A toy camper on a beach, representing leadership lessons from building one
Leadership

6 Leadership Lessons Learned by Building a Camper

  • Building a camper and leadership both involve problem solving, ingenuity and personal development
  • Leaders can encourage their team to expand their skill sets and move past their comfort zones

“Belief in what someone can do is more powerful than knowledge of what they can do.”

This is a quote from my friend and colleague, Dr. Lee Meadows. I read it and chuckled as I thought about a significant accomplishment on the part of my niece, Carolyn DesJardin.

As a millennial, military spouse, mother of two preschoolers and federal security project manager, she started an ambitious project last summer during the pandemic. She decided to build a camper. Never mind that she had zero experience in anything associated with doing this. She needed a COVID-19 safe project to work on and wanted to start camping again, something she and her husband had put on hold after the kids came along. It was also a decision to regain a measure of control over her family’s ability to move about. So, she researched the idea, purchased a 30-year-old pop-up camper and tore it down to the frame. She rebuilt it using wood and fiberglass, gave it a pop top and outfitted it with a queen and bunk beds. Now, she calls it a “super tent on wheels.”

When I first heard about this project, I was momentarily baffled at her choice. I knew she had never done anything remotely like this. But as I thought about it, I recognized there was great value in the experience. Obviously, I am now in awe of her ability to pull it off. Her story has leadership lessons for entrepreneurs and teams. 

Leadership lessons from the build

I interviewed Carolyn recently to ask her what she learned during the journey to completion. Four things stood out:

She learned problem solving skills

There were steps that she thought would be difficult that turned out to be easy. And there were steps she thought would easy that turned out to be more difficult. She could have let the problems slow her down, but as a military spouse, she knew the family needed to be ready in case they received orders to relocate. She couldn’t leave a massive project sitting around the garage. She had to be resourceful and figure it out.   

She built a support system

She connected with an online community of DIYers who shared tips and tricks. Neighbors followed her progress with interest and offered tools and elbow grease. After working diligently without success to connect the lights, she hired an electrician who confirmed she had wired it correctly but just needed a few special connections.

She expanded her capabilities

She may never build something like this again, but she knows that she can. Fear, lack of experience or the magnitude of the project didn’t stop her. She learned how to research ideas, develop a plan, apply related skill sets and be creative about solutions. She motivated herself with an internal vision of what she could do.

She learned that the process had as much value as the result

In fact, she realized she valued the process more than she valued the result. Having little knowledge and no prior experience, she tackled a challenging project and now has a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I believe she’s unstoppable now (yes, I’m a bit biased)!

What can leaders learn?

This experience provides a wealth of leadership lessons. Here are a few nuggets.

  1. Your team needs to know you believe in them.
  2. With the right motivation, a team member can accomplish a monumental assignment.
  3. Encourage resourceful problem-solving. Your team may come up with a better solution than you envisioned.
  4. Some accomplishments may not seem relevant to the primary objectives of the group, but they serve as practice for knocking the ball out of the park next time.
  5. Don’t assume a person’s capabilities solely based on their experience.
  6. Discover new things about your team members. Learn more about their extracurricular interests, and you may recognize useful skills or experiences.

Think about the challenges your team faces right now. You’ve already assessed their capabilities, and you may have identified some gaps in skill sets. While your assessment may be on point, it’s also possible that your team can find a way to bridge those skill gaps. Rather than develop a plan based only on your own input, what might happen if you engage the team in the process? Meet with them to review the project goals or business challenges. Clarify the scope and identify the metrics for success. Engage them in developing the project plan and identifying the resources needed. Instead of focusing solely on the individuals in leadership roles, look for team members who demonstrate potential and give them broader responsibilities. Not only will they develop new skills, but you will also build greater engagement as they connect with the purpose of the team.

Decide to believe in your team.

About the author

Priscilla Archangel

Priscilla Archangel, Ph.D. is a seasoned leadership consultant, executive coach, author, speaker, and teacher. She has a passion for developing leaders, and motivating individuals and organizations to align their values, behaviors and goals with their purpose. Visit priscillaarchangel.com.

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