Whose authority is it, anyway?

empower_200As leaders in the Scouting program, we sometimes think that we have the ultimate authority in how our troop runs. But do we?

Yes, we are responsible for ensuring that things are done safely, and that the Scouting program is followed. The committee provides essential support in the form of equipment, finance, and administration. A Scout troop, however, is meant to be led by the boys, not by the adults, and this means not taking the authority away from the boys when it comes to running their troop.

In a recent article in his Leadership Freak blog, Dan Rockwell tells us that the way to gain initiative is by giving authority. In a workplace sense, this is exemplified by defining authority as “the permission to act without permission.” Admittedly, we aren’t going to let our Scouts do just anything without permission, but our intent is for the boys to develop their own program, plan their meetings and conduct outings along the lines of Scouting by doing whatever they feel is the best way to accomplish it. We inspire and train – leadership skills, that is – and the boys plan and conduct, learning how to lead in the process. Control freaks, as Rockwell states, never inspire initiative, and if adults feel they must control the process and outcome, the boys will never take the initiative. Having this essential element removed negates everything that we are here for.

Rockwell, who packs a lot of wisdom into 300 words, goes on in the article to describe many other essential concepts, including that once given authority, participants exhibit commitment to the mission. Indeed, when boys develop and execute the program they’ve planned, they feel more responsibility to see that it succeeds. If they are merely told what to do, they feel no ownership and feel as if they’re begrudgingly going along for the ride.

The article lists ten ways that authority builds initiative, including:

  • Train and equip to handle authority effectively – This is the Scoutmaster’s job in a nutshell! We train the Scouts to run their troop. We give them leadership and management skills and give them the authority to use these tools.
  • Establish structures and systems that guide and limit authority– The structures and systems are already established for us. The patrol method contains the structure that guides patrol operations, and the patrols together guide the troop.
  • Establish the authority of others by deferring to those with expertise – This is why adults don’t teach Scout skills. Boys who know the skills teach other boys. By deferring to youth with expertise and guiding them to teach the others, you recognize their authority.
  • Share benefits and consequences of mistakes – We encourage boys to fail constructively and to learn from failure. Of course, we don’t want to see them fail, but we won’t get in the way of their trying, and if it leads to failure, we use our evaluation tools to discover what was learned in the process.

The concept of giving authority extends deeper into the troop from the top leadership as well. When a patrol leader appoints a grubmaster for the weekend, he’s giving him the authority to shop for and cook the meals the patrol has chosen without interference from the patrol leader.

Be sure to read Rockwell’s full article (it’s short) and use it as inspiration for how you can ensure the Scouts in  your troop have the authority they deserve in running their troop. Share your ideas in a comment below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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