Quotable Camp – The Cult of the Director

Cult of the director

The best leaders don’t hoard information and knowledge out of fear of being replaced. They have the confidence to plan for the future, and share information and resources to help others grow. We like to call it our “if I get hit by a bus plan”. A little morbid, I know, but it really gets to the point.

As a camp director or program leader it’s our job to shape the culture of the camp, to create an environment where people understand what’s expected of them on an organizational level, and want to excel because that’s the cultural norm of the camp. It’s fantastic if your staff like, respect, and admire you, in fact that’s also a huge part of being a successful leader, and it makes it a lot easier when getting them to buy in to the camp values. But if they’re following the rules, or doing certain aspects of their job only because you’re their pal and they don’t want to let you down… then you need to re-evaluate your camp culture. They should be doing these things because it’s the right thing to do and if your relationship with them is an added incentive, then great, even better.

The cult of the director is a dangerous dynamic to have at camp. Ever heard of a camp that was doing fantastic and thriving, then the director (or, realistically, another key staff member) moves on and the place quickly falls apart? Yeah, me too. Chances are, the camp had created a cult like following around that leader, the staff, campers, parents, and board members, probably loved him/her and they were most likely great at their job. But they failed to create the processes and norms that would sustain all of the good they created during their tenure, they most likely stored important information in their brain instead of on a thumb drive or in a binder and when they were gone, so was all of the good they did.

Staff and campers need to be invested in the program, not in one individual.

Ask yourself this, if you were hit by a bus tomorrow, how difficult would it be for someone to step in and carry on the program in your absence (… while you were recuperating – because we don’t want to be TOO morbid!) because after all, any leader worth his salt makes it their main priority to create a sustainable program.
Would a complete stranger, having never worked at your camp be able to take over and be successful?
Probably not, and that’s ok, because you can’t write everything down but would someone from within your organization be able to step in and make a go of it? If the answer is no, then you should start working on your own “if I get hit by a bus plan” to ensure that your organization and program can be great without you.

Now ask yourself, are my campers and staff invested in the program, or are they invested in me? Here are some questions to help you figure it out:

What happened last time you had to leave the site, or put someone else in charge while you were occupied? Did the staff act like students with a substitute teacher?
That should be a red flag. Staff should be able to want to do their jobs exceptionally well regardless of who’s in charge, because after all, it should be about the campers.

Do you have staff who were once your campers, and are (embarrassingly) obvious about the hero worship they have for you?
It might be time to remind them that you’re just a human being, and that their loyalty needs to be with the camp and not you.

Do staff or campers bad mouth other colleagues, your board, or larger organization and say things like “if it wasn’t for you…”?
Yikes. That should be a big, flashing lights, whistles blowing, red flag.

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you need to re-evaluate what you want for your program, do you plan on never retiring, living forever, or directing as a spirit from beyond? No? Then you need to plan for that. It doesn’t even have to be a succession plan, because, I know, you’re not going anywhere any time soon. But create an environment and a culture where everyone (especially you) feels comfortable sharing knowledge, encourages each other to step up, and puts the campers first. THEN you’ll have a great organization as Jim Collins describes it.

Final thoughts:

  • Jim Collins (the author of the quote) is awesome! I just discovered him, and I’m psyched about it. Check out his website http://www.jimcollins.com/index.html
  • The Global Leadership Summit (that’s listed at the bottom of the quote) is a religious summit (I googled it!) if that’s your thing, check it out. http://www.willowcreekglobalsummit.com
  • If the “if I get hit by a bus plan” is too dark for you, feel free to change it to one that suits you. I recommend the “if I get abducted by aliens plan” or “if I get trapped in an outhouse plan” I won’t recommend the “if I won the lottery plan” because I know that this is exactly what you’d be doing even with millions of dollars – just in better clothes (brighter tie dye?)

What do you think? Is an organization only great if it is sustainable?
Do you think that the cult of the director is a negative thing? Or just a regular part of camp culture?
Do you have a suggestion for a lighter, fluffier name for the “if I get hit by a bus plan”?

Tell me about it in the comment section below!! And don’t forget to find me on social media, just click to follow.

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Categories: Quotable Camp | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Quotable Camp – The Cult of the Director

  1. Pingback: Listables – It’s a roundup – of books! | The Camp Nerd

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