Leader: a title or an attitude?

I frequently sit on rank advancement boards of review in our troop. Because it’s so important to me, I usually ask the scouts we interview about leadership in one aspect or another. I ask whether the scout holds a position of responsibility in the troop, how he’s handling it and if he’s  had any problems. I also ask him what he thinks “being a leader” means. While occasionally we’ll hear an answer that really impresses me – the “right” answer: a leader serves others – usually what we hear is “a leader gets to boss people around” or something similar. I’ll also ask if he views himself differently since he’s held a position, and in what way.

A recent article by Gary Hamel in Management Innovation Exchange dealt with the topic of what makes for a natural leader. Sure, somebody can hold a title, and can exert authority based on that title, but anyone can be a leader, title or no, just by his actions. A leader in title only, as Mr. Hamel points out, exerts authority by virtue of his title alone. In the work world, where people are paid to do a job and follow their “leader”, this frequently results in things getting accomplished, but doesn’t always result in leadership taking place.

A true leader can lead with or without a title. Mr. Hamel mentions examples of moms starting support groups, citizens initiating historical preservation, or organizing a softball team as examples of ad-hoc leadership. People in these situations don’t have formal titles, but aren’t they leaders just the same?

In the laboratory known as Scouting, we are developing leadership qualities in our youth. Many of them will be elected to leadership positions – Patrol Leader, for example – or appointed in roles like Scribe and Quartermaster. But does a boy become a leader just because he’s been awarded a title? Or is he awarded the title based on his ability to lead?

Hopefully he’s already practiced leadership before he’s appointed or elected. But how so? In a Boy Scout troop we have many more leaders than we have positions. For instance, boys teach each other scout skills such as tent setup, plant identification, hiking, and first aid. They serve as the patrol cook, leading others in meal preparation and cleanup. They guide others on the trail. These are not titled leadership positions, but they are practicing leadership all along.

The same thing applies at the adult level. Committee members may have titles, but that does not automatically make them leaders. And, those who pitch in to help as needed, while maybe not holding a title, are leading nevertheless.

Leadership is more than holding a title. It’s an attitude – a state of mind – involving the be-know-do trilogy: Leaders Are; Leaders Can; Leaders Will. One of the goals of Scouting should be to give every boy an opportunity to be a leader, to make him aware that his actions are important to others, and to encourage and recognize leadership behavior – title or no title.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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