Leadership Lessons From My First Summer Camp

I attended my first summer camp in junior high. My church was taking the youth to be part of a larger camp in Occidental, California, down in the Redwoods. It’s an absolutely beautiful place to spend a week learning about God and meeting cute girls.

OK, let’s be honest. As a kid, I went to church maybe four times a year, and I was the furthest thing from a ladies man. My mom had all the info and talked me into it, so I was going. On top of that, it was a themed camp. It had something to do with the Civil War … or war of some kind. I dunno. But I remember it had something to do with soldiers.

I had never been to anything themed before. But again, mom convinced me that it would be fun, and that we had to make a great costume to go with the theme. C’mon!!! I really had to make a costume?! This was sounding lame to me. I was going to make a costume, and all the other kids would show up with like … professional costumes. (I didn’t know what that meant, but I was sure I was right.)

So we went and bought a button down shirt, some gold stuff and some other war uniform-ish looking things and created a shirt that made me look like a Civil War Officer. I have to admit, it looked pretty good. I was proud of my mom for doing such a great job. I was certain that I would have one of the best looking costumes at the camp.

As we pulled up to the church, I was a little nervous. I had never been on a trip like this before. I didn’t know what to expect, but at least I had the confidence that I looked the part and could turn some heads with my “uniform.” I grabbed my bag and threw on my jacket, since it was a little cold, and headed over to the buses.

Let me say that nobody had as good looking of a uniform as me. In fact, there wasn’t one single person who had a COSTUME!!! Great! Now I was THAT kid!! I couldn’t believe I was in this situation. I kept my jacket on the WHOLE trip to the Redwoods. Once I got there, I made a beeline for the bathrooms and changed out of my now most-embarrassing moment but authentic looking Civil War uniform.

I recovered from the small misunderstanding that my mom and I had about a ” themed camp” and went on to have a fantastic week. I did meet a girl, Ginn Hackler, who dumped me three months later. Once again, nooo ladies man.

I did discover that day that I have a habit of not getting all the information that I might need in each given situation. (And all the high C’s from the DISC profile screamed AMEN!) What we need to learn, especially as leaders, is that heading straight into situations without understanding can be incredibly embarrassing. Or worse, painful. I’ve been in many meetings where a leader took my or someone else’s head off only to find out that they didn’t know what was going on.

Once again, I’m a repeat offender. It’s not nearly as bad when it’s something that doesn’t carry much weight. But when it comes to your team or your family, slow down. Ask questions. Read the pamphlet describing the Civil War themed camp. The more information you have, the better prepared you will be to discuss the topic at hand.

Question: What situations have you experienced that could have used more information? 



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

50 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons From My First Summer Camp”

  1. A couple of years ago, a team member approached me to tell me that he might be in trouble with one of our ER physicians. He had a young female patient that was to have a Cat Scan of her abdomen. Problem was, she had one 2 days earlier. He brought it to the MD’s attention, and the ER doc said he was aware, and to do it anyway.
    My team member then told me that when he went to get the patient, she decided to question the doctor, so he did not take her for the scan.

    Here’s my error in NOT getting all the info first:

    I went to the ER to defend my team member (blindly) without getting the ER’s side of the story. The MD and the nurse were in the room at the time my staff member entered the room. Not to take the patient for the CT, but to tell her that she just had a CT two days ago, it’s a lot of radiation, and that she should always question her doctors.

    He should have been fired, or at least suspended. I did neither. I stuck up for him, telling the ER I would handle it. I thought he did the right thing , but went about it completely wrong. He had good intentions, but as a newer CT tech, should have left the medical advice to the doctors.

    Today, he is one of my best technologists on the team, and get alongs with the entire ER staff extremely well. No one lost their job. No one lost their cool. Everyone knows better now.

    Proverbs 18:13 “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”

    I have never again made a decision without getting both sides of the story first. I have found over the last three years, that when there is a conflict between team members, the one who approaches you first, and wants a resolution BEFORE you speak with the other party…usually they are at fault. Not unlike a fender-bender. Whoever gets out of the car and says “Are you okay?” first, is usually the one at fault.

    1. Skottydog, my best friend says, “First liar out of the gate wins.” That is Cowgirl Speak for the wisdom in your last paragraph!

  2. I try to stop and have a 15 to 30 min with all team members every morning. Really helps to get everything out on the table. Even if we just talk about weather or family. Everyone knows what is going on and there is a lot less confusion

  3. As a high C – I have no idea what you’re talking about… 🙂

    Seriously, I just had a situation this week trying to schedule a training session, and had it all set up, except I forgot to check with one of the people first – and had to reschedule the whole thing with 5 other people when I found out she was unavailable. Needless to say, I checked with her FIRST before rescheduling! Details are so key.

  4. Ick, Chris, how painfully embarrassing. Did you ever return to that camp? Did you let your Mom have it when you got home?

