Lessons in Leadership
Perhaps the most formative experience of my childhood was attending—and, eventually, working at—Camp Kahdalea. For 11 summers, I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina where I dabbled in all kinds of outdoor activities, including horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting; made lifelong friendships; grew my confidence immeasurably; solidified my moral compass; and learned, time and again, the importance of teamwork.
At the helm of this magnificent place: owner and director Anne Trufant. As a child, I looked up to Anne with complete awe. She exuded authority, but also compassion and playfulness. Never one to take herself too seriously, Anne frequently let campers dress her in goofy outfits, fling flour/mud/pies at her, and toss her into the camp lake.
In my latter Kahdalea years, when I worked as a junior counsselor (JC) and then as a counsselor, I came to understand the secrets of her leadership and how she mobilized a group of 50 or so college students (all a bit naïve and immature) to mentor and nurture impressionable girls from second to tenth grade, providing them with a memorable and moving experience that was so much more than a vacation. A mother of seven, Anne no doubt knew how to create order. I also suspect her background as a social worker and a missionary taught her to steer people with a gentle touch.
Every Saturday night, following a fun, but tiring game like “capture the flag,” the JCs would supervise campers during a low-key activity while the counsselors and Anne would have a marathon meeting to review high points and low points of the previous week and map out a plan for the next. Anne always led by example and clearly communicated camp values and her expectations of the staff. We were to be present with the campers at all times, monitoring for cliques, self-doubt, and troubles leftover from home. There were specific duties, as well, such as writing “mommy letters” to campers’ parents once a week and choosing daily devotional readings before breakfast.
She listened to our frustrations and acknowledged our exhaustion, but encouraged us to persevere. To reiterate our purpose, she’d read us letters from past campers and parents that spelled out what Kahdalea meant to them. With the big picture in mind, we rallied.
It’s been nearly 15 years since my camp days, but I’ve thought of Anne often while putting together this issue, which we’ve devoted to leadership.
Workplace culture has been thrust to the forefront this year, thanks to some high-profile incidents at places like Uber and the White House. Though those examples may have received the most news coverage, the problem appears to be pretty pervasive. Forbes named attrition as a major issue of the modern day, citing frightening statistics, such as the average tenure of employees of any age (4 years) and the percentage of workers actively looking for new opportunities (76 percent). This is a scourge on any company, but especially so for small businesses. Losing employees can be emotional, finding their replacements can be stressful, and training them can be expensive.
To prevent you from landing in this maddening cycle, we asked successful florists and business experts to share their best practices for engaging and empowering workers. From vetting candidates to training new hires to voicing appreciation for loyal workhorses, the advice that poured in reminded me so much of what happened (and, presumably, still goes on) at Camp Kahdalea. I’m confident you’ll find it enlightening and learn some new ideas to make your business even stronger.