Learning to lead

By: Lauren Waldrip

Things are moving pretty quickly as Youth Outdoors wraps up their spring term. The last-day banquet for youth crews takes place in 5 days, and before then we will have completed our end of term service project, capstone report, and crew evaluations. Following our youth term, the Bridges crew will meet our two new crew members as we begin training for things to come this summer, and before you know it we’ll be in Superior National Forest for our three-week-long spike trip. Yet, with things moving so fast, I have to prepare to say goodbye to my youth crew members, and for that I could really use a time-out.

It’s funny looking back on my time with my youth crew. I remember feeling so anxious when they started. I had not worked in such a clear leadership role before, and without a co-leader to take the spot light off of me I thought my youth crew would be able to smell my fear. Our field specialist, Chris, graciously tagged along the first few times while I acclimated to the role of youth crew leader. A note on Chris: he is a walking Ice-breaker, no games needed. His quirky stories and off-the-wall questions made us all break into laughter, which really set the tone for our time together.

Despite my lingering nervousness, I learned to lead my youth crew. There were definitely a few instances where I felt unprepared, but those times became valuable lessons. For example, our first full-length field day we went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park to haul and pile brush for burning in the fall. This is the site where my adult crew had worked since we began in the field so I felt fairly confident. One catch: I’ve never made a brush-pile nor seen it being done. I’ve taken an honest approach with my crew members, and I told them what the situation was. On our hike in we had passed a few brush-piles from last fall and received some instruction from other crew leaders on how to pile brush, but being a visual learner, I knew I had to see it being done if I was going to lead my crew in this task. We tried winging it for nearly 30 minutes, and then I proposed a field trip around the other crews to see how it’s done. After leading a goofy parade, we returned to our area and set to work building the most legit brush-pile you’ve ever seen.

Not really, but we all felt pretty great about it.

When I look back on that day, I see how I could have been better prepared. If I had felt concerned about my lack of knowledge, I should have resolved that by asking more questions and looking for information before setting out to lead. However, I am also really pleased with our day. Only in retrospect can I appreciate that being straight-forward with my crew about my lack of expertise demonstrated that it’s okay to not have the answers, and that by including my youth in my “journey for the answers” (literally: walking around watching other people work) I encouraged them to take the initiative to seek out answers and ask for help. A little floundering led me to the discovery that I can be a capable leader, and I began to grow the confidence that I needed to fill that role.

I felt a lot of satisfaction at the end of that day. I was happy to have had the opportunity to teach my crew about hand tools and field safety while producing two hefty brush-piles. I was also happy to be able to teach them why the small task we were doing was important and how it contributes to the larger goal of restoring a habitat. Most of all, I was happy to spend the afternoon getting to know my youth crew members, and listening to them laugh and joke with each other.

And the rest of the term flew by...

A big thank you and good-bye to my crew members, Angel, Amanda, Abdi, Xang, Shaunna and Vasia.

I’m so glad to have been able to lead such a fun, friendly, smart group of young adults. You all have challenged and supported me, and I can only hope that I have done the same for each of you. I sincerely wish you all the best in whatever future you decide to pursue.