In the first installment in this series I asserted that youth leaders develop when they are doing, not watching. Our best Scout youth leader training is an active process of discovery. In part two I outlined the relationships and environment most conducive to development.
What specific practices aid developing leadership? How do we actually make this happen?
If you are going to wait for your Scouts to actually be leaders before they are trusted with real responsibility you’ll be waiting a long time. We are developing leaders and youth leaders develop by leading.
Back Off and Let Them Lead.
Don’t shadow, don’t hand-hold, don’t dog their tracks. Make your advice and mentoring brief and it will be more effective. Make fewer statements, ask more questions.
Be sure to coördinate your approach with other adults in advisory roles. It’s a good idea, for instance, to agree that only one of you will direct the senior patrol leader when needed. Concerns about what’s going on go to that adult and they decide how it will be addressed. I have seen a group of adults run a senior patrol leader ragged by “being helpful”.
Respond to Initiative
Respond to initiative from youth leaders rather than having youth leaders respond to yours.
Even newly minted youth leaders will show initiative if we learn to look for it. Look for the least sign of initiative; an idea or action that shows promise, and support it. Here’s some typical expressions of initiative that we may miss:
- A patrol leader calls all his Scouts and they show up at that week’s meeting.
- The senior patrol leader leads a patrol leader’s council session on their own for the first time.
- The patrol shops for food, packs it along and prepares it on a camping trip.
- A meeting goes by without any adult involvement in the program.
Things like this seem routine to us but they are new to our youth leaders. When we see these expressions of initiative we ought to praise them. Not only to the Scout but to our fellow adult volunteers and the Scout’s fellow leaders. Even if the initiative failed we ought to recognize it and express our appreciation.
Understand that there will be, at times, a decided lack of initiative. It may take some real digging to find something to praise. In the absence of anything good to say take the bad and contrast it with the worst – ‘you may have missed that but at least the worst did not happen’.
If all else fails remember that your youth leaders are volunteering to be Scouts. They are showing up! Even in the worst of times that’s something to celebrate.
Observe and Reflect
It’s important to reiterate the relationship between the Scoutmaster and the youth leadership; we are not their bosses or commanders. We are in a supporting, facilitating role. We recognize and respect the authority and responsibility of our youth leaders.
Our chief activity is not actively advising, directing and mentoring every moment; our role is observing and reflecting. Put yourself in the role of a coach, stay on the sidelines and off the field. Let the Scouts play the game and then reflect on their performance afterwards. Ask how things went, what they think went well.
Honest, useful reflection with a group of Scout-aged boys may be slow and difficult. Be patient, keep it to a few minutes at the most, Boys are especially sensitive to criticism,even good-natured ribbing may be taken the wrong way.
The point of reflection is guiding youth leaders to discover what’s happening, not told what’s happening.
Respect the Discovery Process
Trial and error will show youth leaders what they don’t know or don’t understand. Experience is a powerful teacher. Five minutes of trying things out beats five hours of instruction.
Developing youth leaders will understand, accept and apply training much more readily when they see a need for it rather than being told that they need it.
Give them the environment to try, observe the action and guide a reflection that discovers what they did well and what needs work.
If we understand how youth leaders develop, create and maintain the conditions that foster this development, understand and maintain a useful relationship between adult volunteers and youth leaders, and develop the skills of observation and reflection, we’ll see our youth leaders grow in competence and effectiveness.