Vulnerability and Trust at Summer Camp

A young woman we know is in her first summer as a counselor at the camp she attended for years.  She did something remarkable last week.  We thought we’d share it because she provided a great lesson for us all.

As part of their training, she and her colleagues took a practice canoe run down the river on which they would soon be leading kids.  Although it was supposed to be a training exercise, the counselors treated it mostly as a lark, much to the displeasure of the couple who own and run the camp.

So what did our young friend do?  Instead of hiding from the camp owners’ displeasure or becoming defensive, she sought them out and asked what they thought she did wrong, and could and should have done better.  Having heard their answers, she then pulled out a much longer list of things SHE thought she did wrong, and what she will do differently and better the next time.

In his landmark book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni explains how genuine trust leads ultimately leads to accountability and results.  Far from being “soft stuff,” the conscious development of trust is essential to the effectiveness of any team.

Elsewhere, Lencioni and others explain that trust exists only when people are willing to be vulnerable to one another.  Vulnerability is the willingness to put your short-term comfort at risk in pursuit of something greater.  It is the willingness to be transparent, to own up to your weaknesses, to be held accountable for your actions, to risk rejection. 

The problem is that we’ve all been taught since childhood not to appear weak.  That’s a hard habit to break.  Vulnerability takes a lot of courage.

Our young friend displayed vulnerability and accountability in their purest form.  Many of us would have been tempted to hide from the conflict, to make excuses or, worse, blame others, all in order to avoid appearing weak.  Had she done this, she would have diminished the ability of the people she works for to trust her.  Instead, she took responsibility not just for her actions, but for making the relationship with her employers stronger.  This will allow them to be even more open with each other in the future and will help her give her campers the experience they deserve.

This young woman is just 18, and we’re not sure how she knew to do this at such a young age.  But we’re glad she did because rarely do we see such a clear demonstration of the vulnerability, accountability and trust-building that lead to great results.