I talk a lot about fun & cute ways to support your staff, shout out walls, warm fuzzies, etc. but the most important way to support your staff is to actually, physically, be there for them. Let them know that you’re available to talk – or listen
if when they need it. Then, actually BE available!
I know that as a camp director you have tons of work to do, ESPECIALLY as a new camp director… sometimes you feel like you have too many balls in the air, I totally get it.
I start during training session, I tell that staff that my ACD and I can be their “people” and that if they’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, confused, or any other emotion that makes them feel icky, they can come find us and we’ll talk, hug, scream, eat our feelings… whatever it is that they need.
Some camp directors are great at scheduling office hours to keep themselves on track and so staff know when they’re available to chat. That’s not one of my strengths. My guess is that that type of system would work better for bigger camps with hundreds of staff and large leadership teams.
I run a small camp, I wear a lot of hats (figuratively AND literally – I really like hats!) so one minute I can be submitting payroll, the next I can be helping wash dishes, and the next I can be hanging out with a counsellor and their camper who just needed a little down time. So I have to make sure I carve out time to check in with staff, and to let them know that even though I may LOOK busy – I’m never too busy for them.
Walk with me
Sometimes, counsellors just want to check in. They want to update you on something, or they want to run something by you. I like to keep these conversations brief if I can, if it’s not confidential or sensitive, then we can chat for a moment while we stand in the hallway, or I’ll ask them to walk with me to wherever I’m headed.
Pro tip: Conversations and meetings end faster if you’re standing. Don’t get too comfortable, you’ll stay there longer.
I’ve recently been invited to train with a group called #TeamMyles for the Blue Nose Marathon (let me be clear, I am NOT currently training for a marathon… my goal is to run a 5k without dying, but the 5k is part of the Blue Nose Marathon) the idea is that they take regular people and teach them how to run.
We just had our second run yesterday, and I struggled… but do you know what made it easier? Our coach and mentors checked in with us during the run.
They were so stealthy about their check-ins, that I didn’t even catch on at first. Our coach ran alongside me and another woman for a little while chatting with us about vacation, the weather, etc. and every so often he’d say “how are you feeling? You’re doing great!” which I really appreciated because our first run was up and down a large hill… and to say I struggled is an understatement. After he moved on to chat with another team member, two of our mentors “happened along” and chatted with us, slipping some encouraging comments in along the way.
It’s such a super, amazing, fantastic feeling to know that you’re supported. That somebody has your back. This is especially true for new staff members who are constantly wondering if they’re doing it right, doing a good job, doing enough. Just a quick, “hey, how’s your day going? I saw that you started a dance party while you waited for swim to start, that’s awesome! Great job!” can really mean a lot to a counsellor, especially one who might be feeling a little unsure or insecure.
Pro tip: A specific compliment is aways better than a vague “good job”
Even something like “your campers seem like they’re having a really great time, that’s on you man” is better than “good job”
Sometimes when your staff come to talk to you, they’re not really looking for advice, they’re just looking for someone to listen.
In those moments (if it’s not a “walk with me” situation) it’s important to give them your undivided attention. Don’t check your phone, or email, or have side conversations with others – shut the door, give them privacy, and listen.
If you’re like me, you like to fix things. I’m someone who sees a problem and I immediately go into ‘fix-it’ mode, if I know what needs to be done to fix it, then I want to jump in there and just get it done to move on to the next thing.
But that’s not always a great approach when it comes to people.
What I’ve learned to do over the years is listen first. Just listen.
Then instead of launching in with all of my words of wisdom, I’ve started asking things like “how can I help?”, “what can I do?” or “what do you need from me?”
Pro tip: Always paraphrase what they’ve said first, “ok, what I’m hearing is that you’re upset that your co-staff keeps undermining your decisions in front of the campers, how can I help?”
“Your mom said that there’s a family emergency? I’m so sorry to hear that, what do you need from me right now?”
They might not want your advice, maybe they just wanted to vent a little about their co-staff, and then they’re going to go talk to them when they’re calm and collected. Maybe they just need some time to go call their mom to find out what’s going on at home. Maybe they just need an ear and a shoulder to cry on.
Bonus pro tip: I learn a lot from my counsellors (and campers!) and listening is a great way to learn, let’s never assume that we know more than them just because we have different titles.
I once read a LinkedIn article written by a CEO who was asked to lunch by one of his interns, he described the lunch and all of the pearls of wisdom he dropped on this intern over the course of the meal. He was so proud of himself for letting this intern buy him lunch and imparting all that wisdom.
Then I read the comment section (I ALWAYS read the comment section, sometimes I regret it… this is not one of those times) and a bunch of other CEO’s were like “dude, you’re a wiener. The kid asked to take you out to lunch, you should have at least let him speak. Stop being so arrogant, maybe you could have learned something from your intern.” (Ok, ok, you caught me, I’m paraphrasing…)
But the point is that all of those other leaders recognized the value of listening, and not being a wiener.
Get out of the office. Be around. Be available.
I know it’s not always possible, but when you can, roam around, play a game, make a craft. It makes it a lot easier for you to check in with staff if you’re actually around. It makes it easier to have standing meetings or convos if you’re not already sitting behind your desk, and it makes it easier for staff to learn your signals, that if you’re at your desk you’re wearing your “office hat” and it will cut down on the temptation for staff to ‘hang out’ in the office as well.
So there ya go, some tips on how to be available for your staff. No one is perfect, least of all me, so I know that these aren’t always doable, but they’re something to work towards.
And hey, another bonus pro tip: all of these methods work for campers too!! Fancy that!
How do you make sure you’re available for your staff/ campers? Tell me about it in the comment section below.