to you.

Tony Robbins once said that the sooner we realize that life is something that happen FOR us and not TO us, this is the moment we can take advantage of all of the opportunities that life has given to us. These opportunities usually masquerade as problems and adversity. They are usually perceived as things that are tragic and the reason WHY we did not succeed at something that we were sure that we were otherwise strong enough, smart enough, or good enough to achieve on our own.

“If only THIS didn’t happen!” We cry to a bunch of others who have never accomplished anything. “THEN I would have ACHIEVED all my dreams. Oh well I guess I’ll go back to school or something and get a better career.”

No. Success is not achieved by those who blame. Success is achieved by those who take responsibility and assume that there is something they can do about any problem they face in life. While others are blaming their boss, their parents, their campers, or their staff, these people are taking radical responsibility and taking every challenging situation and asking themselves key questions like:

1. What could I have done better?

2. What am I going to learn from this?

3. How can I make this better tomorrow?

So today the challenge is to make a list of solutions to all the problems that came up today. Because anyone who has done camp for one year or for forty can tell you there will always be problems on the first day.

So today make a list with two columns. On one column write down everything that went wrong, and on the second column write down everything that you're going to try and do tomorrow to solve that problem.

Make sure you do this today as the last thing you do before you leave your camp office. We are going to use this list tomorrow morning.

Good luck and we’ll see you tomorrow..

40-Days of Inspiration/ Day 2

Congratulations you made it through day one!

Remember whatever happened yesterday, that today is an opportunity to do even better. Growth is not an option for any biological organism, and it is certainly not an option for you. When something stops growing it begins dying, and it is the same thing for your camp and programs.

There must always be growth, and there must always be forward momentum. An old saying says that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Remember that every day you are going to choose to take responsibility, and every day you are going to get a little better and better. Before you know it you will be an expert in your field teaching and leading others.

Learn to enjoy being a beginner. No matter where you are on your journey, learn to adopt the beginners mindset. A beginner is teachable, open to instruction, looking for help, starving for insight, and eager to change, excited to learn, and ready to thrive.

Take out your list from the night before and go over it. Look at it and ask yourself this question from our friend Gary Keller who is the author of The One Thing:

“What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Look at your list and I guarantee that there is one thing on that list that is more important than anything else on that list. Usually there is also some type of resistance to that task as well. Learn to pay attention to whatever it is that you know you must do but do not want to do. Once you have identified your most important item on your list, that now becomes your one thing for today. That one thing is what you need to do first today, before you do anything else. After you finish whatever your morning routine is, and gotten your team settled that is what you need to do first.

Forget about email now or paperwork (unless that is honestly your one thing for today), and finish that task first. Maybe there is a conversation that you have been putting off. Maybe there is a system or a process that needs to be put into place ASAP.

Whatever it is, do it quickly and before you earn the right to do anything else that day. Get it done quickly and effectively before you allow yourself to do anything else.

Get in the habit of doing this every day. Every evening write down what went wrong that day, and one solution. Either how to create a system so whatever went wrong can never happen again, or what you can do differently to solve the problem.

Then every morning do this one thing first, and you will be amazed at how creating this one habit will positively affect all aspects of your life.

This is the real secret of successful people. They learn how to execute on their most important activity first before they do anything else. They are no better or smarter then you. They are just better at thinking through their most important tasks first, and then they execute on those most important tasks first before they do anything else.

Like Brian Tracy said in his book Eat That Frog. If you needed to eat one living frog a day alive, slimy, and wriggling. It would be better to do it first thing in the morning. So that way you didn’t have to stress out about it all day, and you would have the rest of the day free to do other things knowing that your hardest task had already been accomplished.

So today and every day from now on: Eat that frog!

40-Days of Inspiration/ Day 3

Welcome to day three!

Congrats of getting a handle of your own responsibilities and your number one task every day. Make sure to continue to doing this every evening and every morning execute your one thing FIRST, before you earn the right to do anything else.

Today we want to talk about the value of creating systems.

In our experience we have noticed two types of camp directors (or youth developers). One is the camp director who spends their days running from emergency to emergency. They are putting out metaphorical fires (and real fires as well) all of the time. They are so busy taking care of all of the emergencies that happen every day.

