Adult leaders often say things like;
“I don’t override the boys decisions at all. ”
“I asked them what they wanted to do.”
“This was their decision.”
What most of us fail to recognize is that many of these ‘boy led’ decisions were probably coerced, at least in part, by the presence of adults when they were discussed.
It’s not that the adults shined bright lights in their eyes or twisted their arms behind their backs – it is much more subtle than that.
When adults are present youth leadership – the Scouting way- is not happening.
Say what? You mean when I am in the room listening and not talking I am somehow affecting the outcome of their decision making process?
Yes! So I want to suggest that you lead by walking away. Let Me explain:
When adults are listening, watching or talking Scouts are instinctively looking for the assent and approval of the adults. This is a result what they do at School and at home; listen to adults and seek their approval.
So even if you say absolutely nothing at all your presence is somewhat coercive. It’s not that you are a bad person or anything – it’s just the way things are.
So if we are not supposed to be around and not supposed to talk to them and not supposed to watch what they are doing, how do we do our jobs as adult leaders?
We use very specific, scheduled, regular, and commonly understood opportunities to interact with youth leadership. Otherwise we leave them alone; alone enough that sometimes we cannot see them or hear them.
I have found that one good opportunity to exercise this concept is when patrols go grocery shopping. The Scouts create a menu, estimate how much money they need, schedule a time and place, their parents drop them off and leave them to shop. No adult leaders or parents accompany them into the store. They work totally autonomously until they exit the store after successfully shopping and paying.
Are you comfortable with doing something like that? What do you think would happen if you did?
No adult is assigning, watching, checking, offering oversight or any other means of interference or intervention. Drop them off at the door and pick them up when they exit the store. Only the patrol leader works with his guys to get it done.
A patrol leader given this opportunity is leading; if adults are present he is looking for their approval. In my experience his is true of all Scouts up to around age sixteen or so.
Here’s a few of the times when adults and youth leaders talk with one another:
1. Occasional reflections with a senior patrol leader or patrol leader after a Scout meeting.
2. Scoutmaster Conferences.
3. Scoutmaster senior patrol leader two-minute chat before a patrol leader’s council.
4. Scoutmaster’s minute.
5. Troop Leadership Training. This is the Scoutmaster’s show.
6. When a senior patrol leader or patrol leader walks over and asks the Scoutmaster a specific question or asks for help.
Here’s times when you should refrain from interacting with youth leadership:
1. During patrol and troop meetings.
2. During patrol leader’s councils.
3. During campouts.
4. During the troop annual planning conference.
5. During summer camp at meals/around the picnic table during the day/etc.
6. During patrol shopping trips.
7. During patrol and troop activities when a Scout is in charge.
I cannot overemphasize how important it is to realize that when adults are physically present Scouts are looking for approval – not leading. Think about this, think about it a lot;
When adults are physically present Scouts are looking for approval – not leading.
Start observing how this happens and change the way you do things; I’d be interested to hear the results!