By Jarom Shaver
Feb 22, 2017

Do Scout Leaders Really Let the Boy Lead?

We recently received some inspirational emails from some of our Scout leaders. They wrote to us with sincerity and passion about the importance of letting boys lead. Do we as Scout leaders really allow the boy’s to lead?

The Young Men General Presidency recently announced three principles of becoming an impact teacher, one of which was the admonition to “Let Them Lead.”

Happy Birthday Baden Powell“The object of the patrol method is not so much saving the Scoutmaster trouble as to give responsibility to the boy.”

– Baden Powell

Baden Powell, the founder of Scouting had much to say on the topic. “Scouting is a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man,” said Powell. “When you want a thing done, ‘Don’t do it yourself’ is a good motto for Scoutmasters.”

It is important for Scout leaders to let boys lead. One volunteers said it perfectly, “Too often in Scouting we tell the SPL that he is in charge, and then we give the Scoutmaster the ability to take the reins away from him. Responsibility without trust is fake, and the boys can tell.”

We liked the emails so much, we decided to share one of them with you. Another volunteer had this wise council for the leaders with whom he served:

Brothers in Scouting,

It was great to see you both last night. I imagine in my mind’s eye that as I greeted you last night—we are in the trenches of improving the Scouting vision in our district—we are battling for something worthwhile and special. I just wanted to let you know about a realization that I came to. Many of our adult leaders don’t truly understand what their role is in Scouting—but, even with the lack of understanding they are totally in-it-to-win-it.

I had planned to cover 10 minutes to review tips on how to have an effective troop meeting and spend the majority of the remaining time on winter camping. I lead out the discussion by asking everyone to stand up. Then I proceeded: “If you have directly asked or mentioned to a Boy Scout (other than the Senior Patrol Leader) anything regarding their uniform—or lack thereof—during a troop meeting then sit down.” Everyone but one leader sat down. “Okay, if you have ever asked Boy Scout(s) to be quiet during a troop meeting, please sit down.” The remaining leader sat down.

While these simple questions don’t prove anything empirically—my gut told me that adult leaders (like I did when I was a Scoutmaster plenty of times until I learned my role) are taking control of troop meetings. As I reviewed the prepared patrol meeting tips, I attempted to paint the picture of what a Scout adult leader’s role really is. I hope that the Scout leaders in attendance last night went away from our discussion with the understanding that their role is simply to train, mentor, and prepare the SPL to run a successful troop meeting (campout, service project, fill in the blank….).

To say the least, I spent the majority of the time (much more than the planned 10 minutes) driving this concept home and winter camping was more of a quick after thought. I’ve thought about last nights experience many times since. One of the comments was, “So what are we supposed to do let the boys run wild?” Well, why not as long as they’re safe? Let them lead themselves. Let them organize themselves. Let them govern themselves. Let them work towards a goal themselves. Certainly do NOT do for them what they can do for themselves.

However, if the SPL arrives to the troop meeting without a written plan, without the confidence to lead it, without knowing what to do if something goes wrong, in other words if the SPL fails due to lack of direction or preparation, then his failure is your (Scoutmaster’s) failure. However, if he fails due to lack of execution of the plan then what a great opportunity for him to get better and improve.

What do you think about this counsel? What are ways that we as Scout leaders can step aside and allow the boys to lead?

Let us know about your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Author: Jarom Shaver | Marketing Executive, Utah National Parks Council

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11 thoughts on “Do Scout Leaders Really Let the Boy Lead?

  1. AvatarRick Pinnock

    Jarom, your closing question directly addresses the problem with scouting in general, and the LDS population in specific.

    “What are ways that we as Scout leaders can step aside and allow the boys to lead?”

    Do you see the problem? By referring to the direct contact adult volunteers as ‘leaders’ the expectation is that they, the adults, will run the troop team or crew. Now multiply that by a factor of 10, or maybe 100 if its an LDS unit. Not only are the Scouting and Venturing adult volunteers referred to as ‘leaders’ but they bear the additional burden of the title of “President” in the case of most Venturing Crew Advisors, or member of a “Presidency” (Young Mens’ Presidency if you didn’t get that already) for varsity Coaches and Scoutmasters. Lets not even mention the fact that this ‘presidency’ holds no actual keys or authority in the ecclesiastical realm of things, that rests with the actual quorum presidents and the Bishop. If they have no keys or authority on the church side, how much less do they have in a civic organization? Yet the weighty title of either ‘leader’ or ‘president’ forces them into action to take charge and lead. Not a knock or slight to the church, but an example of how words like leader and president have meanings and expectations attached that spur the adults into action, overshadowing, usurping, and trampling the youth. The real leaders of troops, teams, and crew, have their leadership roles reduced to “welcome out to the meeting, I’ll now turn the time over to an adult”

