For Juniors’ Sake

Junior team members are often impressed with staff privileges, and may want to share them–such as day-off exploits and staff-lounge goodies–but they really shouldn’t. It’s tempting to pull back the curtain, Oz-style, so urge young employees to use discretion. Instead of quickly but superficially impressing youngsters with camp secrets, teach junior staff members to impress them with sterling leadership-by-example.

Neglecting enforcement.

Junior staffers may have trouble enforcing rules and setting boundaries, especially with peers. Remind staffers that all leaders need to make unpopular decisions from time to time. Ultimately, the consistent enforcement of limits will earn them the deep respect of campers and colleagues.

Becoming bossy.

Junior employees are in a position of power for the first time at camp, and may abuse that role by becoming bossy or authoritarian. Control is intoxicating, but leadership loses its muscle quickly when applied or enforced with a heavy hand. Temper those tempers.

Taking little initiative.

Junior staff may become intimidated in the presence of older, wiser, more experienced personnel and so retreat into the background or fail to take the initiative. Reward initiative by telling junior employees you would rather see them try and fail than not try at all. Better yet, teach experienced team members to invite the cooperation of juniors in all they do.

Behaving unsafely.

Junior staff members may sometimes lack an appreciation for the magnitude of responsibility they have in taking care of other people’s children. In an effort to be liked by the campers, staffers may break rules or act in unsafe ways. They are also the most likely to be swayed by peer pressure during time off, making illegal activities such as substance abuse even more dangerous. Becoming a parent may be the only thing that instills profound feelings of responsibility, but serious staff training will certainly help. Reviewing close calls from the past few seasons may also motivate responsible behavior.

Getting defensive.

Junior staffers are not used to being supervised and hearing constructive criticism from senior workers, so the former may become angry or defensive. Indeed, the so-called “millennial generation” was raised with so much vapid praise that older-staff criticisms may be a first. Over time, the junior staff can become familiar with feedback, both positive and negative. And if the majority of what you offer is specific, authentic praise, no one will cringe when they see you coming. In a few weeks, defensive junior staff members can be transformed into young professionals committed to their own development.

Forming cliques.

Junior team members are often more uncomfortable in their new role than they let on. As a source of comfort, a sign of immaturity, or maybe as a byproduct of the competition they feel with other junior staffers, they may form cliques. Keep a close eye on exclusive groups, and thwart their formation by offering plenty of integrated leadership opportunities.

Repeating mistakes.

Junior personnel may continue to make mistakes, even after they’ve been corrected and coached. But everyone makes mistakes. If a supportive culture, where leaders are encouraged to take initiative and learn from their mistakes, is created, then all of the youthful honesty, optimism, energy, creativity, and their connection with campers can be harnessed successfully.

How To Help

Junior employees are not the only ones who make these mistakes, but they naturally make them more frequently than experienced staff members. It’s ironic that the youngest leaders are held to the same high standard as every other counselor and administrator, but keeping the professional bar high for all leaders is best for the campers … and best for the junior staff’s own growth.

Of course, supervisors should be exceptionally patient with junior staff members. They need a reliable mentor who sets a solid example for them to follow.

Anticipate the young staff’s needs.

Older employees are especially effective mentors when they can predict some of the problems their apprentices will make. For example, if junior staff members are likely to have trouble enforcing certain rules or taking criticism well, talk with them ahead of time about these challenges. Suggest specific solutions that you know from experience will work.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Observe, question, and reflect. Never stop asking, “What can I do to help you do your job better?”

Set a good example.

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