10 Lessons in Leadership from an Unexpected Source: Young Women’s Camp

This past week I was unexpectedly schooled in leadership. I had the opportunity to join my 15-year-old daughter’s annual Young Women’s camp for a few days. What I expected were your standard summer camp shenanigans. What I saw was a masterclass of leadership in action.

A little background: each year our Church organises a week-long camp for girls aged 11 to 18. I really should say, volunteer women of our Church lead the Young Women in planning and executing a week-long summer camp. These adult leaders choose what are referred to as Youth Camp Leaders (YCLs) in the fall. They support the YCLs through the winter and spring to plan a camp that rivals, if not exceeds, surpasses of the professionally organised Boy Scout Camps I attended as a youth.

These adult leaders typically do not come from a corporate background, or from backgrounds that you would traditionally think of as leadership breeding grounds. Some of them have or do currently work outside the home, but most are stay-at-home moms. But every one of them is a leader. And more importantly, they turn the YCLs into leaders.

From these two groups of leaders, the adults and the YCLs, here is what I learned:

1. Show up

It may be simple, but these leaders show up. Month after month, they show up on Zoom calls, they show up at in-person Sunday afternoon meetings, they are present for each other and present for the girls who will come to camp. Through days of downpouring rain or muggy heat, they were there.

2. Love those you lead

It doesn’t mean camp is always emotional rainbows and sunshine, but it does mean that everything that is done is meant to benefit and uplift others.

3. Sacrifice is necessary

You can’t accomplish anything great without giving something up in return: time; comfort; convenience; etc. These leaders sacrificed more than the attendees may ever know, until they become the leaders one day (see #10).

4. Service is critical

When there was a downpour at 3 am and the tarps blew off the tents, these leaders were out in the rain trying to tie them back down. When someone needed emotional support, these leaders were there to throw their arms around them. Service can look like many different things, but it’s always about meeting someone else’s needs.

5. Be in the trenches

There were no ivory towers. There weren’t even better rooms or tents for the leaders. They shared the same accommodations and meals as the participants. The leaders were with their teams every step of the way.

6. Have genuine excitement for others

There is nothing more thrilling than watching a girl who is terrified of heights get cheered on by 10 other girls as she attempts to complete a tree-top ropes course. Or watching others get excited for someone completing their first-ever lake swim. True leaders revel in the success of others.

7. Be the first in and last out

The adult leaders and YCLs all show up a day early to get everything ready. They are also the last ones to leave as they take responsibility to sweep the camp one last time for any trash or misplaced items.

8. Have a plan but stay flexible

This camp was planned for months, and the effort was evident. But when Mother Nature had her own ideas, or when the plumbing stopped working, these leaders found a way to revise their plans in the moment and still make meaningful experiences out of the circumstances. Even if they had to revert to Plans B, and C, or make up Plan D as they went along.

9. Put others in situations to succeed

This is a camp planned and executed by YCLs. But the adult leaders were there every step of the way to make sure the YCLs were supported. Few of the YCLs had ever planned something this big, but they had confidence they could pull it off due to the support of the adults.

10. Preserve the legacy

Every one of the adult leaders mentioned the reason they were willing to sacrifice, serve, put up with the stress of planning, and the worry of keeping 60+ teenage girls safe for a week, is because they had leaders who did the same for them when they were teenagers. They not only wanted to pass along some of their favourite memories from their youth, but they also wanted to prepare these girls to do the same for future generations.

I figured nobody wanted the pictures I took of them after a week in the woods posted on the internet for all to see. So I’ll keep it to just this one: an SUV full of wet clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, but very happy girls. In short, the fruit of leadership.

And in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised to be schooled in leadership by a group of mothers. Nobody serves more, loves more, cares more, sacrifices more, cheers more, or simply leads more than mothers