Lessons from Beavers Camp
About a month ago, my daughter Harper joined the local Beavers troop. As an only child, she has quite a lot of time where she's the sole little person, giving her independence and autonomy over her own time. That's a great thing in many ways, because it offers her the chance to be self sufficient, but it also has its drawbacks. One of these is that, especially when she's with her grandparents who look after her a couple of afternoons and one overnight every week, she gets the run of the place. Whatever she wants to do, wherever she wants to do, 'Bumpa' obliges and off they go! Don't get me wrong - they have a wonderful relationship and we're blessed to have them nearby to support. My fear is that, longer term, she gets so used to having her own way that when she is in groups, she struggles to collaborate and cooperate because she hasn't had to develop that capability.
My wife and I recognised that it'd be valuable to give her the opportunity to be involved in activities where she's part of a group or a team, in order that she gets experience of contributing to something bigger than herself, but she hasn't shown any interest in sports and so when my wife suggested that Harper join the Beavers, it felt like a great place to start. I was a Beaver, Cub, Scout and Venture Scout in my youth, and loved those experiences. There are multiple Beaver troops in our village, while the nearest Rainbows and Brownies are a bit further afield and now that the entire organisation is co-ed and we knew she had some class mates already involved, we reached out and joined the waiting list! Initially she was disappointed when she found out that there weren't any actual Beavers there, but she got over that quite quickly!
Soon after joining, we were informed that the four local troops would be heading off for a weekend camp at Canty Bay on the West Lothian coast (known as the Golf Coast for its plethora of courses) and they needed adults to volunteer as helpers. Having just joined, Harper was hesitant to go off for an overnight stay but said that if I went along as a helper, she'd be much keener. And so I signed up, sorted my PVG paperwork and we were all set.
The weekend was absolutely fantastic and the organisers did a wonderful job. My roles on the weekend mostly involved washing up, sweeping, setting out and putting away tables and benches and other simple jobs to keep things going and the kids had a fantastic time, playing on the beautiful beach and going for a long walk along the cliffs towards North Berwick.
On the Saturday evening, before the Beavers got ready for bed, they were noodling about on the beach, fishing with little nets at the water's edge, building sandcastles and making up games to entertain themselves. Up by the accommodation on a small pitch, a group were playing a lively game of football. Most of the kids were playing in groups but I noticed that Harper was alone, with her bucket and spade, digging away to build the perfect structure. I was sitting on the benches overlooking the beach, cuppa in hand, chatting to some other parents and keeping an eye on the kids. I commented to them about Harper playing alone as the other kids interacted with one another and was reflecting on my worries about raising an only child and my fear that she'd be lonely. I also shared my desire for her to engage with the group and 'get stuck in' with the other kids. Two things that worry me as a parent - although I do my best not to let Harper be aware of these worries - are a fear of her loneliness and a fear of her being bullied. Even typing about these two topics evokes a physical reaction in my stomach at the thought of the person I love most in the world being hurt or sad.
The parents I was chatting to, two mums of other Beavers, were not parents I'd met before that weekend. It was a very casual conversation, and I was probably just thinking out loud more than anything else. Certainly not soliciting for advice or support, just enjoying the view with a cuppa in hand and thinking about my role as a dad. But one of the mums, who had seen me throughout that day, interacting with the other parents, staff and kids, reflected her experience back to me. "I don't know you well, but what you're seeing in your daughter - playing alone, taking herself away from the group - isn't really like you, is it?" No, I said, definitely not. Anyone who knows me even for a short time can see that I am a classic extrovert - I love the energy and the engagement of being in a group, chatting and collaborating and bouncing ideas and thoughts off one another. "Maybe that's just what she's like. It's not a bad thing." It stopped me in my tracks.
Harper and I are very similar in a lot of ways. We laugh a lot at the same things, we love music and listen to it together all the time. We like to go on adventures together. We love dinosaurs. But she isn't me. Nor would I want her to be.
In leadership, I talk all the time about getting to know your people at a level that goes beyond the work they do for you. Who are they? What are their passions? Where are they trying to get to? What drives and motivates them? This is important because it allows you to support them to bring the best of themselves to the team and to the business. One of the major pitfalls I see, particularly when it comes to motivating a team, is projection - projecting what motivates you onto your team. Assuming that because you're driven by money/status/growth/the chance to make a difference, everyone else is too. I tell leaders to watch out for it and to better understand their people.
I was making this exact mistake with Harper.
Just because I love being in a group, right in the thick of it, that doesn't mean Harper will. Nobody had forced her out of the group, she'd just chosen to find a little spot of sand, on her own, and make a sandcastle. And the beauty of that unstructured part of the day, was that she could do exactly as she chose. She'd been with the group for a lot of the day - walking, eating meals, playing games. Now she wanted a bit of Harper time.
I have thought about this moment a lot since it happened, not just in terms of how I can continue to learn about and best support Harper and to be the best dad I'm capable of being, but also about how we can all, at times, have blind spots for the principles we share with and teach others. The cobbler's children are the last to get shoes, and I need to make sure that I always make time to reflect and learn and grow, in the way I support others to do. And for me, that begins with the most important job I hold. Being Harper's dad.