The Power Of Positive Thinkingv

By John Tilley

Many of us frequently use the phrase, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” The simplest interpretation is that we become so fixated on the small things we lose sight of the large.

In the world of camps and organizations, sometimes administrators do not interpret the things employees really know and concepts they truly understand. As a result, we lose some of the easiest strategies to make our camps and organizations better.

Campers Imitate Staff
Last summer, Camp Coniston participated in an online survey that tallied parent and camper comments. The comments in the first and second sessions focused on the new food-service director by name, stating, “He rocks,” “He is great,” “I hope he never leaves,” etc. The first 60 responses were practically unanimous. It was so much fun to look at that I became addicted to checking the results daily, like a teenager perusing Facebook.

But during the third session, I started to hear staff members say they wanted less chicken. Suddenly, the parent/camper comments changed from “Never let him leave,” to “Less chicken,” and “Need something other than chicken.”

As I thought about the change in opinion, I became irritated. The staff members were ruining what the campers thought of the food. As a parent of both middle- and elementary school students, I know that very few camper-age children grow tired of chicken. In fact, I usually have difficulty getting them to eat anything else. Yet those same kids were going home saying, “Too much chicken.”

Then I made a connection with the comments about the food-service director. The cooks weren’t frequently mentioned by name. In both cases, the campers only repeated what the staff was saying--both good and bad.

The Power Of Directors
About the same time, Camp Coniston hosted a group of directors who were touring camps, and I listened to their impressions of other camps. One trip was extremely interesting.

The visitors toured two camps in one day. Both are wonderful operations and enviable on numerous levels. One fills as quickly as any camp in the country, and the other fills several sessions completely each year.

What the directors saw, though, was not as interesting as what they heard. At the first camp, they were amazed to hear the summer staff’s comments--stories of how they served kids, how the staffers were once campers themselves, and how campers would do anything to return.

The visit to the second camp also was memorable, but for a different reason. The staff showed the visitors everything that needed fixing. Tours were given of “old” buildings that needed to be replaced. What was most interesting to me was that this “routine” was even repeated by the campers.

Who Is Norman Vincent Peale?
Norman Vincent Peale is best known for his popular book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

Directors should keep that book in mind, for they set the tone for their staffs.

Every organization has things to improve upon, so one cannot chastise a staff for knowing what needs to be changed.

Think back to the Coniston dining hall ratings this year. Should I be surprised or irritated that campers repeat what they hear from staff? No!

We should not be surprised that staff repeats what we as directors say. This is perhaps our most important role.

So, as you prepare your next newsletter or staff training program, or set up a tour presentation … remember to put your best foot forward.

Keep it positive--your entire organization takes its lead from you.

John Tilley is the CEO of YMCA Camp Coniston in New Hampshire. Visit the camp at and contact John at