Saturday, March 14, 2009

The importance of soft (serve) skills...

I debated posting this picture on the interwebs, I mean it's not something I would toss right up on Facebook or anything. I don't consider myself the most photogenic person, but this one is pretty embarrassing. But, I'm going to do it, will make this big sacrifice for my blog. That's how much you mean to me... blog.

Anyway, what's the picture all about anyway? This picture was taken in the summer of 1999 at the overnight camp that I worked at in northern Wisconsin. I was a division leader for the 16 year old group, so I directed a staff of about 10 adults and around 65 16 year olds. The kids put on a play every summer, and the night of the play after everything is over the kids get an ice cream party. Along with this tradition, comes the custom of having an ice cream fight in the dining hall where the ice cream party is held. It's probably the thing the kids look forward to most, they are so wired from the play that the ice cream fight is an excellent way to release some energy. But, of course the camp director and some of the other higher-ups would prefer that this not happen. And, as a member of the staff I should follow the camp directors wishes and make sure this doesn't happen. Well, as you can see by the picture, I didn't. And, this is the one picture from my 6 years working at that camp that I keep in a frame on my dresser and probably look at every morning.

Why is this picture so significant? It reminds me of the importance of moderation in all things, of having structure and holding to the rules when it's critical to do so, but also making sure to have fun and enjoy the moment when it's meant to be enjoyed. I remember thinking about whether I should let the kids have the ice cream fight and how long I should let it go, and then how I should end things and make sure they clean up, etc. I remember times when the fight got shut down immediately and the kids yelled at, and this only made the kids want to get into more trouble, which they did later that night. So, I discreetly got the word out to some of the kids earlier in the day that I was going to let them have their ice cream fight for a little while, and then shut it down when I thought it was the appropriate time. I told them that I wanted them to be responsible about it and be good about cleaning up and not doing anything crazy around the camp that night. I think they appreciate that I trusted them and had respect for what they wanted. So, the evening went pretty well, the fight went for a few minutes (sounds likes short time, but when you have chocolate syrup in your hair, its plenty of time!) and then I stopped it. The kids were great about cleaning up, and the rest of the night was quiet.

I'd like to think that this decision gave me nice brownie points with these kids, and it was important for me to win their respect. In situations I've worked in, it's important for me to feel trusted and respected, so I want to make sure to return that to those who I'm working with. I could never understand why people would use their position as division leader (or project manager) as a way to pull a power trip and talk down to and show little respect to their group. Just seems counterproductive, and then you don't get to have ice cream dripping down your shirt and a room full of very happy 16 year olds.

Funny, through and after college so many people I know went off to do very impressive sounding summer internships, and I spent 6 summers as a leader of kids and adults at an overnight camp in Wisconsin. This was probably the best soft skills training I could have had, and the ice cream incident is just one example of why.

No comments: