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Wednesday’s Whim: Leadership

A confession: I haven’t read much, if anything (unless you call skimming reading) about the events at two east coast seminaries over the last few days and weeks, but I’m going to use them as a starting point anyway!

In Episcopal circles, the buzz on social media and elsewhere on the internet has been around Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts and General Theological Seminary in New York, each experiencing significant disagreement between faculty and leadership: the dean and presidents as well as the boards.  And by “significant” I mean that folks have lost/resigned from their jobs.  (For an article with additional links, click here.)

Based on what I’ve skimmed and heard from others, while specific decisions have contributed, the root of the consternation is about the leadership style of these still fairly new dean and presidents.  (My apologies if I’ve oversimplified this in an offensive way!)  As a still relatively new leader at an established organization and as someone particularly interested in leadership styles and relationship building, hearing the news of EDS and GTS sent me down a rabbit hole of wondering.

At Camp Stevens, there are a handful of buzz words around leadership and decision-making, namely: “consensus,” “collaboration,” and “shared leadership.”  In a discussion this summer about the way we teach leadership at Counselor Training (and my interest in updating the theory we use), I heard an interesting argument for keeping the 4-styles currently used (autocratic, manipulative, laissez-faire, and shared).  A seasoned Camp Stevens staff person suggested that the strength in what we teach is two-fold: 1) it is simple and easy for 16-18-year-old future leaders to grasp and 2) because it focuses on consensus, collaboration, and shared leadership, it is counter-cultural and therefore captivating and empowering.  (The 4 styles are often taught in a way that highlights shared leadership as the preferred style and the others are utilized only when necessary for safety or other circumstances.)

Have you been to a bookstore lately to see the options on leadership literature?  Shared, servant, situational; Steven Covey, John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard; professional sports coaches, business leaders, and retired military.  There is a book and a style out there for everyone.

Early in my career, I made the mistake of trying to read all of them and my bookshelves are evidence.  I was working at an organization that had a motivational/leadership book of the year.  I’m not sure they’d describe it that way, but the director of the organization was particularly interested in the trendiest and most recent literature and spent an inordinate amount of money handing out books and sending his leadership staff to extravagant trainings.  Honestly, I’m not sure how much it helped!

What I learned, in hindsight, from all those books, but more profoundly what I continue to learn from working “in the field,” is that leadership is ultimately about relationship, which is what differentiates it from management.  It’s about knowing yourself and your people, respecting tradition while finding new ways, having a shared vision, open communication, and finding consensus when appropriate.  Leadership is hard work.  And just to make it more interesting and complicated, leading a board is different than a staff is different than an adventure group.

Ultimately, like everything in my world seems to be about these days, I believe leadership is about balance.

What is your experience of leadership at Camp Stevens or otherwise?
Do you have a favorite “model” of leadership?  A favorite book or author?
What are your guiding principles in leading at work, home, or on the trail?
What did you learn about leadership in Counselor Training you still carry with you?

And for full disclosure, the model I default to and that I’m considering introducing to Counselor Training is Blanchard and Hersey’s Situational Leadership Theory, which overlays leadership styles with group development theory (forming, storming, norming, performing) in what I believe is a brilliant way.  It acknowledges that we all have a style we’re most comfortable with, but that we’re more effective when we learn to adapt to the group’s needs.  Rather than using fairly pejorative words like “manipulative” and “autocratic,” Hersey and Blanchard’s quadrants are:

  • telling (directing) when the group is forming,
  • selling (coaching) when the group is storming,
  • participating (supporting) when the group is norming, and
  • delegating (observing) when the group is performing.

And, I think our 16-18-year-old Counselors-in-Training could handle it.  I’d love to hear what you think!


Whim: “sudden idea.” This monthly post promises a number of things: personal thoughts and reflections, showing off Camp Stevens’ programs and staff, announcements for upcoming opportunities, and answering questions or responding to comments “from the audience.” If you have a topic or question you’d like addressed, just e-mail Beth!


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