This weekend, the New York Times interviewed Bill Kling, founder and president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, about leadership and the influential lessons of childhood.
Kling appreciates the space and time his parents provided him, as it allowed him to let his imagination run. He also spent a great deal of time dismantling and reconstructing (and sometimes destroying) radios….perhaps leading to his lifetime interest in radio. He feels “we often undervalue the importance of giving young kids that kind of hands-on experience. It may not lead to their deciding what to do with their lives, but it’s surprising what they will absorb — and maybe their lives will turn out differently.”
This ability to experiment as a child, and follow one’s passion areas, strengths and skill areas truly add to a person’s leadership potential. If a child, or young adult, feels he/she has aptitude in an area—he/she will have more confidence. That said, it is essential that our future leaders understand that they have to try a variety of activities and work with others in order to achieve great things.
As Kling says, “A mentor of mine taught me that every perspective is additive, because every person sitting in a room is looking at things differently. Each of them has a different perspective. They come from a different way of thinking and different experiences. And their collective perspective gives you a better outcome. So you have to value the perspectives and try to organize those perspectives in some useful way that lets you go forward.”
Our SOLE/CORE programs allow our 8th and 9th grade campers to not only work together and learn to value new perspectives, they also give our campers opportunities to focus on a specific skill set that interests them. Whether they are rock climbing, expedition backpacking, horseback riding, or mountain biking, the time and effort these campers dedicate to planning, route finding, learning, teaching, and collectively improving (through service projects and mentoring) gives them a depth of experience and a camaraderie that is life-changing.
They discover that their own leadership strengths can compliment the strengths of others, and they also learn that, sometimes, those very strengths need the balance of other ideas in order to find success. They discover inner creativity—sometimes in humorous ways—because they are in such a supportive, “can-do” social environment. They discover the outdoors to be a very demanding and inflexible teacher, one whose course requires a great deal of preparation, creativity, flexibility, and innovation in order to pass.
And, sometimes, they fail.
Yet as they come down from the rock they didn’t climb, or the mountain they didn’t summit, or the river they couldn’t cross—they are already thinking, wondering, formulating, planning, and talking about how to do it again…and again…and again. No one on these trips tells anyone “you can’t do it.” Kling said, “Too often, leaders fail because someone told them they can’t do it. If you don’t know what you can’t do, then you may well achieve it. If you don’t know what you can’t do, then you may well achieve it.”
All of this brings to mind a favorite children’s book, The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Childhood is the time to be “OK” at many different things….because you will have the whole rest of your life to become really terrific at something.
Undoubtedly many of our SOLE/CORE participants will go on to become “really terrific” leaders in the fields of their choice….many of them already have.