    TL;DR The answer is to quit referring to adults as “Leaders” in a troop team or crew. Make sure the adults understand that they are not leaders, but they do have the responsibility to train the real leaders to lead, give them every opportunity to do so, and support those leaders with resources, time, and patience, and to hold them accountable to actually lead. No more “what do you want to do tonight” at weekly scout meetings. Know and use the scouting and Venturing programs and the resources to run a successful troop or crew.

  2. AvatarSchipper Clawson

    The idea above is good.
    In our stake Mutual is Wednesday and basketball is Thursday night.
    I ask the question, “Why can’t Wednesday night look like Thursday night?” In sports it is clear. The boys are playing the game. The adults train them before and offer support from the sidelines.
    If scoutmasters thought of themselves as coaches, it would be a little more clear that their direct work comes outside of Mutual night or weekend activities. Those times are game time. Adults are watching; the boys are performing on their own, win or lose.

    1. AvatarTom Linton

      How would “normal” adults react to this headline in the local newspaper:
      “Provo Little League “Hawks” sweep regional championship behind shutout pitching of Coach Don Cherry. ‘I had to take the ball. None of the boys could throw a strike.'”

      And yet in Scouting, famously described by Bill Hillcourt as “A game for boys under the leadership of boys with the wise guidance and counsel of a grown-up who has still the enthusiasm of youth in him,” too often the “grown-up” takes the ball and benches the boy leaders.

  3. AvatarMike Overson

    I’ve been looking for ways to implement the Patrol Method for quite a while. Somehow, I don’t think whether I’ve asked a scout to be quiet or reminded him to wear his uniform is a valid measure of my success or failure. I agree, though, that my success or failure can (at least in part) be measured by the ability of my SPL to lead.

    Over the past few months, I’ve taken steps toward a youth-led ideal. It wouldn’t have worked a year ago, but seems to be working now. Our first step was to work with the Bishopric on changing the Deacons Quorum presidency. I’ve worked with the new president to develop his leadership skills. With 12 deacons, we divided the quorum into two patrols and invited the counselors in the presidency to serve as patrol leaders. The president is a member of one of the patrols and shifts between a leadership and follower role as required by the activity.

    We also spent considerable time in presidency meetings going through ILST. It wasn’t quite right for our needs and required a little customization. Later, we held an annual planning conference where the Presidency/PLC selected monthly themes from the Program Features books. Now, ideally, the SPL is prepared every week with an agenda, including periodic uniform inspections and other trappings of the ideal troop meeting. The patrol leaders are also more involved. Our monthly overnight camps now have more of a purpose, other than just camping.

    We still have many challenges. We spend a lot more time in planning and leadership training. The PLC is often not prepared. Parents, other adult leaders, and others are not always comfortable with the potential for chaos. Our Committee Chair is sure that we are not performing as well because rank advancements have not come as quickly.

    I think we are moving the right direction, but I admit, it’s still not perfect. I still remind the deacons to wear their uniform and I still ask them to be quiet at times. Our solution seems to be working for now, but would not work well for every LDS troop. For us, simply refraining from leading would have left our troop without any direction. A better way seems to be a sincere focus on teaching the SPL to lead and providing the skills, tools, and instruction he needs to be successful.

    1. AvatarRick Pinnock

      Hey Mike,

      Don’t take this as a personal attack, its definitely not, but you hit on another problem in LDS culture.
      Following the words have meanings and expectations comment from my post above, lets look at your post.

      “Our first step was to work with the Bishopric on changing the Deacons Quorum presidency. I’ve worked with the new president to develop his leadership skills. With 12 deacons, we divided the quorum into two patrols and invited the counselors in the presidency to serve as patrol leaders. The president is a member of one of the patrols and shifts between a leadership and follower role as required by the activity.”

      too much mixing of BSA and LDS. The BSA doesn’t charter deacons’ quorums. A Deacons’ Quorum President is NOT a troop leader, nor are his counselors patrol leaders. A Deacons’ Quorum should only be divided into two when there are 24 deacons. The deacon’s quorum president would not shift shift between 2 quorums, each quorum would have its own quorum president. A quorum cannot be split into 2 patrols, a patrol isn’t a church organizational unit. See the problem?

