Learning to lead

learn+lead250While some people seem to be natural leaders, it’s generally held that leadership is something that can be learned. The esteemed football coach Vince Lombardi believed that

Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.

Our Scouts, most likely, are not great leaders. In fact, they probably don’t know the first thing about leadership when they take on their first leadership position of responsibility – most often as a patrol leader. It is through Scouting that they begin the process of learning about leadership. During their time as a Scout, they most likely won’t become accomplished leaders – even those who serve in multiple positions of responsibility or as senior patrol leader – but they will develop many leadership traits through their Scouting experience that will give them an advantage outside Scouting and later in college and adult life.

What are some of the ways we can see if good leadership traits are taking hold?

We can begin by examining some of the qualities that a great leader possesses. Leadership consultant Lolly Daskal provides us with a test of leadership skills. Here are some of Daskal’s test questions, along with ways that we can help our youth leaders grow into leadership:

  • Have you identified your role and responsibilities? Daskal says that too many roles are ill-defined and lead to confusion. In our Scouts’ case, this can lead to frustration if the youth leader doesn’t know what is expected of him. The roles of responsibility are laid out fairly clearly in the Scout Handbook, but the Scoutmaster should make sure that the Scout knows what’s expected of him and the results he should be looking for.
  • Do you communicate often and with clarity? It’s especially important for youth leaders to learn to communicate – with each other, and with those they lead. The senior patrol leader needs to learn how to convey a message to the patrol leaders’ council members and to the troop generally, and patrol leaders need to pass the word along to their patrols. In addition, leadership involves as much listening as it does talking, so good leaders listen to those they are leading to obtain valuable feedback on how the mission is being carried out. A good leader, says Daskal, uses words to inspire and to support others.
  • Do you treat failure as a teacher? If there’s one thing that nearly all boys of Scouting age share, it’s that they have failed at something. In fact, many will have failed more often than they succeeded. With rare exceptions, there is nothing wrong with failure, as long as something is learned from it and the experience is used to improve performance. By learning what doesn’t work Scouts move closer to finding out what does. As Daskal puts it, failure “doesn’t mean the game is over – it means it’s time to try again”. And as Tom Peters is fond of saying: Fail! Fail again! Fail better!
  • Do you show appreciation to others? Appreciation is the best way of bringing out excellence in others, Daskal reminds us. While some may feel a leader’s job is to find what’s wrong and correct it, a good leader is on the lookout for the things that go right and calls attention to them. By recognizing those who do a good job, or find a better way to achieve a goal, good leaders encourage higher performance in others.

Daskal offers several more things to look for in good leaders, many of which could also be applied to our Scouts. But the bottom line is that each and every one of our Scouts is a potential leader – and we need to not only give them an opportunity to experience leadership but help them learn leadership in a positive and uplifting environment. By doing so, we will be giving them a rare gift – something that will help boost their future success.

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