I have been given the opportunity to be the Camp Director for my ward at Church. Camping isn’t always my favorite thing in the world, but working with the young women in my Church, there is almost nothing better (Seminary is right up there with it)! I have had the opportunity many times over the years to work with the youth (12 to 18 years old) in my Church, and there has always been a consistent theme when organizing and running the youth programs. The Youth are in charge. Now, they aren’t just out there doing whatever they want, there are guidelines that they need to follow. But they are, in theory, supposed to come up with the ideas, and execute them on their own. However, there’s a reason we as adults are called to help them. They don’t exactly know how to make an activity happen without some direction and help. I have found over the many years of working with the youth, and I think it applies to adults as well, there are some people who are natural leaders and some who prefer to follow.
Each year we rotate between a ward camp, and a stake camp, which encompasses between 6 and 13 wards. Our stake has 7 wards. Our youth leaders are 16 to 18 years old and they meet together on a semi regular basis to discuss things they want to do, how they want it to run, and who they want to be in charge of the various activities. At camp they are in charge of groups of younger girls. We as adults are simply to shadow, and help out when they have questions, or in case of emergency. Sometimes we run one of the activities depending on our skills and knowledge. These planning meetings are a great place to learn how to make an activity run. But, as I sat back this time and watched these girls plan camp, I could see several areas that I realized made a great leader. Some of the youth leaders could really see these things clearly, and some really struggled with it.
The first area I noticed was how well they saw the big picture. How often do we take on a project and don’t have a vision for the whole, we have ideas for here or there, but we aren’t looking at how things fit together. A great leader needs to look at the whole picture, needs to see everything from a higher perspective and see how everything fits in. I have worked on projects with people who had specific assignments, who had great ideas, but they struggled seeing how their decisions affected the entire project. I have watched as young women planned things and they overlapped, and they didn’t mesh. That’s where an adult had to step in and ask how they would work out the problems between the two. That’s one of the reasons we are there, to guide and instruct. I was so impressed to see most of the girls, once the problems were discussed, come up with great ideas as solutions
Another sign of a great leader is being able to articulate what you are trying to say. So often I have seen committees discuss ideas, discuss solutions, get in arguments about the solutions, only to finally see that they were actually coming at the problem from the same angle and meant the same thing, but neither could articulate it as well as they thought. Often we listen to people, not to hear them, but to answer and defend ourselves. That’s where problems arise. But good leaders are good listeners. This camp planning has been interesting to watch as some of the youth leaders really listened to understand, and some of them had to discuss the same issues over and over again before they could understand why decisions were made like they were, and why it was important that the decision was final, and some of them still aren’t in agreement, but are willing to move forward.
A good leader sees others and has compassion. We can’t tailor every activity to every single person in the group, but we can try to see needs and figure out ways to accommodate those needs. This area again created quite a discussion at our meetings as some girls weren’t happy with the sleeping arrangements, but they disregarded the younger girls needs who had never been camping and were leaving home for a 4 day campout without family for the first time in their lives. This one also goes back to seeing the big picture. A good leader takes everything into account rather than just their own perspective, even if they don’t understand or agree with the other persons perspective, they can take it into consideration and be respectful.
A good leader can sift through the “noise” of everything going on around them and do what’s right. I remember sitting in a PTA meeting where there had been an assignment to bring breakfast for the teachers. The menu had been decided, some of the food had already been purchase, and at the last meeting before the breakfast someone suggested a drastic change in menu. A large discussion ensued until the PTA president stopped the discussion and asked the person who suggested the change if they were going to take on the breakfast. The answer was, “Of course not! I just thought this would be better.” We continued on with the original plan. That leader knew what was noise, and what was legitimate and moved forward even though it made someone else mad. Not because she wanted to hurt the other persons feelings, but because it wasn’t a solution to a problem, it was generating problems that didn’t really exist.
My 2nd daughter graduated from High School recently. I generally don’t like graduations, but the speakers at this one were extremely good. One of the speakers said something that really struck me. I didn’t get a direct quote, but this is what I learned from it. Do what’s right and remember the rest is just noise. It made me think about leadership. Leaders often have to make the hard decisions, but one of the qualities of a great leader is the ability to make hard decisions and then live with those decision. Leaders who have listened and are well informed make better decisions. But in the end, a great leader does what’s right, not what’s right for them, but what’s right for everyone, even if not everyone agrees. I watched that at that PTA meeting, I watch it as these camp meetings unfold and these girls are seeing with new eyes the responsibility that is being placed on them.
A good leader shows up for the climb. As I watched these girls learning to lead, there were a few who came to the first couple meetings and haven’t been back. Sometimes I think we don’t go back because we feel like we were not heard, sometimes we don’t agree with the person in charge. But giving up is never the best way to lead. The speaker from the graduation discussed this as well. She said, “Always show up for the climb. Don’t make the choice from the comfort of your bed.” When we choose not to show up, we have no room to complain when things don’t go the way we want. A good leader is there, whether in the front or back, they always show up. These girls who are showing up to every meeting they can make it to, doing their part in between times by finishing their assignments, they are the ones who can feel good about the camp, who can enjoy their time there, and who can really see what it is to put on a very large activity like this. They are also better prepared in their future lives to take on big projects with confidence.
This world is full of followers and sadly, there are many bad leaders. I guess not bad leaders, but their objectives are not the best. We are in desperate need of good leaders, of instilling in our youth great leadership skills, because they are the ones that will be leading in just a very few short years. They are the ones who will be deciding the outcome for all of us older people. Will they look on us with compassion borne from learning to listen to all sides, learning to discuss and then do what’s right, or will they be leaders who are simply invested in their own self interests. They won’t be able to become good leaders without good mentors. Not everyone has the chance to formally mentor the youth, but we can each be a good example of what a good leader is. Our youth need people who they can look up to, who have good values, good morals, and who have the ability to see more than just themselves.
I hope that we are earnestly trying to teach our youth. Passively going through life is not the way to a bright future. Intentional living, intentional choosing, intentionally thinking about what we are doing each and every day. That is what leads to a better life, for each of us personally, and for future generations.