Succession Planning: Raising Up the Next Generation of Leaders

by Kurt R. Podeszwa

What will this industry look like in twenty years? That depends on us. That's right; don't look over your shoulder to see who else is going to step up. As leaders of youth, we know that we shape the future. But how much thought have you put into how you will shape the future of your organization and our industry?

Empowering the next generation of leaders will make our organizations stronger as we train others to handle our responsibilities when we are not there. As role models, we can help shape our developing industry, and by offering professional development, we will keep our own skills fresh. This is not something that just happens. Raising up the next generation of leaders needs to be as intentional as the goals and outcomes we set for our campers. In order to offer intentional experiences to help staff develop, we have to overcome barriers in our way of thinking and in our organizational processes. One barrier is the loss of control. If someone else is doing it, he or she may do it differently or it may not work as effectively as the way you do it. Of course, another consequence is that it may be better than your way. A lack of resources can also be a barrier to building up our organization and industry. Resources can include staff: How do I train someone if I am the only full-time staff? Lack of resources can also be about money: How do I get professional development for someone else when my organization doesn't have the budget? These barriers do exist; but as creative camp people, we can recognize and overcome them.

Intentionally focusing on the development of young leaders may sound like a noble cause, but it's more than that. Your first responsibility is to your organization, and when you develop leaders internally, you make your organization stronger.

Raising Up Your Organization by Raising Up Leaders

How easy is it for you to leave your camp during the summer? Are there days or times when you have to be on-site or camp will not function effectively? This does not make you a great leader. In fact, if your organization would be lost without you, you have some work to do.

We have a responsibility to create an environment in our organization where people are empowered and encouraged to make decisions. When we have trained the leaders in our organization effectively, the organization will not be lost without us.

So, how do we do this? How do we make the transition?

First, make a list of the things that only you can handle. That list will differ from camp to camp, but some commonalities include parents, donors, schedule changes, inclement weather programs, tours, etc. Sit down with your leadership staff and find out what on that list they think they could work on — then let them. Of course, you need to mentor them in this process, but give them control. Give advice, answer questions, and get out of the way. Your organization will be stronger if it does not rely completely on you.

In order for staff to grow, we have to allow them to make mistakes. That means that we need to allow them to take risks, make changes to things, and have ownership over pieces of the camp program. Of course, we need to advise and adjust, but just like with campers, sometimes the best lesson is when something is tried and does not work perfectly, because then it can be adjusted and made better. Remember, we are referring to leadership staff — those who we are mentoring toward a career in camp.

Potential for Staff Development

There are different levels of potential for staff development.

Senior seasonal leaders usually have three to four years of college, have grown into leadership positions in your organization, and are making a decision about camp and recreation as a career. There are many professional development opportunities to offer these staff, but one of the most difficult is to encourage them to get an experience working at another camp. Yes, it means losing great staff, but in the end, they will be better camp professionals because of their experience working at different camps. If they end up in a career position at your camp, you have staff with more experience. If they end up somewhere else, you have helped our industry grow.

Another opportunity is at the intern level — a student or someone who has just graduated from college and is seeking experience. An intern can be someone who has worked at your camp before, or someone who an encouraging camp director from another camp has suggested get a different experience. The key with interns is that they are able to focus on specific leadership goals. In addition to helping the camp complete their mission, there needs to be intentional opportunities for interns to learn, lead, grow, and develop a portfolio of projects and experiences that help prepare them for a career in camping.

Finally, new full-time staff should be given opportunities for development as well. Sometimes these staff members are overlooked because they have achieved full-time employment. However, new staff also need to be mentored and encouraged to grow professionally. For many staff, this is their first full-time position, and you can help them learn how to be a camp professional. This is an important lesson; we know that there is a big difference between a seasonal camp position and full-time camp professional. We need to make sure we are facilitating the discovery of this difference with our staff.

Common Mistakes

Just as we intentionally empower and encourage staff, we often inhibit our future leaders by disempowering and discouraging them unintentionally. Here are some common mistakes we make in the things that we say and do — mistakes we need to avoid making if we want to encourage our next generation of leaders.

"Young staff these days want everything now; they do not want to pay their dues."

Have you heard this? Maybe you have even said it. Well it's true, and it's ok. We are not a secret society with a special handshake.

Everyone "pays dues" to succeed; it's just that as the times change, so do the "dues." We hire staff not because they are like us, but because they have something to offer. We need to allow staff to teach us new things.

"That's not how I did it."

We teach our staff to be creative, think differently, and try new things. We want them to do this because we want them to pass this along to our campers. This means that we have to allow staff to try things a different way. In addition, if what they tried does not work exactly the way we like, we need to help them figure out if their idea can work in a different way — instead of just going back to the old way of doing things. A high percentage of the best ideas at my camp have come from young staff trying to help our camp continue to improve.