Most likely they are not reading this post, or listening to anything that is helping them develop as a human being. They have no time to do any of this. If you share with them this or any other great site, resource, video, or podcast you are using, then they will snicker and say something about how it must be nice to be able to pause and reflect. They will marvel at your luck at having a camp calm enough where you are able to actually take a breath. They are way too busy.

Then there are camp directors who take the time out to create systems and procedures, so that when fires and emergencies happen they never happen again (or at least very rarely). They often work just as hard as the other type of camp director at first, but over time they have much more time to perfect the art of running an effective camp.

For instance everyone is regulated by someone. When I ran camps in NYC it was the Department of Health (DOH), the American Camp Association (ACA), our own Association Office (AO), and our Risk and Management Team (who were mostly concerned with us not getting sued).

Because of this we had at least four different pair of eyes who wanted to see different things when they came to our camp. So what did we do. Did we wait until they came to visit us and risk getting shut down or fired because we were missing a critical piece of paper.

No, what we did is we talked to them ahead of time, and we found out exactly what information they needed, and in many situations what order they preferred to have that information in.

We had separate binders for each organization with all of the information they wanted photocopied and in those binders. Was this a lot of work for us on the front end before camp started? You bet it was!

But it freed us to run the best quality camp that we could run. I knew I was the wrong person for that job, knowing that I had a natural allergy to paperwork and creating binders. So guess what I hired someone to do it.

I did not try and get better at something that I hated and did not enjoy. I simply hired for it. But leveraging our strengths and hiring for our weaknesses is something we will cover in a later post.

For now I want you to focus on the fact that when faced with a problem that happens on a regular basis, why not think about creating a system to solve that problem. A system that basically runs itself!

Our system to solve the fact that NYC camps were so highly regulated was binders… lots and lots of binders. Once the binder was created we basically left it on a shelf, and forgot about it. Then on that magical day someone came to regulate us we were able to great them with a smile. We sat them down, and pulled out the correct binder. We handed it over to them confidently knowing that we were about to ace an audit.

What kind of systems can your think of to solve some of the problems that you encounter during your work day. Take a few minutes today and brainstorm on systems you can create to solve some of the common problems you find in your camp or program.

40-Days of Inspiration/ Day 4

Awesome! Your first week is almost over!

You have begun practicing radical responsibility. You have begun to execute on your one thing before you do anything else. And you have begun to think of systems to solve some of your most common problems that you face in camp.

Now we are going to talk to you a little bit about the value of having effective meetings.

Now this is a hard conversation to have, and by this point if we had been hired to help your camp we would already know where you stand on this front. Most people think they do not have to worry about their meetings.

They are most likely having meetings, and they understand the point of them, so there is nothing really needed here… right?

Sadly we have found that this is not norm. Usually we find that either the right type of meetings are not happening, or the meetings that are being held are so ineffective that they are often doing more harm than good. In other words it would be better for most teams to stop having meetings immediately.

No, I’m serious stop the madness now… as in RIGHT NOW!

In his book “Death by Meeting author Patrick Lencioni went into great lengths to illustrate how many companies were having meetings that were not effective and were actually harming their teams ability to get their jobs done effectively.

I once worked for a company where I rose through the ranks rather quickly, mostly because I found the work enjoyable and very fulfilling. However the higher in the company I got the more meetings I was required to attend. It got to the point where half my supposed work time was spent in meetings that did not help me finish the work that I was so fond of.

We basically met to talk about the work instead of actually doing the work. The meetings were more like make sure you do this or that, which was stuff that we all knew we had to do. All it was doing was taking precious hours away from us to actually go out and accomplish things.

This got especially out of hand when certain areas of our organization were struggling. Instead of the higher ups helping out personally those struggling directors and executives, guess what we did. That’s right we had more meetings about what was happening instead of actually spending time solving and working the problem we met to listen to someone in charge have a one way conversation about what the problem was and what we needed to do about it.

In some cases (I wish I could tell you I was kidding) we had meetings about other meetings. It was truly out of control.

But I digress… We are hoping for better things in your case. And this is how we recommend you structure your meetings.

Morning Circle: (5 to 10 minutes)

Every morning before everyone starts the day circle everyone up, and quickly go over the day. There should be no handouts or agendas. Just a quick check in to see how everyone is doing. Set the tone for the day. Remembering that half the battle in any camp is keeping the energy levels high and having a strong motivation. It simply a matter of everyone having a very strong purpose, or having a very strong ‘why’.

This is the time to help inspire people and wake them up to the value of what they are doing here at camp every day. Consider giving them a cool quote to help them frame the day. Give them an opportunity to talk about what they are excited about.

I had one amazing camp director come in every morning with what he called his “Script du jour” or the “scripture of the day”. (We were in a Christian Camp so that was okay.) But every morning he was more concerned with where our hearts were at, then trying to correct some type of problem he was having with us, or to make sure certain paperwork was finished. Yes he gave us important information and updates too, but his primary purpose was to take care of us.

This is also a good time to give out some type of fun challenge for the day (more on this in another post) to get everyone excited about the coming day.

After Camp Circle: (20 to 25 minutes)

Every day after the campers have left circle up your people and give them an opportunity to answer these three questions:

1. What worked well?

2. What didn’t work?

3. What can we do better?

    What worked well: this is a time to celebrate each others triumphs and successes. It is a place where we want to applaud each other. Also, encourage the staff to be on the look-out for greatness that they see in each other, and encourage them to share about the great things they see in each other.

    What didn’t work: after celebrating your success as a team, it’s time to have a frank discussion about what we think did not work well. Let people share either personal struggles they are having, or things they think generally are not working about the way camp is functioning.

    Resist the temptation to correct every single thing and develop a safe atmosphere where people feel like they can be open without fear of retribution from the leadership. This gets easier and easier as time goes on. Expect some blank stares and worried looks the first time you do this exercise, but as people feel safer with your leadership you will be amazed at the great insights from your staff about what is not working.

    What can we do better: now you will lead your staff in a discussion on what we can do better as a team. This can either be about what was brought up before, or just general statement of how we are going to function better as a team.

    The hardest part about this exercise is learning how not to dominate this conversation. It is a delicate balancing act of guiding the group and letting them figure it out on their own.

    Practice not solving problems for them but letting them come up with solutions on their own. This is more an art than a science and we will go over this in more detail in a later post. For now just try and let most of the observations and solutions come from them, and only jump in when they get stuck. Help get conversations moving. Resist at all costs the need most leaders feel to have the last word.

    Also, don’t forget to end on time! Your staff are tired and need to go home!

40-Days of Inspiration/ Day 5

Woo Hoo! You have made it through the last day of camp!

You have started taking radical personal responsibility by reflecting before you leave each evening, and you are beginning to execute on your one thing first thing every morning. You are developing systems to solve common problems and eliminating frustrations. You have either had or are planning out your first effective camp meetings.

Today is all about finishing strong.

Remember when you circle up in the morning don’t forget to express your genuine and heartfelt appreciation for everything your staff has done to make the first week of camp such a success.

In your After Camp Circle give out rewards and thank you gifts to your great and amazing staff. Some items we have used are coffee gift cards, camp gear like shirts and water bottles, or even little fake awards (printed certificates) to thank each person specifically about what they have brought with them to camp that has helped make the first week such a success.

For some of your staff this will be easy, for others you will need to dig deep to find something. Dig deep it is so worth it. For bigger camps you may need to delegate this to the individual group leaders, so it might be important to give them some type of heads up beforehand.

Sketch out for them some of next weeks highlights, and get them excited for all of the great things that are coming up next week. If it is not in the calendar already, schedule an upcoming date that everyone can get together for a small meal outside of camp. Make it optional but strongly encourage everyone to come. If your camp can afford it (most can) then offer to pay for everything. Try and do this at least every other week during the camp season, and if you can swing it try every week.

End your first week of camp on a high, no matter what challenges you have faced that week. Celebrate your successes and set you and your team up for success for the next week.

See you Monday Morning!