This summer a small group of Cub Scouts from my Pack went away to sleepover camp. Four moms joined me as adult leaders. It never occurred to me that a group of women would be noticed, never mind create a stir.
One night we had to prepare our own fire then make “foil dinners”. You take meat and vegetables and wrap them in foil then throw them in coals from a fire. We had apples with sugar and cinnamon to cook for desert. I pride myself on building fires so I had the boys fixing and lighting it in no time. We ate our dinner and dessert then started on our own supplies to make smores. Our camp guide, a 17-year-old Boy Scout named Earl, came to our site to hang out then went to the adjacent site to offer his help since they were still cooking. They replied “Oh no, we don’t need any help, but there are women down there who might.” Earl ran down the hill laughing to tell us.
We all couldn’t believe the men thought we needed help because we were women. We joined in his laughter especially since they seemed unprepared for this task.
Earlier in the week, the district executive invited all the leaders from six scout camps to a special steak and potato dinner at the main post. When I looked around the 200 or so leaders, I could only spot one other woman. Later during a firework display, a male leader asked how we convinced moms to be involved. None of their moms wanted anything to do with cub scouts. I explained we always had a balance of moms and dads and I worked to recruit all the parents. I thought it was a shame that none of the women would step forward for him. We obviously stuck out among the 800 people in attendance.
The next day the all-male leaders who shared our dinner table asked how my day was going as we floated down a stream together. I was having a great day after shooting 2 bullseyes at the archery range then catching a fish, so I told them. That evening a dad from our Pack arrived to stay for a few days. When our dad joined the table at dinner, they were immediately jolly, slapping him on the back and commenting that they wondered if we had any men in our Pack. Truthfully, I hadn’t been eating meals with them all week wondering if they had any women in their Pack. From our earlier conversation that day, they must have been able to tell I knew what I was doing.
Being a young girl in the 70’s, I always thought I was equal. In my mind I have never questioned it. I know women still don’t get paid at the same rate as men for the same job, but I always consider myself equal in my day-to-day life. I wouldn’t allow it to be any other way.
My cub scouts had a great week. The boys were Pack of the Day and received quality unit and adventure awards for extra accomplishments. We were top notch under our leadership which just happened to be female. The reactions seem ridiculous to me, but I know our boys won’t have them. Their moms rocked the outdoors. They’re not having an education in sexism. They’re being shown women can do everything.
My entire work career has been spent in nonprofit organizations. Every one of my workplaces has had women in the majority functioning as team with complete collaboration. Titles never mattered. No one ever tried to take credit for group efforts. It has always been about the results.
Last week Third Sector Connector had a wonderful list, 17 Hallmarks of Community Change Agents. A few jumped off the screen:
- They value team, and they have an understanding that attracting, retaining, and supporting a strong team is essential to delivering high quality services.
- Rather than building silos and rigidly adhering to job descriptions, they encourage ad-hoc teams, cross-training and shared responsibility.
- They encourage, value and provide professional development, mentoring and coaching.
You may notice a common thread. The teamwork is blurred. Roles shift and change. People are appreciated. Everyone offers their best because no one is taking credit or calling the work their own. Success stems from a group effort by qualified and valued members.
Over the years, my leadership style has always been based on such impassioned teams. Accomplishments are always paramount to the role I play.
A quote by Harry S. Truman has resonated with me and reminded me of what’s important:
You can accomplish anything in life provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.
It’s so true. This has always been my way of life. For me it is never about the “glory”. I want to improve the lives around me by leading and growing community for the common good. I don’t believe in saying “I”, it’s always “We”. It’s actually painful for me when I can’t bring people together and I have to watch endeavors wither.
So I’m pleased to be reminded of how real, positive change can be attained.
Twenty-five years ago when faced with a 30-page paper on my management style, I quit graduate school. All these years later, I know how I manage and could whip it out in short time.
Over the weekend, I read Are you casting a shadow? by Anna Farmery at The Engaging Brand. Her leadership tip was against micro managing but it’s a proven method for great team accomplishments. She wrote:
So why do we look for talent and then watch every move they make…we are just casting a shadow and blocking out the light that will help them develop. Plant the ideas then stand back to let them grow. You will see or hear when they need watering and feeding.
You have to like and trust people to implement this management style. To let someone have control of an effort which you deem important is difficult. Quite frankly, I only realized it when I became burnt out when running an organization. I wanted other people to help. My tendency has always been to do things my own way. But I couldn’t do it anymore and let go, which created amazing results.
Now I’m a convert.
In my Cub Scout Pack, my team of leaders brainstorm at meetings and then flood our inboxes with ideas. They’ve been planning the best activities we have ever offered with enthusiasm, fun and … even a pirate costume.
I keep saying that I need to get out of the way and I do. However, as a manager you need to know when to “water and feed”.
- I step in when we have already tried something and it failed. Sometimes you need to pass on your experiences. However, I always frame the difficulties in such a way as to invite solutions. Even though a method has failed doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed and improved.
- When there are different viewpoints and suggestions, the leader needs to step in and make the decision to set the course. A leader has to have a sense as to what will work best and a solid ability to articulate the decision.
- Of course the leader steps in when no one else is actually getting the job done to provide the needed direction and instruction.
But for the most part, I just let them run with it all.
