What I learned at summer camp. Really.

30 Oct

This past summer I was a first-year facilitator at our Rotary Disctrict 5580 Camp RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award). At that camp, we were trained in a facilitator role of letting the youth run the camp. What that meant is that, on many levels, the direction of discussion and the planning and accomplishment of activities and tasks was put upon the youth, accomplished high school juniors and seniors. As I expressed it at one point, they are the ball rolling toward the pins, maybe hitting a strike, maybe hitting one pin; we are simply the bumpers that pop up to stop the ball from ending up in the next lane over.

As long time camp director Marty Byrnes noted, our job as facilitators is to empower the youth to become leaders, or even greater leaders than they are now, and further, leaders that empower others. As one of the camp speakers also noted in a presentation, leaders empower others; a leader is not a leader unless they empower others.

That camp experience had a lot of impact on me. In my role as a Taekwondo Master Instructor, I know that I can lead a good class and offer instruction, direction and insights that help students of all levels, white belt through black belts ranks.  However, if I simply do that, if I simply instruct and guide (even if it does offer an example that can be followed), my abilities begin and end with me.

Coming out of Camp RYLA, it occurred to me more vividly than ever that my task and role at this age, level and experience is to empower my black belt assistants to be leaders, and leaders that are then able to empower others after them. To whatever extend I have been leading, mentoring and guiding them, I — and they — have to switch modes to one in which they more fully see themselves as leaders, and feel empowered in that role. My primary role is to empower then to succeed in that role.

I’ve never served in the military, but when I’ve looked around my schools, I’ve sometimes wondered if we turn out better soldiers than officers, better students than leaders. Of course that varies widely by student, but my point, my wondering, remains: in what ways, particularly when we talk about black belts of varying ranks, do we continue to train good soldiers, good students, and neglect to properly develop and empower good officers, good instructors, good leaders of the future. Leaders that are fully empowered to successfully carry on what we do.

There is a lot more I can, and will, write about this in the future. It’s critical, not only in our Taekwondo schools, but in many institutions, from schools to businesses. In summary, I would offer this: if you are a director, manager, owner, instructor, executive, we need to ask ourselves if we are truly being LEADERS, leaders in the sense of truly empowering others to become strong leaders of the future, leaders who can serve well and who can empower others to be and do likewise. We can’t take it for granted that we are doing so. In fact, I venture to say that the more we assume we are naturally do doing so by virtue of our role, responsibilities or authority, the more likely we might be failing at that task. Leadership is not an accident and leadership can’t be taken for granted. It must be worked at, carefully and diligently. Wow, that’s a lot of work.

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