Leading through Values

When you lead people through values, you give them the tools and agency to make their own choices. Sometimes this will mean a person makes a mistake or has an error in judgement, but for the most part, giving people a set of values to hold onto is like giving a sea captain a compass. Yeah, you could give them extremely detailed step by step instructions for reading the stars, common and uncommon markings along the shore and across the sea, or you could give them a tool that helps them find a moral north.

At camp we have a couple phrases that we use to guide us through all things. First and foremost (and mentioned within a minute of the official beginning of staff training) is that “Camp is for the Camper”. If what you are doing is not for the campers, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means it isn’t heading in the right direction. Rather than managing individual behaviors, it makes it easy to ask a counselor or squad of goofballs to reconsider if their choices are putting campers first.

One caveat I do have is that there is a moment where the humility and ‘campers first’ mentality begins to head towards dehumanization of the workforce. If you are using your values as a cudgel to get your employees to place their own identity and well-being below that of some larger and unifying goal, then you are risking their health and have a possibility of overextending them.

Therefore it is the job of the manager to be an active curator of values; to balance results and sacrifice; to redirect people before they overextend. We had a bunch of counselors who quickly bonded at the beginning of the summer and started calling themselves the “FOMO Crew” because they were staying up so late together. One the one hand, they were forming bonds together that are sharp and deep. Chemistry that resulted in one of the most powerful and functional cultures of the summer (the Newctown Boys, our very own joke boy-band). But there was a moment where as a manager, several days after I had heard about their tendency to stay up together, where I had to call out several of the boys for their lackluster performance in the morning and discuss (somewhat cheekily, as is my custom) why that was. Rather than reacting with anger at a job undone, I tried to channel their chemistry into something productive. Use your verbal aikido skills to take something that is positive (group chemistry) and ask them to do that positively, rather than living for the nighttime without the kiddos.I think if I had headed off a couple of the boys in 2014 earlier, or had my assistant director do the same thing, there would have been a much more functional culture on that front in 2014 as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s