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Leadership 101

The Leaders' Challenge

by Richard Worzel - The Leader - Feature - December 1996

It was hard to watch.

Our Scouts were giving a novice leader a challenging time as she explained a new game. Standing next to our most seasoned leader, Kevin, I commented that she was experiencing some difficulties.

Kevin thought for a moment, then cocked an eyebrow at me and replied, "Yup. She's doing about as well as you did this time last year."

I had forgotten. Leadership takes time to develop; it's a learned skill.

Surprising Leaders

Several years ago in Cubs, a new child joined the pack. He was very immature, had a perpetual runny nose, a penchant for goofing around when he should have been paying attention, and funny mannerisms that invited ridicule. Some leaders wondered how he would fare.

Fast forward now five years to a warm June evening when four Scouts were receiving their Chief Scout Awards. Three of these teens were in their third year, ready to move up to our Venturer company. The fourth was a second year Scout who had earned almost every badge, including most of the Achievement Awards (gold level). This youth had risen to patrol leader in his second year, and had received a special award for community service. With new Scouts, leaders often pointed to him as an example what was possible with a lot of hard work. This year he's an assistant activity leader.

Guess what? It's the same boy who made us wonder how he would cope in Cubs. Again, leadership is learned. It takes time and great effort to master.

This young man didn't seem to have an ounce of leadership potential or charisma. Everything he accomplished came through hard work. He listened and worked and became both a great leader and a fine peer model.

Good leaders inspire others to find the best in them, then harness and focus it so they can achieve great results. If you can do this, your Cubs, Scouts or Venturers will be hooked -- hooked on Scouting, hooked on achievement and high on life's possibilities.

Achievement coupled with a code of ethics and honour is the greatest addiction because it helps people see themselves as successful and as good and capable. It builds self-esteem in a world that seems all too anxious to tear it down.

How To's

How do you practice positive leadership to benefit those you work with? There's no magic formula. It's an art, not a science. But as with all arts, there are learnable techniques. Here are some our troop has found useful.

  1. Accept the mantle of leadership. Leaders act like leaders. They act (or pretend) the part until no more acting is necessary. They've just grown into it.
  2. Leading people doesn't mean doing everything. A good leader coordinates and delegates. She doesn't try to do everything herself -- even when she knows that she could do it better than anyone else. One saying goes like this: "The fact that God can do anything doesn't mean He will do everything." Don't you do everything either. It'll just show you're too lazy to train others; it might even suggest that you don't trust others. When you encourage people to take responsibility, you're starting their leadership training.
  3. Use resources wisely. A leader should identify what each person does best, gets him or her doing it (so confidence levels rise), then gets novice leaders to teach their skills to others. Try this simple method. Your Scouts and leaders may surprise you!
  4. A leader is confident, not arrogant. Growing as a leader brings greater confidence and new challenges. Growth and confidence also imply a willingness to admit to making mistakes. People will be much happier following when they see you readily admit mistakes and not stubbornly insist that you're right, even when the evidence points the other way. Arrogant people turn people off, they don't inspire them.
  5. Listen, consider, consult, then decide. There's a time to gather information, a time to listen carefully to others, and a time to think. Eventually too much thinking and consulting degenerates into waffling. When the time comes, make a decision -- right or wrong. You'll often make mistakes, but he who does not decide is always wrong.
  6. Lead by example, not by decree. A leader who is unwilling to get dirty hands or learn something new (making the necessary mistakes along the way), is not really a leader. Let's all remember this popular truth: "What you are doing speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you are saying."
  7. Encourage others to lead. A leader's first job is to lead, then to create new leaders.

Stumbles, but Steady Progress

At the 58th Toronto Group, one Venturer is working as an assistant Beaver leader, two others are assistant Cub leaders, and a Scout is fulfilling the role of Kim in our Cub pack. Our newest assistant Venturer advisor, an eighteen-year-old, was active on the company's executive last year.

We haven't achieved great success in all our endeavours, but all these young people have stepped up to the challenge and none have backed off. The experience has helped all of them grow more mature. It has greatly strengthened our group.

Healthy Leadership Styles

Everyone's leadership style differs slightly. Here are some general guidelines to consider.

  1. Tell people what's expected. Be clear about it. People like to know where they stand. Conversely they dislike uncertainty and dithering. When you want your Cubs or Scouts to do something, tell them clearly and in sufficient detail, and be firm about it. Then follow up to make sure it's done, looking for opportunities to publicly praise success. Offer advice when needed. Criticize, if necessary, but only privately and to improve performance.
  2. Tell the truth. Sometimes this is harder than it sounds. It means being frank (though diplomatic) when people let you down or fall short of what they should achieve. It means cutting through the polite fictitious phrases we all use, and when a situation warrants it, not permitting people to hide behind excuses. It even might mean "stepping on toes" when necessary. People may not like to hear some of the things you say (parents as well as youth), but if you tell the truth, people will know that they can rely on you; they'll know the value of your word.
  3. Be fair. Playing favourites, cheating for your own comfort or convenience, shading the truth, cutting corners, always coming down hard on a Scout whose mannerisms irritate you: all these undermine your authority, both with the youth and other leaders. They cause people to lose respect for you. Do your duty. Do what you know is right and don't pander to your preferences.
  4. Inspire people. Leadership has more to do with inspiring people than anything else. In particular, inspire those around you to believe in their own abilities. Help them understand that those abilities are probably much greater than they themselves believe.

What a Difference!

Good leadership can make dramatic improvements to your program. Our Beaver colony collapsed several years ago. Two inexperienced parents led the colony, and we hadn't given them enough guidance and support. Gradually the Beavers became dissatisfied and stopped coming. Finally the two leaders threw in the towel just before Christmas; we were in deep trouble.

My wife (who had been an assistant Beaver leader six years earlier when our son was a Beaver) volunteered to lead the group. Taking on the whole responsibility herself, she recruited our teenage son to help her as an assistant leader. As for parents, she only asked for enough support at each meeting to ensure proper safety and control. She sought advice and program ideas from more experienced Scouters in our group. Then, the personal touch: she called every Beaver and asked him or her to try the program one more time.

She was firm; the Beavers always knew where they stood. She found out what they liked doing, tailored activities to these preferences, and emphasized the uniform, the Law and the Promise. Gradually, she won them over by showing them that, working together, they could have a lot of fun.

Within several months she recruited some parents who showed interest as full-fledged Beaver leaders. "I'll handle everything you don't want to," she promised. As these parents got `hooked' on the program she backed off, letting them do more and more, as they grew into their roles.

Today, the colony is large and very healthy. The Beavers hate missing meetings or any other event -- even church parade. They'll drag their parents back from skiing weekends or family events if there's a Beaver event in the works. We now have five uniformed leaders, all of whom are learning to become more enthusiastic and capable leaders. But it all happened because one person said, "I'll do it all. Just help when you can." She led from the front by showing what worked, by being willing to do it herself, and by working hard to make it a success.

A Clearer Future Vision

The world has always prized excellent leadership skills. The future will only increase its worth. With rocketing technology and the communications revolution, in the years ahead a single person will be able to influence a much higher proportion of people than in past decades. Such a world will need both outstanding leaders and selfless leaders committed to bettering humanity. Scouting is one of the few youth movements that teach these positive skills. This reality increases our responsibility and potential for beneficial impact.

Each week as you work with youth, remember this: your positive leadership can, and will, change the future.

Lead on!

Richard Worzel leads the 58th Toronto Troop. He's a professional futurist and author of Facing the Future: The Seven Forces Shaping Your Future.

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