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Information, Observation, and Inspiration for Scouters

Taking action on tough issues

gavel_200Most of the time, the business of running a troop or a pack goes smoothly. Everyone is in it together for the benefit of our sons, and nearly all committee members and parents are glad to work toward having a better program for them – and have a little fun along the way.

But sometimes there’s a problem. It could be a dissatisfied parent, or a rift between volunteers. It could involve a Scout’s misbehavior or something he did unintentionally. It could even be the top leadership – in a recent column, Ask Andy dealt with a situation where the committee chair was abusive toward the Scoutmaster and committee.

What’s the best way to deal with situations like this?

Many of us would be tempted to watch the situation and see how things work out. After all, wouldn’t it be nice if the problem would just go away on its own? We can wish all we want to, but most situations will get worse before they get better, turning into a distraction at best and a disaster at worst.

When serious issues arise, the best course of action is to pursue a solution swiftly and decisively. Get back to trouble fast, for tomorrow it may be twins is a piece of advice I picked up a long time ago. But arbitrary action isn’t called for; what is needed is a considered approach that leads to a solution that everyone can live with. Not all will necessarily like the outcome, but the good of the organization needs to override individual situations.

Leadership consultant Dan Rockwell gives us advice on dealing with personnel performance issues, and much of his wisdom can apply to us as well. He advises swiftly dealing with any adverse situation, for if it is important enough to bring up, it’s important enough to deal with quickly.

Rockwell tells us to approach the issue methodically:

  • Gather facts. Speak to those involved on both sides of a dispute, or from those affected by the situation. In order to be impartial, you must know all sides and accord them equal weight.
  • Seek counsel. If you have any doubts, review your situation with a friend or fellow Scouter in whom you can confide. My friendships with other Scouters has led me to seek advice on multiple occasions when I’ve had to deal with sticky issues. With personnel matters, you should involve the chartered organization representative – a good reason to keep in touch with him or her and provide frequent updates.
  • Weigh the evidence and make your decision. Put yourself in the shoes of a judge or referee. Discard any personality issues and personal friendships with those involved in the situation. Decide what’s best for your unit and how the decision would impact the primary stakeholders – the youth membership.
  • Inform the parties involved. A decision isn’t real until everyone knows about it. Speak in person or use the telephone – don’t just send out an e-mail.
  • Be sure of your decision. Being wishy-washy or dancing around the issue doesn’t make matters any better. Act decisively.
  • Move on. Once the decision is made, it’s time to pick up the pieces and move forward. Appeals and reconsideration are out of the question. Get backing from your chartered organization representative.

Dealing with tough issues can cause us stress, but by detaching ourselves personally from the situation, applying these steps and following the Scout Law, it can be much less stressful and lead to positive outcomes for all concerned.

Image by kittisak / freedigitalphotos.net


  • Larry Geiger says:

    1. Gather facts: Go first to the source documents. There are occasions to consult with council or national but those are actually very rare. What you need to know is already in the Boy Scout Handbook, Guide to Advancement, Scoutmaster Handbook, Troop Committee Guidebook, etc.

    2. Seek counsel.

    3. Weigh the evidence and make your decision: Write stuff down. Andy constantly discourages email flame wars and I agree, but it’s often best to sit down and compose a letter or make a list on paper. Then review it. Then show it to someone else. Try to confirm each item on the list as best you can. DO NOT try and keep all the details in your head. It’s good when we can have useful conversations in email because everyone involved can see the whole chain. But I agree, as soon as it devolves, just stop it.

    4. Inform the parties involved: Again the don’t use email thing. That will soon be blasted out of the water. The next generation IS NOT going to get in a car and go see someone that they can email or text. Is. Not. Going. To Happen. Not sure how we transition this. If you don’t believe me, just watch your teenagers in action.

    5. Be sure of your decision. :-) Hee hee! Hard decisions are hard. We are not always “sure”. But one thing must be clear. Must the situation change? If the answer to that question is yes, then you can be as sure as you can be in your decision. Often it’s true that any one of three options will be just as effective, even though they produce very different results, because the options go away from where you were. When the lion attacks it’either flight or fight. Either might end up in failure (being eaten) but doing nothing is just not going to save you. Don’t worry too much about whether your decision is the best one but that’s it’s a good one. We are not always smart enough or wise enough to pick the best. But almost anyone can often pick a good option. Almost.

    6. Move on. This seems to be exceptionally hard for some folks. They just can’t let it go. Give it a rest. Chill. They can’t. It is hard for them. Scratching a festering sore is their main pastime. If you have one of these, good luck.

    August 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm

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