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Henderson County Young Leaders Program: A Page from Corporate America’s Executive Development Playbook
“Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, sensitive or assertive, but about a set of attributes. First and foremost is character.” — Warren Bennis, American scholar, organizational consultant, and author
The Starting Line
Beginning in 2010, the Henderson County Young Leaders Program (HCYLP) began a journey to find the tools and techniques that would enable it to better understand and measure the impact of its programs. This need was driven by two forces. One was the organization’s objective to augment anecdotal indicators of success with more objective, fact-based “evidence.” Hand in hand with this goal was the commitment to further refine and enhance our program curriculum and delivery capabilities so we could identify and validate each program’s outcomes on a near- and longer-term basis. It’s our belief that this information will not only help HCYLP in telling its story and enhancing fundraising, enabling it to serve more youth, but also in generating some universal facts about what camp brings to the table as a major player in the youth development process.
With our goals clearly in mind, the challenge was where to start and how to proceed.
HCYLP serves approximately 200 youth annually in grades three to twelve through its weekend and week-long camps and its two school-year programs — Pathmakers (grades four to eight) and LEAD (grades nine to twelve). Additionally, each year, Henderson County and Western North Carolina camps generously donate summer scholarships to more than twenty HCYLP Young Leaders so that they can enjoy addi-tional and extended residential camp expe-riences. Approximately 75 percent of our participants are eligible for the National School Lunch Program and receive free or reduced-cost lunches at school. These are youth with great promise who lack the economic means to access the rich devel-opmental resources in our own commu-nity. In addition to collaborating with the Western North Carolina camp community, HCYLP partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County and Henderson County Public Schools.
Simply put, camp is an ideal leadership laboratory. As an organization, our focus is on youth development, and through a progression of residential camp, mentoring, and monthly education experiences during the school year, we provide unique opportunities for building character, good citizenship, leadership, and resourcefulness in young people.
Picking the Best Path Forward
Understanding that building a credible and meaningful program measurement system is a challenging task, it quickly became apparent that we needed to build missing infrastructure that would undergird, integrate, and focus our programs. One piece of the building process was to define what a leader is in terms of our programs and targeted youth:
An HCYLP Young Leader is one who focuses, motivates, and guides him/her-self and others to set and achieve goals, whether working independently or within a team, and does so by continuously learning, practicing, and applying behaviors and skills that make him or her, and those involved in shared activities, ever more effective, contributing, caring, responsible, and promising young citizens and future leaders within the community.
The next piece was a bit more complicated and involved building a leadership model that would specify the competencies that our camps and school-year programs would target for development. (See Additional Resources below.) An easy way to think about this is through the sport of bowling. If each of the ten pins were thought of as competencies, such as confidence, accountability, and so on, you could visually see how many you hit when you threw the ball down the lane for score-keeping purposes. But if there were no pins to aim at and hit, you couldn’t keep score.
A leadership model works somewhat the same way. You define and take aim at what you are targeting for development, you deploy your program resources (content and delivery) in the best way possible to achieve the learning objectives, and then you measure the results. That’s all easy to say, but it’s challenging and rewarding to do in an effective manner.
HCYLP started designing its own leadership model based upon proven and highly effective work developed for private sector corporations seeking to cultivate talent within their managerial and executive ranks. We asked ourselves: Why couldn’t this same approach to leadership develop-ment be utilized for youth and supported by age-relevant, skill-building activities delivered within the environments we have at hand? We determined that it could. That is the path we went down in 2010, and it has proven to be an excellent choice.
Another Opportunity for Collaborating, Strengthening the Team, and Closing the Distance to the Finish Line
With several iterations of our own leader-ship competency model and accompanying evaluation tools in hand, in 2011 HCYLP reached out to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) to discuss a partner-ship to bring best practices to bear on its youth leadership development programs, its model, and its infrastructure. Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, CCL is a world-renowned global provider of leader-ship development and executive education. Through several meetings during 2012, it became clear that HCYLP’s emerging vision and that of CCL’s were aligned. Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Henderson County, we were able to enter into a contract with CCL for collaboration between our two organizations.
What We Have Completed
Thus far, the following pieces of our new infrastructure have been completed:
HCYLP’s Leadership Model (“1.0 version”). After we have at least one year’s experience with the model, we’ll more than likely make ongoing improvements. (See Figure 1.)
HCYLP’s Leadership Competency Definitions, which are aligned with CCL’s early/youth leadership library of competencies.
CCL’s Toolkit Training of Trainers (TOT) for three HCYLP attendees (all core team members of the model development team). The Early Leadership Toolkit is full of experiential content materials and tools, which we are now methodically integrating into all of our programs. (See Additional Resources below.)
HCYLP Logic Model. The process through which this program planning and evaluation tool was developed and utilized helped us describe and ensure the effective linkages and positive outcomes of our programs. Interestingly, the American Camp Association (ACA) has done extensive work in this area and offers an array of excellent tools to its members. (See Additional Resources below.)
Fine-tuned selection and evaluation forms for Young Leaders entering into and participating in our programs, including self-evaluation tools. The forms development process was based on a strategy that substantiates, to the best of our ability, the outcomes we believe we are achieving through our programs for the youth we are serving.
Database management system and reporting. Another partner that so generously supports us is CampMinder. We are using their software to track our Young Leaders and their related information. We are also using this system to track the results of our Leadership Competency Model efforts. By design, we report our impact by groups or “classes” as they move through our programs, not on an individual level.
The Finish Line Is in Sight
Our first full year of data collection is underway, but that doesn’t mean we are done. It means that we’ll keep collecting data and learn how we can continually improve our HCYLP Leadership Model, programs, support systems, and tools so that our youth with great promise are tomorrow’s outstanding citizens and future leaders.
The Power of Pooling Our Resources
HCYLP is built on a model of collaboration in all that it does. We share our results with the camps that so generously provide our youth scholarships and support our organization. Clearly, the concepts and tools described in this article are transferrable. And the Community Foundation of Henderson County has asked us to report back on our progress and results with the hope that our work can be shared with other nonprofit youth development organizations that might benefit from our efforts, which we will gladly do.
One hope in writing this piece is to reach others who might be interested in going down this path and forming a network to share and collaborate. Perhaps by pooling our energies and resources we might be able to make even greater progress toward identifying the positive outcomes of camp as it relates to youth development, further refining and measuring leader- ship competencies in residential camps and camp-oriented organizations, becoming even more focused and effective in developing young leaders and leadership skills in camp settings, and communicating the youth development impact within the camp environment. Perhaps there could be value in building or pooling camp community-driven competency definition libraries, models, and more. Collaboration is a competency in the HCYLP Leadership Model, and it’s one that has no boundaries. For more information about HCYLP and its youth leadership model, contact Diane Jacober, executive director, 828.697.2000, or via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warren Bennis. www.warrenbennis.com
Author’s Note: Special thanks to designer Jean Hura for collaborating on and greatly enhancing the HCYLP Leadership Model illustration in this article.
Robin Hamme, retired, was the senior vice president/human resources and corporate officer of a publicly traded manufacturing company. Among her corporate HR responsibilities were leadership development and bench strength planning. Robin serves on the HCYLP board and co-chairs its program committee.
Originally published in the 2013 September/October Camping Magazine.