They don’t appear to know how to lead.
Scouts are elected to leadership positions but are doing a lackluster job. They don’t seem to appreciate the opportunity and are very slow to take things on.
Sometimes this apparent lack of initiative is a matter of perspective. What we picture in our minds as leadership may be very different from what our Scouts see themselves doing. It may be a difference of style or personality, it may be their reluctance to stand out. Being responsible for themselves can be a challenge, much less being responsible for others. They need practice, mentoring, training and positive reinforcement.
We need to build on even the most fleeting expression of initiative and leadership. The attitude of our response is all important. The patrol leader is not our employee and we are not their boss; we are co-volunteer leaders and his job is more important that yours. If you approach him as a boss demanding action he will likely shy away; if you express support and offer help he’ll respond differently. What looks easy to us may be a tremendous challenge for him.
A patrol leader consistently fails to contact his Scouts, does not seem to plan anything and is encountering difficulty. Ask him a couple of non-judgmental questions; “How are things going with your Patrol?” the instinctive response is “Fine” – he would rather end the conversation here.
“The reason I ask is that I know what a difficult job it can be sometimes. I learn something new about being Scoutmaster every time we open the doors to meet here. Is there anything I can help you with?” The answer is usually noncommittal and evasive.
“A lot of newer patrol leaders forget to call their Scouts or don’t understand what their responsibilities are, have you been able to figure things out?” If you are going to get anywhere at all you’ll get an honest answer here.
Build on the least little bit of initiative; ‘I saw that you were the first patrol in line for the closing; well done.”
Sometimes we have to look pretty hard to see a particular Scout’s leadership skills. We need to extend the effort to see things from their perspective.
Adults are leading instead of Scouts.
At meetings or events youth leaders stay in the background; they just don’t step up and do what is expected of leader. When the Troop meeting begins an adult is calling the Scouts to attention, other adults are hollering ‘sign’s up’. Adults are making announcements, instructing skills and generally running the meeting. When scouts have charge of something they are overshadowed by adults standing by who interfere or interject their opinions or elaborations.
Adults must stop interference with or usurping the ability of Scouts to lead. Scoutmaster’s can’t ‘try’ to make this happen or take incremental steps to make it happen; it needs to change. Otherwise youth leaders will continue to remain in the background and defer to an adult who steps forward to take the reigns.
The Scoutmaster gather’s his fellow adult leaders together and begins with ” In order for our youth leadership to actually lead we have to stop doing a few things. As of today we don’t speak at Troop meetings unless we are spoken to. The senior patrol leader runs the show and has complete responsibility for everything.”
After the initial shock one assistant Scoutmaster say’s ” I think this is a good idea but I think we should do this a step at a time; if we don’t I think it will be pretty chaotic.”
The Scoutmaster replies “No doubt that it will be chaotic and hard to watch, That’s why we’ll be counting on each other to stick to this and remain as observers rather than participants in the meeting.”
Another assistant asks ” Does this mean that the Scouts are going to do whatever they want? How do we know they’ll be doing what they are supposed to do?”
The Scoutmaster replies “We don’t; and it’s likely that there will be a lot of fits and starts but either we make this change or we don’t. We have to have confidence in our Scouts and work with them. The first step is not doing their jobs for them.”
Another assistant says ” I don’t think the Scouts have the ability or training to do this. We’ve tried before and they just don’t do things properly.”
The Scoutmaster replies “No doubt they have a lot to learn, but they aren’t going to learn by watching us do things – we’ve tried that too. We’ll be observing, mentoring and advising. No doubt they won’t do things like we would but we’ll be watching for positive signs and encouraging them along the way.”
Adults must step aside for Scouts to lead and preserve an atmosphere where Scouts practice leadership skills without interruption or interference. Authority and responsibility for most things in Scouting belongs to the Scouts themselves; it is not something that the adults own and dole out to Scouts as they see fit.
Youth leadership decisions and plans are being coerced or overridden.
Scouts are nominally in charge of things but the troop committee or the Scoutmaster is constantly telling them what to do and changing or vetoing their plans.
Scouts need to have reasonable, broad autonomy to decide on their activities and how they will accomplish goals. The goals should be clearly defined but general in nature and not so closely drawn that there’s only one way to accomplish them.
The Scoutmaster meets with the troop committee and they discuss the mission statement of the BSA, what Scouts are promised when they join Scouting and the criterion in the Journey to Excellence program. They resolve to support any decisions from the patrol leader’s council that are consistent with these goals.
The Scoutmaster meets with the patrol leader’s council and presents the information the committee discussed and explains ” You guys are smart enough to understand that we are Scouts for some specific reasons. I can tell you that so long as you are making plans that meet the goals we have here we’re going to do our best to make them happen. I’ll be available to help should you need me. I have some other things to do right now; let me know when you’ve finished planning and we’ll look at the results together.”
Scouts can and will understand how to shape their activities around delivering a program that achieves the goals of Scouting. They will make plenty of missteps and experience a disappointment or two but they’ll be directing their own troop and learning a great deal from the experience.