What Business Professionals Can Learn From Camp Counselors

Think back to the carefree days of summer camp. Remember the excitement of meeting your counselor? If a counselor jumped into an icy-cold creek, it’s likely the rest of the campers followed. Your counselor had the entire cabin cheerfully scrapping dried spaghetti off plates as part of clean-up duties. A majority of the camp experience correlated to the counselor’s attitude and behavior. In the same way, the leadership style of camp counselors transfers over to the world of business also.

Camp counselors display leadership. They are the ones saying, “Let’s get this cabin cleaned up so we can win the Pink Flamingo award!” Yes, the familiar “Management by Walking Around” has its merit. Yet it also takes a leader to make suggestions, set an example and actually do something to inspire employees and attendees. As a professional speaker, I frequently work with business people. A few months ago, I arrived early to set up my props for my keynote. The meeting planner and her committee stood in the ballroom, deciding where to place balloons for decorations. She asked questions such as, “Should we put balloons around the head table?” What do you think about balloons next to the main door? Should the red balloons be separate from the blue ones?” “Anyone have any ideas?” Well meaning as she was, attendees were waiting to enter the room while 200 balloons waited to get blown up and placed around the room. Sometimes business professionals are so busy making sure they work as a “team” that no one takes a leadership role. Someone with camp counselor leadership would encourage some discussion, and then say, “Look, we have 20 minutes to get these balloons up before people arrive. Jeff and Marion, would you take half these balloons and put them by the entrance? The other half can be placed around the head table. Thanks! ” In some cases, leadership simply means taking control and delegating people to do certain tasks.

Camp counselors encourage risk taking. It’s a good thing mothers aren’t at camp to see their children harnessed on a zip line zooming across a canyon. Instead of telling children, “be careful”, camp counselors are yelling, “You can do it!” Way to go!” Counselors encourage risk taking. Job seekers at Microsoft are frequently asked, “What kind of risks did you take on your last job? What did you learn from that experience?” Microsoft looks for people willing to take a risk, knowing it could result in a new product or service. Are brainstorming sessions at work predictable and well… a little boring? Show your employees are willing to take risks. Jimmy Johnson, a coach for the Dallas Cowboys said “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?”

Camp Counselors are fun! When a counselor is placidly floating in an inner tube, only to be tipped by a group of ten-year-olds, what does he do? A camp counselor laughs, spits water from his mouth and begins dunking all the campers within reach. The water churns with flailing arms, tipped inner tubes and peals of laughter. For the next week, campers giggle and say, “Wasn’t that cool how we snuck up behind Steven and tipped him from the inner tube?” The group has a lasting bond, knowing they shared a fun experience together. I’ve worked with groups where people are hesitant to ask their supervisor a question because he or she is so stressed out. Try putting some fun back into the workplace. This doesn’t mean everyone must wear red noses and blow kazoos. How about asking people to come to a staff meeting with a picture of their favorite pet? Put up a bulletin board so people can display pictures of their new cat or their beloved Rover wearing a pointed party hat. Give out simple awards such as a Good and Plenty candy bar to someone for always having plenty of good ideas. Celebrate some untraditional holidays such as National Bubble Wrap Day or Ugly Tie Day. A bit of fun and light-hearted humor goes a long way to increase attendee productivity and enjoyment.

Next time you are looking to improve your leadership skills, why not invite a college student who was a camp counselor last summer to lunch? Have them share their insight in how they manage to inspire, educate and motivate groups of energetic children. The counselor’s tips might help you inspire, educate and motivate fellow employees.

BIO: Silvana Clark is a business speaker, encouraging businesses to reduce stress and increase productivity by adapting the “Camp Counselor” style of management. Her lively, interactive training sessions give practical ideas on motivating staff and incorporating humor in the workplace. S’mores included!