What do you expect of your leadership team?

Many things come to mind when trying to answer this question. Our leaders should promote our camp values, facilitate our programming, manage planning and logistics, ensure our schedule and policies are followed, direct and evaluate staff, troubleshoot camper issues . . . the list goes on! We task our summer leadership with the execution of our vision and plans (promises to families, policy/program decisions, camper and staff assignments, etc.) and in trying to meet all of these goals, it can be easy to focus more on “what” needs to be done than “how” it gets done.  

So what are the shortcomings of this approach? It doesn’t include an opportunity to intentionally promote development within our leadership team. If our expectation is only that they will deliver the program and experience we designed, then we overlook a chance to add value for our leaders themselves. In limiting the growth of our leadership, we also limit the growth of the staff supervised by that leadership. Leaders who are too focused on delivering results can be prone to micromanaging, inflexibility, and dictatorial styles — none of which readily lend themselves to their staff learning to problem solve, think creatively and critically and experience leadership and collaboration challenges that they might do otherwise.

Expect More

Leaders should be expected to do more than just execute our schedule or program, but rather to teach and support their staff to do this. We must shift our leadership team’s focus from “get the job done” to “empower staff to get the job done” and expect that our supervisory staff function as coaches and mentors rather than managers. This idea is supported by research demonstrating the significant impact of one person’s expectations on another’s behavior: as this article states, “What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.”

So, thinking bigger and assuming value and competence in your leaders will lead to greater skills development and higher performance at both the leadership and general staff levels. It’s important to add two notes here:

  1. Think positive. The same research shows that if you expect staff to underperform, they will likely perceive that and behave accordingly.
  2. Be realistic. Goals must be attainable, and there is a line between raising your expectations and creating an environment where your staff are likely to fail. Consider what is possible and believe your staff are capable of more . . . just not too much!

Provide More

If our leaders are not equipped to empower and educate their staff, then camps are under-utilizing a valuable resource — their current employees. Cultivating this group of people is vital when trying to address recruitment or high attrition issues; staff who feel pressure to obtain internships in order to build skills, or who feel a little disillusioned, are unlikely to return. Our staff should expect:

  • Continued growth and learning

Leaders who are supported to grow and develop their own skills are much more likely to feel invested in, and valued by, an organization. This is particularly relevant for our younger staff members, either as leaders who are developing important skills or as staff who are experiencing a manager for the first time.

  • Investment in their future

As technology advances, the automation of work will require much less direction from humans, making traditional managerial skills unnecessary. What will be needed are strong human skills; the ability to think creatively, to form relationships and to empower others — so give your leadership the opportunity to practice these now.

How to put this into practice:

  • Clarify the purpose of their role. Let them know what kind of leaders you want them to be, and what outcomes you want to observe. Capitalize on their individual skills and experience — you hired these people for a reason!
  • Raise the bar. Identify a wish list of behaviors you’d like to see from leaders and start working to model and incorporate them.
  • Stretch them. Be intentional about pushing them past their comfort zones so that they experience learning and growth.
  • Hold them accountable. Creating new dynamics and systems to encourage your leaders to empower their staff is one thing, but it only works if you follow through to ensure it happens.
  • Believe in your leaders. There is a tendency to view our staff and their capabilities as limited in some way: they’re too young, they’re too busy, that’s too much work . . . But if you shift your focus to empowering both leaders and staff, it shouldn’t add to their workload but rather change the nature of it. You’ll always get pushback when you change the status quo, but it is worth it. They (and you) can do it!

So, does asking your staff to write a report on every camper, every day seem impossible? Does asking your supervisors to tell staff face to face whether they will be recommending them for rehire sound like too much responsibility? Does requiring your administrators to read every staff evaluation form before their leadership team conducts reviews seem too demanding? I know of camps that do each of these things! The point is not that you should require your own team to do all or any of these things if it isn’t right for your camp, it is simply that more is possible.

Sarah Silverberg is passionate about creating supportive and high performing work environments. After earning a degree in Psychology from Edinburgh University, Sarah gained experience in corporate, nonprofit, and educational sectors before bringing this knowledge to her work with summer camps over the last 15 years. She is director of operations for Camps Kenwood & Evergreen, serves on ACA’s Project Real Job committee and created e21, a program designed to help camps and their staff excel.

If you would like to connect with Sarah, please email Sarah@e21.org.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, MA