What I Learned at Summer Camp - A Lesson in Leadership

What I Learned at Summer Camp – A Lesson in Leadership

How often do you think… “If I only knew then what I know now.” Maybe you’ve said, “If I could replay that moment or experience or situation, I would do so much of it differently, or have a different perspective, or a different approach.”

Due to a variety of COVID-related circumstances I have spent most of this summer living, working at, and working from the summer camp I attended and worked at as a “kid”. Exactly 35 years ago I was the Waterfront Director at Camp Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes in New York State. It has been a fascinating summer. The opportunity to actively reflect, interact and live in the same place, doing many of the same things, in a place that looks and feels almost exactly the same is a true gift.

Well, I did not get to jump back into my 19-year-old body and live in 1986 with an additional 35 years of experience, wisdom, mistakes, and perspective. But, I did get to jump back into the place I spent one of my “best” summers – now 35 years later. In some ways, this summer has felt like a TV Reality Show. It is almost as if I woke up in a dream, I am back at camp, living in the “roost” (a treehouse-like cabin where I am writing this now) and working at the waterfront… but now I am 35 years older and everyone I know is no longer here. All their kids are! The sons and daughters of my friends have grown up and they are now the staff. They look and sound so familiar! They are an amazing group of future leaders who are passionate, motivated, smart, and hard working.

Of note, I am by far the oldest person in camp! And my daughters have been here as staff and campers. Spending the summer with my girls has been a gift! In fact, I have been working with my oldest, college-aged, daughter – and she seems to like being with me.  My amazing wife has been supportive and enjoying some time without me.

Evaluating to Improve Leadership Strategies

While so much is familiar, what is different?

  • My experience and therefore my perspective
  • My reactions and responses
  • My approach and intentional conversations
  • My ability to listen with curiosity and really hear what is being said and not said
  • My enjoyment of watching others learn, fail, succeed and evolve
  • My awareness of my impact on others
  • My insights into what I would like to do and what I will actually do instead
  • My understanding that it is not always about me… as much as I want everything to be about me
  • My ability to teach, share, help, support
  • My desire to empower others

Have I changed?

At my core, I am still the same – my preferences, natural style, motivating needs, etc.  And… I have learned quite a bit in the past 35 years. It has come together recently. My understanding of myself, my impact on others, my responses, and my reactions.

Do I still want to drive results, take charge, tell people what to do and get it done now! YES – ABSOLUTELY. Have I learned that there are many ways to accomplish these same goals? 100%!

Leadership Coaching – Lessons Learned

What have I learned?

  • I can ask instead of tell
  • I can listen with curiosity
  • I can provide input after probing to see if input is wanted or needed
  • I can do nothing – often the best response – and others will fill in and have a better solution
  • I can facilitate and debrief
  • I can teach and share
  • I can be calm and rational

I learned about myself!

Being back in this amazing place has allowed me to live in my own social science experiment with camp as the control and I am the test subject, time and experience have been the catalyst. Boy, has there been a lot of change and I am happy to say, I have developed some excellent learned behaviors that are having a very positive impact for me and those around me!

I learned you can go back… and it is different and interesting, yet you must be intentional to fully engage and participate.


Author: David Lunken

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