Even though neither the official mission statement nor the aims of the Boy Scouts of America makes mention of it, leadership is one of the hallmarks of the Scouting program. In fact, while leadership development is one of the methods used to accomplish the aims of Scouting, the end result is that in the process of developing character, citizenship and fitness, we happen to produce great leaders.
This leadership development happens at all levels. Yes, there are adult leaders who run the Cub Scout program and serve in Boy Scouts, but it is the development of leaders at the youth level that, to paraphrase the old GE commercial, is our most important product.
Recently, I came across an interview with JetBlue CEO David Barger in the Corner Office column of The New York Times (tiered subscription model) by Adam Bryant. Barger talks about his own experience as a leader in the airline industry, starting out as a manager and moving up through the ranks. He talks about how at first he didn’t have many tools in his leadership tool kit, and had to learn quickly what he needed to do. From that experience, he learned that leadership development is an ongoing thing – it pays to expose people to leadership experiences and give them responsibilities as they go, rather than getting “kicked upstairs” into a leadership position without ever having encountered any situations in which they are called upon to use leadership skills.
In a way, we do the same thing in Scouting. Starting with the denner in a Cub Scout den, we give a bit of responsibility. Moving on up to Boy Scouts, boys learn to take ownership of a job and do it for the good of their patrol, such as serving as patrol cook or scribe. Many take on roles such as patrol leader after having some experiences in how to manage a process, like cleaning the latrine, or other scouts (such as supervising others in meal preparation and cleanup, or navigating a patrol on a hike). Eventually, through acquisition of a set of leadership tools, boys become assistant senior patrol leaders, the senior patrol leader, or hold other jobs of importance in a troop.
Barger talks about the benefits as a young manager of having access to the top leadership of the company, and in Scouting, we do the same thing. Every Scout, from a Tenderfoot candidate to an Eagle Scout with palms, can talk with his Scoutmaster and troop youth leaders at any time, and can learn from their experiences as well.
But the most important lesson in Scouting is, as Barger puts it, that leaders are teachers. The goal of every leader is to develop leadership skills in others, to teach them so that they can take over someday, and aggregate the leadership skills of a variety of people for the good of the organization. Then, these leaders can pass along their talents to the next wave. It happens on a fast track in Scouting, much more so than in the corporate world, but the process is the same: Leaders develop other leaders, who then move on up and continue the development cycle.
Besides youth leadership, you have a group of adults moving in, up and out with your unit. Make sure that every member of your adult leadership knows that they should be looking out for, and training, his or her replacement. Most of us only stay as long as our sons are involved, and our tenure in any given position is on a year-to-year basis. This gives us an opportunity to explore new challenges, and for others to share in the leadership experience.
The patrol method and the concept of youth leadership in a troop are the perfect vehicle for this development. How can you apply the lessons of leadership in your unit?