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4 Mistakes Scout Leaders Make and How to Correct Them

Sometimes it seems we are doing all the right things but the results we are hoping for never materialize. When Scout leaders grow frustrated with their work it’s usually because they are making one or more of the following mistakes:

1. Scout Leaders Become Over Involved

You’ve heard the term ‘helicopter’ applied to parents, teachers and Scout leaders who are over-involved in children’s lives. Scout leaders can over-plan, seek to control too many of the variables and reduce the Scouting experience to something more like a carefully guided tour rather than an open-ended adventure. We can become too driven by the concept of educating Scouts to the exclusion of real growth.

Our honest, good intentions can cause exactly the opposite results they were hoping for.

In our efforts  to protect our Scouts from uncertainty and adversity, to optimize the productive use of their time, to develop balanced and healthy personalities we can undermine some important natural developmental processes that actually drive the results we are so fervent to obtain.

2. Scout Leaders Become Adverse to Risk

Our culture attempts to calculate and control risk, all cultures do, but several factors have distorted our perception of risk.

We have access to information on a scale unprecedented in human history but our ability to sort through that information individually hasn’t grown proportionally. Fear, foreboding and highly attenuated emotion are  in the news, entertainment and new media that floods our screens and airways. I am not suggesting that this is a coordinated conspiracy – it’s just human.

We don’t simply get a balanced journalistic report about a child being abducted, we are there, watching the events unfold hour upon hour. We don’t just see the story once, we see it hundreds of times. If the story gains enough attention we are likely to see it dramatized in painful, lurid detail on a television show or in a  movie. Communicating  emotions on a visceral level is, in many ways, the goal of all human interaction, The problem is that we have become so good at doing this that we mistake emotion for information.

These messages teach us, mistakenly, that risk is bad. Our reaction is to reduce or eliminate risk in our children’s lives, to make them safe and predictable. We know, though  that this is impossible so we resolve to control more and more of the variables and this is more damaging than protective.

3. Scout Leaders Misunderstand Failure

We have become so concerned about ‘success’ that we have all but eliminated the risk of failure in many aspects of our children’s lives. Failure is good, failure builds resilience and character, failure is not the enemy.

The real enemies are shame, anger, discouragement and disappointment.

Children need the latitude to attempt things and fail at them. Whether or not they learn from these failures hings on our reaction. We probably all recall some landmark in our childhood where we failed and the adults around us reacted with anger or shame. We don’t want our own children to experience this sort of thing so we either rescue them before they fail or over-compensate by controlling the natural consequences of the failure.

How we react to failure is much. much more important than rescuing our children from it.

4. Scout Leaders Emphasize Rewards and Lack Objectivity

Scouting is not simply a system of challenges and rewards – it is a journey through developmental experiences. We know that success in life is not a simple metric comparison reduced to winning and losing.

Problem is our parenting and leadership can make it seem that everything a child does is measured and compared to others. When this becomes the norm parents and leaders become cheerleaders instead of coaches. While our children need encouragement they know when it is either undeserved or disingenuous.

Coaches are objective. They help you find your strengths and weaknesses and then give you the tools to work with them. Cheerleaders are not objective they are telling you about how awesome you are , even when you are performing badly.

Parents and Scout leaders must balance their coaching and cheer leading to achieve real success and growth – they must have a studied and consistent objectivity. Our children don’t grow and achieve because they are awesome, but because they learn to try, to overcome challenges, to learn from failures and learn to be persistent.

Seven Thoughts on Balanced Leadership

The overly effusive cheerleader and the overly critical taskmaster are both unbalanced approaches to leading Scouts. Balancing our leadership style is a never-ending challenge, one that we should always be working to improve.

1. Risk is not always dangerous.

Naturally some risks are unacceptable, but not all risks are dangerous. Scouters have ample program guides and rules that define the line between acceptable and unacceptable risk.

2. Scouts need latitude to choose.

Life is choosing to do or be something. Shaping and controlling every choice to guarantee that it is a good one is not a balanced approach – neither is having no control. Every game has a field of play, and so does Scouting – some choices are simply out-of-bounds.

3. Balanced Empathy

We forget that our Scouts think most adults are unerringly sure of themselves, that we don’t question or regret our own actions. Letting them know where we’ve fallen short and how we recovered can help them better address their own difficulties.

4. Objectivity

Sure our Scouts are awesome, of course we know they can do great things – but we know that greatness comes from hard work. Help them understand that being talented and skilled is only part of the equation.

5. Balanced Reactions

Avoid anger and shaming, be encouraging and understanding.

6. Balanced Rewards

Every achievement is a step forward. While every victory ought to be celebrated it needn’t always be a ticker tape parade down main street. A few words of honest praise are more important than showy over excess.

7. Failure is a Powerful Teacher

We know that achievement comes more through hard work than force of personality. In the same way every failure is not caused by a lack of personality or character. Our job is to lend every achievement and every failure objectivity.