  5. I have discovered that I need to understand if the person that I am correcting has been properly instructed. If they were not trained properly, then I shouldn’t fault the person who is doin the job incorrectly. Plus I need to make sure and follow up with the other person what did the training. I also realize that my standards are not the same as other peoples standards.

      1. Thank you Chris! Obviously I need to be more careful typing comments from my phone because I couldn’t go back and correct the mistakes. Here’s to high standards!

  6. Wow Chris,
    I always wondered what “that kid ” felt like, (just kidding). Early in my career as a coporate pilot I worked for a construction company. They were submitting a bid for a multi-million dollar project and they wanted me to fly it up there and deliver it to the bid letting. So here I go I filed a quick flight plan to Nashville from Birmingham and off I went! The weather was good and as soon as I landed I went to the phone (obviously prior to cell phones) and attempted to call this place for directions from the airport. I couldn’t find it! It only took a minute to call the office to discover I was supposed to go to Knoxville! That was really embarrasing! The good news was they had thrown out all the bids anyway so nothing was lost. I learned alot of very valuable lessons from that experience and getting the correct information and verifying it was probably the biggest. We all have to be careful because we have what someone called “the curse of knowledge”, in construction a Stud is a 2×4, in Aviation a Stud could be a rivet, in the horse arena it would be the male horse, etc. Only problem is when we are talking to our client we are thinking a 2×4 and they might be thinking horse! We have to be careful in communicating that we are both talking about the same thing or we will have even more embarrassing things happen!

  7. At least you had one of those moments in a beautiful location. I attended a few camps at Alliance Redwoods and worked many more there. And I spoke a few times at Westminster Woods. Both camps are just out of Occidental. I can tell you that many campers (and plenty of staff) had their share of misinformed, mortifying moments at those camps. You just had to breathe in that air and brush the red dirt off your shoes and jump right back into the game.

      1. I was there as a Junior High camper in about 78. As a graduating senior in 83. And then just about every year through 89 as staff to specific Junior and Senior High camps. In 83 they encouraged campers to bring cowboy attire for the Friday night banquet. So you may have been the inspiration behind instructing campers when/what to wear.

          1. We could very well have been there at the same time. The name of your counselor doesn’t ring a bell. But then again there was a lot more turn over when it came to counselors as opposed to people running the recreation, chapel time, and other activities.
            About a decade ago I was introduced to the pastor who was marrying my best friend and his wife. We realized we had met before and it turned out to have been back in the 80s at Alliance.
            Now I can impress people and say I (perhaps) knew Chris LoCurto back in the day. Hmmm…now that I think about it, you didn’t happen to go to a winter camp there a couple years later wearing a visor with LEDs that flashed back and forth, and your youth group had to stop on the way because you forgot to pack underwear…Naw, probably wasn’t you. But it did happen to one camper and it makes your Civil War uniform sound very cool in comparison.

  8. I am definitely an “offender” in this case. Just reading the “highlights” and not the “details” …..I think I have been guilty of listening to one team member describe a situation and jump to conclusions before hearing ALL sides of the challenge. It looks like I would have learned my lesson by now – and I am better – but it is something I have to consciously work on daily.

    Thanks for a great post, Chris! And wondering if you still have your Civil War uniform -or did you just leave it at camp?!?

  9. I know Ginn Hackler! (Just kidding, I don’t)
    I try to ask people their side of the story in the midst of conflict, because normally I don’t have the right information. I also think it’s wise for us to bounce ideas off other people since they can often point out our gaps of thinking.

  10. Quite a few that are work related, but the best examples i can think of right now are with my kids, their friends and some of my tennis students. Every so often, my youngest would burst out of the play room, screaming her head off, that her older sister, or one their friends has scratched her, or hit her, and it’s obvious she wants mummy to go in and avenge her. After defending her a couple times (based on the fact that she was the baby), it occured to me, there are always two sides to a story.

    We have a couple strategies we use to get to the truth, starting with the assumption that just because you are the kid that’s reporting the wrong does not mean you are right, and the other party is wrong, it’s made a world difference!

  11. Was a summer camp counselor most of my teen years, and can totally identify with this story.

    For me, the place where I need to learn how to slow down and get more information is on the home front. My two boys, 5 and 9, are totally awesome. But their specialists in testing my patience and getting into fights at times.

    I sometimes am ‘that guy’ who bombs into their room in the middle of one of their meltdowns, ripping heads off without asking enough questions.

    When I have gotten this right, because I do from time to time, it’s because I’ve managed and disciplined myself before trying to inflict the same on them.

    We are, as Steven Covey so awesomely states: responsible. Response / Able. – We can and must decide upon our response vs slip into a reaction.

    Would you hand me your stapler? I’ve got another little lesson that needs stapling to my forehead.

    Have a great one!

  12. Lead a volunteer project in your local community. I lead a library tutoring project, a volunteer project at the local children’s shelter, and projects leading youth volunteers at a local museum.

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