When it comes to leadership, there’s no shortcut to success. But reading to get advice from others who’ve ‘been there’ can be a big help. There are dozens of ways to become a leader and dozens of different things that impact a person’s ability to lead.

This is especially true in the summer camp environment. While you might come in as a camp counselor during your first season at a camp, it took years to build the skills to step into that position.

With that in mind, here are eight non-summer camp books you can read to hone your skills and head back into this season ready to do your best work:

1. Start With Why – by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is a well-known business writer, and this book is famous in business circles. His TED Talk [can we include a link?] is one of the most viewed presentations on that famed speaking circuit. Start With Why outlines one of the essential truths in business or life: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. This is an important statement on passion, and it’s a critical consideration for people working in the summer camp environment.

If you don’t love what you do, your campers and co-workers are going to catch on. You’re going to be less than sufficient, and you’re going to burn out. Passion is the true foundation of success.

In Start With Why, Sinek delves into questions about success, including why some people are more innovative and influential than others. He also lays out how interested parties can learn how to build more of those traits in themselves. Most importantly, Sinek looks at how the world’s best leaders inspire greatness and action in others. A critical read for anyone in a leadership position, this should be the first stop on your booklist this summer.

If you like this book, you can also check out Sinek’s other books, Leaders eat Last and Together is Better.

2. The Go-Giver Leader – by Bob Burg and John David Mann

When a leader tries to act like a leader, things generally go south pretty quickly.  Some less experienced leaders think leading is defined by taking power, rather than listening and reciprocity. That’s precisely what the authors of this book realized before they crafted the parable that would become an ongoing bestseller.

Here’s a brief excerpt to get you excited:

“I met last week with your leaders,” Ben began. “I heard what they had to say. And you know, they make a good point.” He paused. Take charge, Ben, he told himself. Take control. He looked around the conference room. Take, take, take. Was that really what he was here to do?

With their acclaimed bestseller The Go-Giver, Bob Burg and John David Mann proved that a heartfelt parable could also express a powerful idea. In The Go-Giver Leader (originally pub­lished as It’s Not About You), they offer an equally compelling tale about a struggling small business and the ambitious young executive trying to lead them to a crucial decision.

Allen & Augustine has manufactured high-quality chairs for decades. Its people take pride in their work and feel loyal to their owners and management team. But this revered company is now at a crossroads, hurt by a tough economy, foreign competition, and a cash crunch. The air is filled with the scent of uncertainty, anxiety, perhaps even panic.

Into this setting enters Ben, who’s been assigned by a larger firm to promote a merger that will rescue Allen & Augustine. Ben’s facts are undeniable: the chair maker can either merge and modernize or go bankrupt and vanish. So why can’t he persuade anyone to buy in, from the CEO on down?

Will Ben find a way to sway the employee shareholders before the climactic vote? And can Allen & Augustine survive without losing its soul? The answers may surprise you as you follow Ben on his journey to understanding that the path to genuine influence lies less in taking leadership than in giving it.

In The Go-Giver Leader, Mann argues that great leaders strive to be more human, rather than more authoritative. The book claims that people who give the most also receive the most.

The book promotes a mindset of higher consciousness in the leadership environment and is an excellent read for anyone who wants to buck the trappings of traditional leadership and create real relationships with campers. For counselors and staff who want to make an impact, rather than just making rules, this is the perfect roadmap.


3. Essentialism – by Greg McKeown

Any leadership position comes with dozens of things to get done. Leadership at Camp is no different. Sometimes this influx can be overwhelming. What’s critical and what’s not? What takes precedence when there are seemingly hundreds of things on the to-do list? How does one avoid overwhelm when the “to do” list keeps growing?

This book dives into tips and tactics leaders of all types can use to manage their time more efficiently, lead from the heart, and create meaningful change in their respective environments.

Don’t worry; this isn’t your run-of-the-mill self-help book that covers productivity or self-improvement. Instead, Essentialism is a systematic layout for people who want to discern what’s critical and what’s not in their daily lives.  McKeown argues that focusing on “less” is the only way to get more from our everyday lives.

4. Drive by Daniel H. Pink

One of the things many camp counselors are seeking to get away from is the drudgery that can come with many corporate jobs. Instead of sitting behind a desk for the rest of your working years, you want to get out into the world, make a difference, and do work you can be proud of.

