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MattR

Providing useful feedback for adult leaders

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@Eagledad said, in another thread about an SM that has run amok:

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I have concluded that 50 percent of leaders volunteer for this reason....

Yes, there are all kinds of adults in volunteer positions.

And @fred8033 brought up:

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I think this is the hardest job for adult leader's to learn.  Our main job is to diminish.  

It took a while to realize that working myself out of a job was key.

Given that being an SM is an on the job learning experience, what's a good way to provide useful feedback to these leaders? The commissioners, I suppose, are somewhat in a position to do this but it's not official. I don't know if that's the right word but the commissioners I worked with were never really interested in doing anything but answer questions. Someone that knows everything will never ask. Someone that feels like they're supposed to know everything will also not ask. I don't want a bureaucracy of paperwork and testing created, but just a way for leaders to learn from their mistakes in a non threatening way. Come to think of it, isn't this exactly what the scouts should be getting for leadership training? I think I would have really liked that.

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An effective manager, or leader, in scouting or elsewhere will strive to guide their subordinates rather than dictate to them. Hopefully the subordinate will then be able to realize the impact of their decisions while retaining their autonomy and without feeling as though they are being undermined by their manager; e.g.

Instead of a manager saying to his employee: "You're doing that wrong You need to do it this way."

The manager could say to the employee: "Why do you think that things aren't working in the way that you would ideally like them to? Are there things that could be done differently? What changes do you think might achieve different results? 

All of that said, this problem of bad scoutmasters and scout leaders is just far too epidemic, and I have personally encountered more than one scout leader who is completely driven and motivated by ego, power and maintaining control and who are completely unfazed or deterred by knowing that they are violating the GTA or GTSS. 

My older sons' scoutmaster went as far as to lie - yes, actually lie - with the malicious intent of derailing and undermining my son's advancement towards Eagle. My son was able to prove that the SM had lied and while the SM did a little back pedaling when he got caught, it really didn't change anything. This guy is still a scoutmaster today and still working with the same troop.

I also know, personally, of a number of other similar scoutmasters who have operated this way and between this board and Ask Andy, I've read far too many stories of scoutmaster or scout leaders who do what they want to do regardless of BSA policies.

The advice in these situations is always the same. "Find a new troop, vote with your feet" but that doesn't address the root of the problem. 

The BSA needs to maintain greater due diligence in ensuring that BSA programs are being administered properly.

Good scouts are suffering and bad scout leaders are continuing to be bad scout leaders.

Edited by SSF
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Voting seems to be a common feedback method whether by feet or ballot.  Odd that scouts elect their leaders in a troop but adults do not.  :confused:

 

 

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I've found that the best way to provide feedback is to understand the receiver and what they're trying to accomplish.  If you're providing feedback to a Scoutmaster, get to know him first before you start telling him what to do.

A good CC plays a role here too.  A unit CC ought to be creating a volunteer culture where the group strives for teamwork & program quality mixed in with a dash of humility.  I've been blessed to be part of units that for the most part always tried to do better.  Self reflection and feedback was part of our culture.  So, when a parent or Scouter shows up and says "I've got some feedback it was welcomed and acknowledged.  Did we always do it - no.  But, we listened because we wanted their feedback.

 

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47 minutes ago, RememberSchiff said:

  Odd that scouts elect their leaders in a troop but adults do not.  :confused:

 

 


Objective is to develop Scouts as leaders and have Scouts experience democracy.  We also do not have school teachers take the tests with the students. So not at all "odd."  Sadly, BSA fails to train the adults properly, for example omitting explanation of Patrol Method even as they abandon it de facto for the adult-led troop method.

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The best feedback?

Roundtable, camporees, and jamborees. Be honest to other scouters about how you operate and compare notes.

Look for the scouts with the biggest smiles on their faces and say, "Take me to your leader."

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9 hours ago, SSF said:

The advice in these situations is always the same. "Find a new troop, vote with your feet" but that doesn't address the root of the problem. 

The BSA needs to maintain greater due diligence in ensuring that BSA programs are being administered properly.

Good scouts are suffering and bad scout leaders are continuing to be bad scout leaders.

BSA used to have a manual called Commissioner Helps for Packs, Troops, and Crews, no. 33618.  The last version I have was updated in January 2011.  It is organized as a number of unit operational elements, with each element having one or more standards to be used by Commissioners in assessing a unit.  It also includes a number of suggested actions Commissioners can take to help the unit achieve each standard.  The standards for "Top Unit Leader" are:

     1.  The unit leader is fully trained, is respected by youth and other adults, and has a keen interest in youth.

     2.  [Troops and Crews] Youth have a major role in leadership.

     3.  The unit leader has a trained assistant leader for two-deep leadership and shares the leadership responsibilities.

     4.  [Crews] The crew Advisor is strictly an adviser and coach; Venturers run meetings and activities whenever possible.

