How Can I Help?

One of the best business lessons I ever learned was at summer camp.  When I was sixteen I worked for a summer as a lifeguard and sailing instructor at a family camp in Ontario, Canada.  Families would attend the camp for a week – sleeping in basic wooden cabins, dining together in an old wooden dining hall, and doing campy activities like swimming, boating, and playing badminton.

The staff was comprised of sixteen and seventeen year olds – twenty four girls and twenty four boys – supervised by a dozen university students.  It was a fantastic summer.  Extremely fun, but also a lot of work.

A week before the camp officially opened to campers, the staff would arrive for training.  One of the key lessons was about customer service.  More specifically, we were taught to ask “How can I help you?” then try to help.

That lesson has stayed with me since.

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* names in these chat screenshots were changed to preserve anonymity

It’s been more than 20 years, and now my job is very different.  But I try to retain a default response whenever someone reaches out: “How can I help?”

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This can be hard when I feel like I’m swamped with work, and I’m not looking for an additional meeting, report, presentation or last-minute interview with a candidate.

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As I’ve become busier and responsible for a larger organization, this has meant that I’ve had to learn to delegate and say no a lot more.  But I still carry the lesson I learned at sixteen – to start the conversation with “How can I help?” and then to try.

About brendansterne

Sr Director, Product Incubator
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