Are there other times to water and feed?
Our friend’s father was meeting us at a vacation cabin. When he arrived early, he decided to sightsee and wound up lost. He called trying to find his way back to the rental house but he didn’t know where he was or what road he was on. All he kept repeating was “Just tell me what road I need to get on.”
My friend kept telling him “Look for a sign and tell us what road you are on.” Both finally gave up in frustration. We couldn’t tell him because we didn’t know where he was. Several turns might have been necessary to lead him back to a main road. The situation was impossible.
You need to know where you are before you can get where you’re going. This seems simple but we often can’t recognize the complexities. We see a destination — an end result — and want to arrive without taking our starting point into consideration.
Where are you?
I’ve been observing someone attempt to organize a new initiative. Lacking the skills to analyze where she is, she sends missives to everyone involved rather than the leaders who need to decide how to proceed. She makes new demands without acknowledging the change or justifying the request. She knows where she is told she must go, but doesn’t have the ability to understand where she is, who is involved, what the instructions need to be, and how to inform everyone. She’s lost.
In some cases, such as this one, I don’t think she even realizes she’s fumbling around. What can she do?
The most important thing is to stop and ask for directions. Find someone to help. When you are not receiving positive responses or the expected answers, realize you are not proceeding correctly.
Ask someone to explain why. Be open to hearing what you are doing wrong. This is the only way to improve.
Ask yourself if you are struggling or frustrated. Think about the reasons. Have you found yourself feeling this way on other projects? Is there anything you can do?
Keep in mind, we all have limitations. Sometimes you need to turn the wheel over to another driver and admit you can’t handle the situation. Learn from your failures.
I started chanting “Fiber Friends Unite” with my friend Rita this morning and it had nothing to do with FIOS. Back in June my arm was injured and even with a cast and lots of rest, it still hurts. We started to joke that I should be able to tell the microscopic parts of my tendon to grow back into place in the same way I organize everything else.
However, my leadership skills do me no good with this troublesome arm. None of my well-thought out plans of action work in this situation. My body has a mind of its own, or does it?
Another friend, Janet, posted a link to an article on the necessity of believing you will heal, but I have serious doubts about my healing. Can I use my mind and believe my arm back to healing? Can I picture myself back on the motorcycle and punching the bag? Will it help?
I’m beginning to suspect I can’t plan my way out of this one. I’m going to need something more, faith in healing and a positive outcome. Truthfully, I haven’t had the necessary faith this summer as I spend my time trying to keep up with only one fully-functioning arm. I know it and need to change.
Have you ever improved your health by changing your mindset?
A friend from high school said he never drives past a volunteer community car wash without thinking about my dad. My dad owned a gas station and he was always letting scouts and schools have car washes. My friend marveled at all the gallons of water he donated.
I’d never thought about it. In fact, I’d forgotten all about the car washes.
A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a friend and recalled the name of my dad’s gas station — Community Service. I’d never thought about that either. You take everything for granted from childhood. I’ve never taken a step back to think about a person naming their gas station Community Service.
A large group of men hung out there. It was truly the hub of our township. The hours were filled with lots of joking and discussion. I couldn’t help but think about the men at the gas station when watching Gran Torino. Clint Eastwood’s character takes the boy into the barbershop to teach him how to talk like a man, which involves foul language and insults. Although they cleaned up their act for me, I know this occurred. My grandmother always disapproved, especially when our minister joined them.
On June 22, 209 First Lady Michelle Obama, kicked off the United We Serve
campaign at Bret Harte Elementary in San Francisco, California. She explained
what United We Serve
is all about:
“It’s a nationwide effort to call Americans to make service a daily part of
their lives — like all of you here; it’s not something that you do in your
Surprisingly, the first thing I thought about was my dad and his gas station. He was a successful businessman who held the highest ranking volunteer position in Boy Scouts. He always sponsored a work study program at our local high school. He took young men, gave them a job, and taught them work skills. My dad was great at what he did. The teachers always sent him the toughest cases. He struggled with one boy who wouldn’t make eye contact or speak. Others needed to learn how to show up on time and be dependable. Simple skills like making change and being courteous to customers were unknown to these boys. For years, day in and day out, he spent his time at work teaching them how to make a living. Although it wasn’t always easy, they became functioning members of the workforce. Many came back to visit and it must have been so satisfying to know the important part he played in making each of them succeed and talk like a man.
My dad had not graduated from high school. He never went to any formal leadership training.
With New Jersey’s laws requiring gas to be pumped, he needed workers. He combined this business need with a community need. He offered his business to help community groups on a regular basis. He used what he had to help others regularly. Nothing fancy.
He obviously influenced me because I’m a Boy Scout leader and volunteer in my community to make people’s lives better too.
As Mrs. Obama said:
“… community and national service is something that’s near and dear to my heart.
It’s not something that we just started to do in the White House. It’s been sort
of the air that we breathe in the Obama household in so many ways…”
How does it become the “air that we breathe”, a daily habit? Community service spreads by example from father to daughter. It spreads by invitation from neighbor to neighbor. The only necessary ingredient is a person who cares. It’s a lifestyle of growing and nurturing those around you while seeking or creating opportunities to help every day.
We simply need a call to service, a daily mindset. Now we have it from Mrs. Obama.