On Being Direct
by Tim Jenkins
“What’s the problem?” I said.
“We’re out of Oreos,” said Eric, “and I didn’t get any. Did you?”
“No, so we’ve got an issue.”
Our group had already had a tough time cooking dinner at the campsite, showed a lack of teamwork on the trails that day, and now we were dealing with theft. There had been 11 sleeves of Oreos in the bag, three counselors and eight campers, and now two people left without dessert. Come on! I thought. How could you guys be so selfish! What happened to “His need is greater than mine?”
At Camp Pasquaney, we take pride in serving others before ourselves. I did not expect this behavior from our group. You all are the emerging leaders in Camp, and as 15-year-olds you should know better than this!
What to do about it? I had been on the other side of these situations before. I can remember being a kid and watching adults try to resolve issues just like this one, those awkward “we’re not getting off this bus till one of you comes clean” moments that everybody hates and rarely seem to achieve the desired result. Instead of teaching accountability, those confrontations can fail by instead teaching the opposite: if we all just keep our mouths shut no one will be held accountable. But I knew it was my job to try to turn a mistake into an opportunity for education and growth.
I took a moment to compose myself, because I knew this could be an uncomfortable conversation.
“Listen up guys,” I said, “we’ve got an issue.”
There are many wonderful leadership lessons one can take away from a summer as a camp counselor. One lesson I took away from our campsite that day in 2015 was to be direct. In that moment, sugar-coating the situation or dancing around the issue was not going to serve my group. They had already proven lackluster in their efforts at the campsite and on the trail. Lack of personal accountability was hurting our team and now entitlement was rearing its ugly head. The conversation we had that day in the gray twilight of New Hampshire was difficult and awkward but ultimately transformed our group dynamic.
After what felt like an hour but was probably more like 20 minutes of dialogue, two of our campers took full responsibility for their actions and the reconciliation process began. In the hours and days after this moment, the group regained trust and rebounded with a more selfless and enthusiastic effort. Of the many leadership lessons I learned as a camp counselor, the power of being direct is one of the most important.
Tim Jenkins joined El Pomar Foundation as a member of the 2019 Fellowship class. As a Fellow, Tim works on American Council of Young Political Leaders, Fellowship Recruiting, Investment Challenge and the Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program. In addition, Tim supports the Metro and Northeast regions. Read more about Tim here.