Sunday, July 19, 2015

Silent and inconspicuous supervision in an atmosphere of relaxation


In 1945, Leah and Sam Sleeper, educators from Worcester, MA, started an overnight camp for boys on a piece of land they owned in Charlton.  On the 15th anniversary in 1960, they noted:

[Camp] Wamsutta has always operated on the principle that busy boys are happy boys, and if the "busyness" is channeled into healthy and wholesome areas of activity, busy boys are learning, developing and growing into happy and well-adjusted manhood.

The next year, they noted:

The aim of a well-directed camp program is to achieve order without regimentation; organization without restriction; and excitement and enthusiasm without the pressures of competition.  The ideal is silent and inconspicuous supervision in an atmosphere of relaxation.

And in 1962:

Counsellors have competed with each other in developing interesting projects to motivate the campers. The campers in turn have settled down to a well-regulated and healthy pattern of living.  Their experiences have been many and rich. They have grown in physical, mental, and moral stature.

It was only upon "preparing" for our camp reunion this past weekend that I pulled out these quotes from camp yearbooks that had lain in an old trunk in my attic for several decades.  Several dozen of us met on the shore of Buffumville Lake and reminisced with Marty Sleeper, one of the three sons of the camp founders, who had been intimately involved in camp planning and activities.

Marty himself went on to a career in education, becoming the beloved principal of a school in Brookline and later joining Facing History and Ourselves, where he remains as Special Advisor.

It never occurred to me that the Sleeper's had an educational philosophy for their camp.  I just went to camp and played ball and other activities and had a great time for eight weeks each summer from 1959 to 1964.  I certainly never considered the impact of the Sleepers' educational philosophy on my own development or my own approach to teaching and coaching.

But, then as I read through the yearbooks, I realized that I had internalized many of their lessons and adopted the principles in my own leadership roles--whether running an academic medical center or coaching girls soccer.  "Lead as though you have no authority" is one of my mantras.  Trust the people with whom you work, and understand that a key component of your job is to help enable their personal and professional development.  Your job is to develop new leaders, not persistent dependence on your supervision.

So, with a belated thank-you to Leah, Sam, and Marty, I engage in a midsummer reflection that we never know when mentors' lessons will take hold or where inspiration will arise.

6 comments:

Andy said...

Paul,
Thanks for doing this...I knew the Sleepers - all - were dedicated to learning and education. But seeing the story 50 years later is a great reminder and inspiring. The experiences we had, the ideas we explored and the people we met and became friends with, are still a significant part of my life.Being able to connect through these stories awakens many good memories.

Jeffrey Greenstein said...

From Facebook:

Camp Wamsutta made me a better person. Great times, great memories, great piece of writing.

Larry Weiss said...

From Facebook:

Brilliant! Their wisdom echoes through time and generations.

Mike Lebeaux said...

From FacebookL

Beautifully said, Paul. And thanks to Rick, to Marty, and to all who planned this wonderful and fulfilling event.

Abhishek Bhartia said...

I find your philosophy inspiring and believe that the job of leaders is to develop other leaders. But I struggle with leading without authority. Someday maybe I'll really understand what you say, not just be drawn to it. Thank you for your wonderful posts.

Carole said...

Really nice story, made me feel happy for you and others who had that experience and now wonderful memories. thanks for sharing it with us.