Like many of you, I think about leadership a lot. Both my own and what I observe in others—what I can learn from (or avoid!). So, while preparing for the CEO Summit that took place Oct. 9-10 this year, I was reminded of “continual improvement” as a leadership concept, and a theory known as Kaizen. A continual improvement process (CIP) is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or practices. These efforts can seek “incremental” improvement over time or “breakthrough” improvement all at once. The core principle of CIP is the value of (self) reflection, with an emphasis on deliberate, continual steps rather than brazen, giant leaps.
I’m attracted to the concept because it aligns so well with Camp Fire’s program delivery focus. It’s definitely at the heart of Thrive{ology}. We’re never “done” influencing, supporting, and nurturing our youth and families. Our work is holistic and ongoing. Programs are delivered, then continually evaluated and enhanced to ensure optimal efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility—in other words, the desire and ability to continually improve.

The term “Kaizen,” derived from the Japanese words “kai” (“change”) and “zen” (“good”), means “improvement.” It the subject of one of the breakout management books of the mid-1980s, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. One of Kaizen’s key features is that workers should continually seek ways to improve their performance, to take ownership of their work. If that holds true for workers, then as leaders, we must model the way. We must be the first within our respective teams to demonstrate a growth mindset—that willingness to improve our leadership performance—even when it’s hard. And even when change may force us forward in ways that are unfamiliar and a little scary.
At National Headquarters we are finalizing Camp Fire’s 2014 Annual Report, scheduled for publication in mid-October. As we review the accomplishments and challenges of the past year, I am once again reminded that though we haven’t yet “arrived,” we’re on our way. We’re improving because we’re open to learning. We’re succeeding because we have a compelling vision and foundation for the present and future—our Promise. We’re learning what it really takes for young people to thrive. It’s continual. There is an expectation for how our future will look, yet none of us yet know exactly how it will evolve. There are too many variables and uncertainties.
I encourage all of us, as leaders, to stay the course—to remember that change is good; that sometimes it’s the incremental adjustments that precede the big breakthroughs. In every way that matters most—the shining faces of our youth and the ongoing appreciation from their families—we’re delivering the right message in the right way. When we gather in Chicago, we’ll celebrate our victories. We’ll swap stories and learn from one another. And in so doing, we’ll recommit ourselves to our continual growth and improvement as CEOs. It always begins now.

Cathy Tisdale
President & CEO
Camp Fire