      If we want a troop to function properly, we need to treat it like a troop. We need to call it by its proper BSA names, using BSA terminology. Until we do, it won’t work. Look at the sports example of basketball on Thursday. The adults understood their role as coach. The youth understood their role as the players on the team. Look at missionaries, even is a kid I grew up with was in my mission (and he was) I couldn’t call him Robbie, he couldn’t call me Rick. We weren’t (Insert your high school name and mascot here) we were MISSIONARIES. Missionaries had a purpose.

      Scouting is the same. If the adults are called adult volunteers, if the youth are called leaders, the groups are called troops, teams, and crews, it will set an expectation on how they act, who leads, what activities they do and etc you get the idea. As long as scouting units refer to themselves as quorums, and the adult volunteers refer to themselves as leaders there will not be youth led scouting units.

      1. AvatarSteve Faber

        ” A Deacons’ Quorum should only be divided into two when there are 24 deacons.”

        I’ve often wondered how bishops interpret Doctrine and Covenants 107:85. If a Deacon’s quorum president presides over 12 deacons, and a new deacon moves in to make 13, could the quorum be divided into two quorums, with two new presidents called, at that point making one quorum of 7 and one quorum of 6? What does a quorum of 23 deacons look like in practicality with a single president? Does a bishop really need to wait until there are 24 boys to make two quorums? It makes me wonder why Moses was counselled to delegate in Exodus 12:21. It also makes me wonder about the triggers that come into play when wards and stakes are divided. If I were a young man called as a Deacon’s quorum president, I sure like the idea of presiding over fewer boys than 24, because as a boy that age, I don’t think my maturity and mental capacity would allow me to expand my shepherding abilities to more than a half-dozen to 10 or so boys. Perhaps there are wards in the LDS church where 23 boys in a single quorum works well, but it does not seem practical to me.

        This line of thought on quorum size seems to be in line with the BSA recommended patrol size of about six to eight ( boys per patrol that we use when we create Timberline NYLT patrols (to mix LDS and BSA terms).

  4. AvatarGeorge Weight

    Years ago, when I was a scout, the use of the Scout sign as a call to order was much more frequent than I’ve seen it lately. In our old troop, anyone–the Leaders, the SPL, or any other boy, if he felt we were “running wild”, would raise his hand in the sign. We had practiced the procedure frequently enough to know what it meant.
    Attention came about quite rapidly as each of us returned the sign. When it was granted, the person raising the sign would explain why he gave it. If it were an adult leader (SM or Assistant), he would coach the SPL on what needed to be done next, and let him lead.
    I’m very impressed with the “Servant Leader” concept outlined in the current Venturer’s Advisor manual. A corresponding “Servant Trainer” for adults is also in the manual. The concepts are designed to help us learn how to help the youth develop solid leadership principles.

  5. AvatarPete Shaver

    While I agree with the overall tenor of the above comments, especially the first from Rick Pinnock, the specifics are rooted in the weeds. Terms such as “president,” “leader,” etc. are necessary for the organization to properly and efficiently function. We as presidents, team leaders, etc., lead by example and precept. We develop future leaders through our example, not our title. Do we not follow a “Prophet” and his example? Let’s support the Church and BSA leaders and come up out of the weeds to enjoy the sunlight of example.

    1. AvatarRick Pinnock

      Pete, yes, an organization like the LDS church does indeed need terms like President and Leader to function.

      In the BSA, there are terms also. Scoutmaster, Varsity Coach, and Venturing Crew Advisor. those are the proper adult term that need to be used and followed. Those BDSA terms convey the scope of the job, to train, coach and mentor the leaders (The youth) NOT take the lead. When an LDS church sponsored unit has adult volunteers who do not understand the scouting program and simply try to transfer their LDS titles of President or presidency member or even misunderstand and misuse their titles of quorum ADVISORS youth leadership is often lost before it has a chance to take root and grow. Weeds indeed. 🙂

      When the leadership of a troop team or crew is vested in the Youth of the unit, using their proper titles of, for example, Senior Patrol Leader, Team Captain, and Crew President the relationship between the youth leaders and adult volunteer advisors is clearly defined, and sets a tone and atmosphere where youth leadership is taught, encouraged, and expected. In such an environment, youth leadership, and their personal growth will flourish.

      Using correct BSA terminology and setting those expectations with both adult volunteers, and youth unit members and leaders is supporting both the church and the BSA, allowing the growth and progress that is expected from participation in the great Scouting/Venturing programs.


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