"I tried that; it didn't work."

How long ago did you try it? Why didn't it work? If you thought it was worth trying before, maybe it is worth trying again in a different way. Instead of just telling staff that something does not work, tell them why it didn't work, and then brainstorm to see if there is a way around that problem. We are in the business of helping people learn to think out of the box, so I encourage you not to make new boxes.

These are all ways of thinking that we are not even aware of sometimes. In order for us to develop staff, we need to give them opportunities and then help them succeed. When our staff succeeds, we succeed, the camp succeeds, and most importantly, our campers have a better experience.

Provide Opportunities for Professional Development

There are many ways to provide professional development: from conferences and trainings offered by the American Camp Association (ACA), Association for Experiential Education, Association for Challenge Course Technology, and others, to those offered by local businesses and service clubs. When you encourage staff to get involved, they grow, and your organization gets noticed.

ACA's Professional Development Center (PDC) provides opportunities for staff professional development at reasonable costs (visit www.ACAcamps.org/pdc). ACA also offers special rates for directors wishing to give their staff ACA memberships — a great way to get them on the right path for future professional development. ACA also currently offers a special program where directors can give members of their staff memberships for free. Many sections have Young Professional (YP) groups or Emerging Professionals in Camping (EPIC) groups in which staff who are new to the camping industry can be involved. This is a good way for your staff to network with other new staff, as well as learn how other camps operate.

Regional conferences of fer great speakers, and of ten offer group rates for staff to go together. You can find information on regional conferences at ACA's Web site (www.ACAcamps.org/ ACA-conferences). These conferences are also a good opportunity for more experienced staff to present at a conference, but only if you work with them to help make the presentation ef fective and relevant. Just like you would not let them lead staff without guidance, help them with their first presentation.

ACA has other opportunities for staff professional development. In the Midwest, college juniors or seniors who are interested in organized camping as a profession can attend the Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA). This is a weekend conference where a small group of students learn about our industry from veteran camp professionals. These professionals volunteer their time to work as faculty for the weekend, and then become mentors to these up-and-coming professionals. Students have to apply for SCLA and must be sponsored by a camp or a section in order to attend. Visit www.ACAcamps.org/scla for more information.

Of course, conferences and trainings cost money, and that is often a barrier. We are camp professionals, though; we creatively solve problems for a living! So here are some ideas:

I'm personally not a huge fan of credit cards, but we use ours to help with professional development costs. Airfare, hotel, rental cars, and even restaurant gift cards can be purchased with points. Pay some of your bigger camp bills with the credit card, pay it off right away, and your points will add up.

You can also utilize some conference's first time attendee or student discount opt ions. Students can of ten go to conferences at a significantly reduced cost (or in the case of ACA's national convention, for free) if they are student members. That is a good way to gauge their commitment; they pay for the student membership, you use your built-up credit card points to get them to the conference. There are other ways to reduce costs of attending: share rooms, rent a car and drive a large group instead of f lying, and volunteer at the conference. I know that you and your staff can think of other creative ways to reduce costs as well.

One of the best ways to get staff involved doesn't cost anything other than time. Becoming an Accreditation Visitor allows staff to see other camps and learn about the standards and accreditation process. New visitors go on their first visits with more experienced visitors — so in addition to learning about new camps, they network with experienced camp professionals. The added benefit to this is that these staff will have a better understanding of the value of the accreditation process and will help your camp continue to succeed in your own accreditation process.

Another way to of fer professional development to your staff is to encourage them to get involved in your local community. Service organizat ions like Rotary International, Lions Clubs International, Kiwanis International, and BPO Elks of the USA are just some of the many community service organizations available. These organizations serve local as well as national and international communities. The advantage for staff is that they have the opportunity to meet with local business leaders and develop relationships. This involvement will result in positive public relations for your camp. Of course, your community also benefits from your staff 's participation in the organization.

When our camps are in rural communities that do not offer a lot of social outlets for our young staff, the local Jaycees or Junior Chambers of Commerce may help staff meet people at a similar position in life, as well as connect them to the community. Taking your young staff to community and Chamber of Commerce events and fundraisers is another way to get staff involved.

Be Intentional

You can help staff new to this industry develop and grow. The key is to be intentional about how staff professional development happens at your camp. Allowing staff to accept new responsibilities, changing our thought processes about how we look at young staff, and offering staff continuing professional development opportunities will strengthen your camp and our industry. Empowering and encouraging the next generation of camp leaders will prepare them, our camps, and our industry for the future.

Kurt Podeszwa has been a camp professional for over eighteen years. He is the director for Camp For All in Burton, Texas, a camp for children and adults with special needs and chronic illness. Contact Kurt at kpodeszwa@ campforall.org.

Originally published in the November/December 2010 Camping Magazine.

 

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