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