Daniel Pink gets that. In Drive, Pink focuses on the most critical determining factor in success: internal motivation. He also looks at how it works to drive people to bigger and better things. This book will teach you to tap into your inner motivation, and remember why exactly you got into the summer camp world in the first place.

This book will also teach you how to motivate other people, which is a handy skill for any summer camp staff member. As Pink says in the book, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”  Don’t be surprised if you come away with some actionable ideas for team building, promoting engagement, and creating long-term bonds within your campers after you read this one.

5. Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder – by Richard Louv

Kids come to summer camp for many reasons. But there is a common thread for many campers:  they’re coming to get a dose of nature. Wild spaces are becoming rare, and increasing numbers of children are growing up without playing in the woods, making up their games, or wandering, unchecked, in packs.

Based on years of meticulous research, lived anecdotes, and established science, Louv uses this book to take a much closer look at how society has changed in recent decades, and the factors that have combined to distance modern kids from nature. The book also evaluates the changes that distancing has made to children’s social and physical lives, and issues some explicit warnings about what will happen to our society if we continue allowing our children to grow up without ever getting their hands dirty.

Chock-full of shocking realities and hopeful solutions, Last Child in the Woods examines the importance of nature on the developing personality. It also looks at how the disappearance of it can have far-reaching risks and challenges. This book is a critical read for anyone who believes that children should not grow up indoors, and wants to do something about it.

6. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – by Stephen Covey

No matter who you are or where you work, this book is a must-read. It’s a must-read for anyone with a to-do list. A great touchpoint for anyone who feels frustrated or overwhelmed, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will help you re-focus and do your job better.

Wonder what the seven habits are? Here are a few of the critical insights from the book:


  • Sharpen your saw. An apt metaphor for anyone in the summer camp world, Covey believes it’s unwise to work ourselves to death. Instead, he advocates striving for a sustainable lifestyle that allows plenty of time to recharge, recuperate, and focus on long-term effectiveness.
  • Be proactive. Reactivity is a waste of time. Covey advocates assuming responsibility, taking charge, and becoming the architect of your daily circumstances.
  • Start with the end in mind. Instead of wandering through your life aimlessly, establish a vision for the future, align actions accordingly, and make that goal into a reality.
  • Put the first things first. Prioritize work by focusing on the things that will bring you closer to your future vision. Don’t get distracted by all of life’s urgent but unimportant tasks.
  • Shoot for the win-win. When you negotiate with other people, don’t always angle to get the biggest piece of the cake. Instead, aim to find solutions that work for all parties. Not only will you get your fair share, but you’ll strengthen relationships in the process. This is a crucial takeaway for summer camp workers.
  • Start by understanding, then be understood. Most of us want to solve problems as soon as they crop up. That’s a short-sighted solution, though, and can make it tough to find long-term fixes. Instead, we need to learn to take time to understand issues, external viewpoints, and the like, and then we can step in and find a solution.
  • Synergize. Understand that, in a group setting, the contributions of many exceed the contribution of one. This helps achieve group goals and create stunning outcomes.


Get the final three habits by picking up this book this summer.


7. Into the Wild – by Jon Krakauer

A foundational piece of the outdoor writing canon, Into the Wild is a different biography than anything else out there. A literary epic about a life of adventure, no fear, and no compromise, this book teaches everyone about standing out. It’s also a valuable lesson in standing up for the things you believe in. Love it or hate it, you’ll walk away changed.


8. Raise Your Child’s Social IQ: Stepping Stones to People Skills for Kids – by Cathi Cohen

A practical guide written for parents, this book offers a customized program that helps adults teach children to navigate life. The book covers experiences like teasing, creating bonds with other kids, learning to read social cues, building social self-esteem, expressing emotions, and more.

Ideal for anyone who has an interest in childhood development, this book can be a valuable tool in any camp counselor’s arsenal.

Better Leadership Starts Here

Working as a camp counselor means providing dynamic, hands-on experiences for kids and, in many ways, shaping the way they live, play, and think. This is a huge responsibility, to be sure, and it requires that you rise to the occasion. These eight books will help you do just that. By giving camp directors and staff the tools they need to be as efficient, compassionate and organized as possible, these books will help you reach your full potential and serve the kids you work with that much better.


Leave a Reply