What are the most promising approaches for youth leader development? In the first installment in this series we discussed some key concepts about the relationship between Scouts and leadership positions and the way they develop as leaders.
Training events like NYLT (National Youth Leader Training) present both experiential and classroom learning. Troop based youth leadership training offers some experiential learning as well. As good as the event-style training is it can only be a part of a broader developmental process.
If the conditions in a Scout’s home troop are not focused on continual leadership development the benefits of event based training will be minimal.
Conditions for Development
The single greatest key to strong youth development are the attitude and actions of the adults associated with his troop. If they are not invested in creating the conditions required for continuing youth leader development things progress slowly, if at all.
There’s a basic paradox to face; youth leader development in its earliest stages will not look like development at all, in fact it will look like things are moving backwards. Getting past this stage requires an exceptional quality in adults:
Capacity for Adversity and Uncertainty
Scouts developing as leaders won’t perform at the same level as adults. In the first stages of development their performance may even be hard to detect let alone evaluate. When things go undone or mistakes are made adults tend to step in, and as we noted yesterday, they may grow so discouraged that they give up on the idea of developing Scouts in to leaders in any real way.
Scouts and their families will also need some capacity for uncertainty as youth develop as leaders. Families, especially, need initial introduction and continual reinforcement that youth leaders are at the helm and they are developing leaders, not seasoned professionals.
Many families initially experience Scouting through a Cub Pack and have probably developed high expectations for order, communication and consistency. The chaos, incomplete communication and inconsistency of developing youth leaders is a big challenge for them. It’s right for the adult volunteers in a troop to communicate directly with parents through a parallel channel as youth leader’s communicate with Scouts. They need to balance the effort to create a capacity in their youth leaders to communicate detailed plans with effective communication to families. In some ways adult volunteers serve as a buffer between families and youth leaders. In doing so they;
Protect the Developmental Environment
A vegetable garden needs protection from pests just as developing youth leaders need protection from outside influences that disrupt the process. As they develop youth become more confident in addressing the concerns of adults and will stand up for themselves. Until the have this confidence, though, they need protection. Many of these difficulties are minimized if we maintain;
Balanced Relationships between Youth Leaders and their Adult Counterparts.
Constant oversight, advice, and over-instruction tend to stifle the discovery crucial to development. Adults working with youth leaders should use a minimal amount of ‘telling’ communication or direct instructions. They should also understand that youth leaders have different levels of tolerance for mentoring and advising. Too little is almost always better than too much.
Our role is more reflective than directive. We are available but not intrusive. When we balance this relationship we create a safe environment for;
Given a goal or a task youth leaders will seek a solution. If their proposed approach is not dangerous or inappropriate they should be allowed to make it happen, and this is important, even if we are confident the approach will fail. The process of trial and error leads to discovery. Edison tried a lot of things out before he discovered which material worked for a light bulb filament – he developed experientially.
The difference between Edison and our developing youth leaders is Edison was looking for an unknown. Our youth leaders are discovering something that we probably already know how to do. If we tell them everything we know we deny them the more powerful and more lasting experience of discovering it for themselves.
In the last installment of this series we’ll discuss some specific practices that aid development of leadership.