I taught my step-son to drive from the passenger seat of a beat-up, old, standard transmission Honda Civic. I am pretty sure the best way to learn how to start from a stop with a clutch is sitting behind the wheel, feeling the clutch engage, pressing the gas pedal, and stalling the car a couple of times.
“Push the clutch in all the way with your left foot.”
“Start the car”
“Now, shift the transmission into first.”
“Slowly let the clutch out and give it a little gas at the same time.”
He guns the engine, let’s the clutch out, we lurch forward a foot or two, and the car stalls.
“So what happened?” I ask.
“The car stopped,” He says.
“Yes, that’s called ‘stalling’, happens to the best of us. Let the clutch out a little slower, and give it a little less gas. Let’s try again.”
We go through the same steps, and this time we lurch forward for a few hops.
“Take your foot off the clutch!” I say.
He lifts his foot and we are moving across the parking lot.
“What next?” I ask.
“Uh, the brakes?” he says.
“Clutch in first, then brakes.”
After an hour he’s making progress, still shaky, my nerves are shot, and we aren’t going out on the street anytime soon, but he’s developing driving skills and intuition.
If you want to teach someone to drive a car do you explain the internal combustion engine or put them behind the wheel? I’d rather put them behind the wheel.
If you want to develop leadership skills in Scouts do you teach them theory in simulated situations or get them leading? I’d rather put Scouts in actual leadership situations.
Let’s forget what we know about training youth leaders, and start developing leadership skills.
For our purposes let’s define training as a theoretical exercise, and developing as an experiential process of discovery.
Training, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, is driven by the desire of adults to explain. We are more comfortable when we have the floor, and we feel our youth leaders need to know everything we know about leadership.
Explaining isn’t objectively a bad; it is the least effective method for helping people understand or develop skills in things like leadership. Some explaining may be helpful from time to time, but experiential discovery it is much more powerful, engaging and fun.
Back to that old Honda Civic. If I tried to explain what it took to get the car moving my step-son would have politely listened, but past a certain point I’d be wasting my breath. There’s something about a teen-aged boy (and most men if we are honest) that just screams “let me try that!” so loud we don’t hear anything else. Whatever it is screaming “Let me try that!” the tremendous creative energy in that voice, the drive, excitement , and expectation; that is our best ally when it comes to developing skill and intuition in leadership.
We amplify that energetic voice with experience rather than silence it with training.
A newly minted patrol leader only knows what they have seen. They may have a lot of knowledge or not very much at all. We’ll find out soon enough. If we begin their experience with long explanations we’ll feel better, but we won’t be giving them information they can understand or apply until they have had some experience.
New leaders don’t need information as much as they need experience.
“Congratulations, you are a patrol leader now, so what happens next?”
“Uh, we have a patrol meeting in a few minutes.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Okay , then, let’s talk later on!”
The new patrol leader will run, not walk, to his patrol and dive in. From across the room I can hear a raised voice, there’s a lot of motion and noise.
“How did it go?’
“Mind if I ask a few questions?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
I have lots of questions, but I’ll stick with three for now. What did you do, how did it go, and what will you do next?
If I listen carefully I may have another question or two. If things were a little rocky I’ll ask why, and what he plans on doing to change things. I know he’ll stall the car, I know everything he needs to know, be, and do, but ‘ll respect that energy and drive and only offer explanations if asked or when absolutely needed.
Always be developing, keep you eyes and ears open, and see what happens.