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#1 Lesson From Camp: Boys Can Do Hard Things

July 31, 2015

…or What Your Team Can Learn From a Group Of 12 Year-Olds 

I’ll go. There’s only the two of us and you’ve got all the gear in your truck. 

You’ll have to leave your car here. 

Yeah, I know. We can come back for it later this afternoon. Some of the boys aren’t going to make it if one of us doesn’t go with them.

There was no real reason for it. It was simply an extra activity that was tacked on the front of the week of Scout camp activities. The camp organizers decided that it would be a good idea for the boys to hike in on the first day. They didn’t have to carry their gear, just water and whatever snacks they wanted. 

  
The organizers said it was five miles. It was closer to six. 

Summer Camp is an interesting right-of-passage in American culture. Our boys go when they are 12 and 13. For some, it’s the first time away from their parents for that long. For most of them it’s a challenge, as we leaders take a step back and let them lead. Sometimes that means we eat at 9:30 PM because the cooking crew didn’t start the dutch ovens until about 7:00. Sometimes it means that the way I as a leader want something done, doesn’t  happen. Instead a boy uses his initiative to figure out a better, or at least a different way of doing something. 

Of course, these are still preteens, and just-barely-teens. For example, we had to put some pretty strict axe rules in place.

But, I’m being careful!

Yeah, well you didn’t seem to notice the boy who walked behind you on the backswing. You missed his head by inches.

Charlie slipped while climbing the cinderblock steps in the amphitheater during the morning flag ceremony. He was wearing shorts. Of course, he was wearing shorts. They all wore shorts all week. He scraped his shin pretty good. It bled slightly. As leaders we decided he would live, and we sent him on his way. 

Charlie seemed to get progressively worse throughout the morning. He complained of breathing issues. And he insisted he needed to go home. He was certainly hyperventilating and crying, but again, it appeared he would live. We suspected his illness was more a result of abscense than actual injury. 

Finally, it became obvious that nothing would satisfy him except heading home. 

I’ll take him. My car get’s better gas milage. 

I think he’ll be fine once he knows he’s headed home.

I agree. My problem is that I have to take one of my sons with me so we have two boys in the car. It’s about 3 hours round trip. Neither one is going to want to go.

I was right. Neither of my boys wanted to go. I offered to let them decide. Finally, the younger one came to me.

I’ll go.

Thanks. How did you guys decide?

Well, neither one of us wanted to go, but I knew he wanted to stay more than me.

I’m proud of you. That takes a lot of maturity.

Boys can do hard things.

Charlie did great on the ride home. We dropped him at him house in the care of mom. To his credit, he came back the next day and made it through the rest of the week without incident. 

Boys can do hard things.

I realized it was harder for me to accept my own sons doing hard things, or really anything at all, than it was for me to accept the other boys. My sons are the last of 13 children. They really are the babies. They have a niece who is almost two years old. I tend to think of them as the kids who need the most supervison. In some cases, that’s true. They are twelve after all. But, during Scout camp, I have a chance to see them interact with their peers everyday for a week. 

They continually surprise me.

How well does your team operate when you aren’t there? Do they accomplish their tasks independently? Should they? 

I can’t do the things my engineers can do. I know they are more technically accomplished than I am. But, I need to make sure I don’t assume that they are not as capable as I am. It’s temping to proscribe a policy for every situation the team members might find themselves in. Tempting, but a bad idea. 

If you never give your team the opportunity to make decisions, they won’t grow. And, in business, if you aren’t growing you are not exactly dying, but at least stagnating. I can hear some of you now,

But, if I let them make decisions, they might make the wrong decision.

That is 100% true. . .and important. 

Good judgement comes from experience.

Experience comes from poor judgement.

If your team has no chance to fail, they have no true chance of success. (Yeah, I know that sounds like a lame motivational poster, but let me explain.)

Your job as a manager is to grow your team, both as a team and as individuals. You should be giving your team the opportunity to develop. We are typically pretty good at developing “hard” skills, like technical or writing skills. We are often less good at developing soft skills like relationship building, decision making and critical thinking.

If we were teaching someone how to install Windows, it would be crazy if we gave them a fully functioning Windows system and simply explained how we had installed it. No, to truly teach them, we have to give them the opportunity to install it themselves. And with that opportunity is the chance of failure. They may configure it wrong. 

Give the team the opportunity to make the same progress in decision making. If there is no room for personal choice, there is no room for growth. 

Your team can do hard things.

When we started the hike, the troop quickly split into two groups. The faster boys soon disappeared around the bend in the windy mountain road. I’m a slow hiker. Plus, as the only leader on our hike I had to act as sweeper. When I got to camp, I needed to ensure that no boys were left on the road somewhere. 

An average hiking speed is 2.5 to 3 MPH. Hiking for 2-3 hours in the Utah desert can be a challenging activity. The boys all started strong, but several quickly fell behind. Their feet hurt, or they were thirsty, or they found some really interesting ditch full of mud to distract them. 

  
My job was to keep them moving and keep them from giving up. Sometimes I cajoled them. Sometimes I drove them. Sometimes I raced them. At all times I led them. When they wanted to quit, I appealed to their pride. I also pointed out that we really had no choice. I didn’t have a car with me. 

At the end of 3 hours, we finally staggered into the camp. The ones who had dragged their feet the worst walked a little taller. It’s not everyone who can hike five miles (nearly six) in the desert. 

Boys can do hard things. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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