How to not be helpful

I’d like to continue the series of posts following up on my presentation at last fall’s University of Scouting, in which I offered some suggestions on how committee chairs could better serve their unit committees. We can do this is by viewing our responsibility the way we encourage the boys to: as servant leaders, primarily concerned with the well-being and performance of others on the committee.

Ironically, one way of doing this is by not helping! Let me explain – I’m not suggesting we do away with point #3 of the Scout Law. When we see a committee member in a quandary or struggling with a task, our first instinct is to jump in and tell them how to do it (or to take over the task and do it ourself). By doing this, though, you deprive the committee member of a problem-solving experience, and the opportunity to look at a problem from another angle. You don’t want to hang your fellow Scouter out to dry, but let them try to figure out a solution on their own. They can ask you for resources or policy help, but if they do get to a point where they  can’t figure it out, resist the urge to do it for them. Instead, ask some carefully crafted questions that lead them to the solution. Think of how you’d resolve the situation, then think of the decisions you’d make yourself along the way. Turn those into questions, and ask those questions.

You can also enable your committee members and put your stamp on the outcome by avoiding top-down leadership. Top-down leadership is where information flows up and orders flow down. This may seem like a good way to stay in control but it has two negative effects. One is that those below the top don’t get a chance to learn and think out processes and solutions, and don’t become owners of their jobs and outcomes. They don’t feel that they can bring their unique talents to the table; instead, they are being told what to do, and can feel like another replaceable cog in the machine.

The second negative impact is that all decisions and processes must flow through the top leader, and who wants all that work?

Leaders in top-down organizations don’t get the real picture. They hear what others want them to hear, not what’s really going on. Followers in top-down organizations are bound to a bureaucratic hierarchy. They fear doing anything other that what they are told to do.

Scouting can be a top-down organization because national tells us what to do, gives us the program, and tells us to do it. They expect followers to fear failure and embrace the status quo. This is necessary in order to ensure a uniform application of the program in all councils and units. It’s also not practical to have a fully collaborative leadership model in an organization as large as the BSA. However, your committee doesn’t have to work that way. You can enable your committee members to do their jobs by delegating broad areas of responsibility, set some desired guidelines and outcomes, and let them accomplish those the best way they can. If you see something specific that’s not right or isn’t being done, you can call their attention to the situation (don’t blame the individual!)  and ask how they’d like to proceed.

For some, it might mean less work to just do it ourselves, and less trouble to simply issue directives, but the goal should be to leverage the talents and ideas of every committee member, not just the chairperson.


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