The listed "Commissioner Actions" are mostly what you would expect (take the leader to training and roundtable, for example), but no. 9 states:  "Work closely with the head of the chartered organization to see that leaders are the type of persons you would choose to lead your own children."

Useful feedback would be a checklist of specific standards that shows whether the unit is in compliance.  The problem, as @SSF has noted, is that BSA isn't doing enough to ensure that units are doing what they are supposed to be doing.  BSA doesn't have a mechanism for enforcing quality standards in units.  For all of its hand-wringing about membership numbers, BSA seems to ignore the direct relationship between unit quality on the one hand and member recruitment and retention on the other.  All recruitment is by local units. All retention is by local units.  Membership numbers could be improved substantially if the vast majority of those units met quality standards of the kind found in the Commissioner Helps book.

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"BSA doesn't have a mechanism for enforcing quality standards in units.  For all of its hand-wringing about membership numbers, BSA seems to ignore the direct relationship between unit quality on the one hand and member recruitment and retention on the other.  All recruitment is by local units. All retention is by local units.  Membership numbers could be improved substantially if the vast majority of those units met quality standards of the kind found in the Commissioner Helps book."

 

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The bigger problem is the power and influence Some of the SMs have at District and Council levels. They are above the law, and fill course staffs and programs with like-minded friends. 

If anyone has the audacity to give them any type of feedback, or point out policy, you can be sure to be blacklisted and retaliation will continue for some time. Oh and don't expect to ever get an award at District or council level. 

I wish someone would take action, but council seems to look the other way.

I have wondered how many good scouters drop out due to these self centered SMs. 

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14 hours ago, RememberSchiff said:

Voting seems to be a common feedback method whether by feet or ballot.  Odd that scouts elect their leaders in a troop but adults do not.  :confused:

 

 

That would be up to the Chartered Organization to decide. I know of no rule that would prohibit a CO from having an election to choose the Scoutmaster.  Many CO's have elections to choose their IH.

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@dkurtenbach, this is probably the closest to what I was thinking about. A bit vague but a place to start. The sad thing is I'm on the district committee and my sense is the commissioners are mostly fighting fires. Financial irregularities, people not getting recharters done in time, CO's enacting revenge on SM's. They don't have time to improve the quality of units and there aren't many of them. But I agree that there is no formal method to continuously improve quality. That's what JTE is supposed to be but it seems to miss the mark.

@Chris1, while that's not the case in my district (SM's are not to be recruited for anything) I can see it happen. What is it about being an SM that can trash humility? Does every volunteer organization have this problem? Others that I'm involved in don't, but that's just my small sample.

@David CO, good point, but most CO's I see know less about scouting than the SM. My guess is you are on the CO side of scouts and you're the only person I know of in that position that takes an interest in how scouts work. It seems to me that positive reinforcement for the SM would come better from someone that understands scouting.

I hate to say this but for an organization that prides itself on leadership development, it doesn't really work for their own volunteers. The BSA tends to lean on training as opposed to on the job improvement. Training is one and done. Continuous improvement gets much less emphasis.

Just to be clear, I have no dreams of changing anything at national but it would be nice to create a round table topic that I could get the bulk of SM's and ASM's to go to.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, MattR said:

 

@David CO, good point, but most CO's I see know less about scouting than the SM.

 

That is true. Less than the Scoutmaster... but a lot more than the District Executive.

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55 minutes ago, MattR said:

I hate to say this but for an organization that prides itself on leadership development, it doesn't really work for their own volunteers. The BSA tends to lean on training as opposed to on the job improvement. Training is one and done. Continuous improvement gets much less emphasis.

Just to be clear, I have no dreams of changing anything at national but it would be nice to create a round table topic that I could get the bulk of SM's and ASM's to go to.

It's not just this.  It is almost every aspect of organization and operations, from the chartered organization relationship to district operations right on down to things like the Webelos/Arrow of Light - to - Scout transition.  BSA dreams up a model organization and process and then just expects that everyone will do exactly what the model anticipates.  Chartered organizations will carefully select leaders; leaders will enthusiastically take training, read all the literature, attend roundtable every month, go to supplemental training like University of Scouting, go to Wood Badge, and conform their behavior to what they have learned; every unit will have a Unit Commissioner with intimate knowledge of the unit and its operations who can influence the leadership.  BSA's models are out of touch with reality, and simply don't anticipate inadequate resources, real-life obstacles, and folks acting in their own self-interest. 

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2 hours ago, MattR said:

... Just to be clear, I have no dreams of changing anything at national but it would be nice to create a round table topic that I could get the bulk of SM's and ASM's to go to. ...

I think this is the cart before the horse, a bit. First, you get a bunch of scouters to come to RT (or whatever venue you can get scouters to go to) and give them enough time to go over the topics of interest to them. In the process, you have them share how they do things, and over multiple meetings get them in the process of speaking frankly about their programs and giving feedback. Ideally, each troop takes turns with their senior youth leading openings and those scouts will be welcome to chime in about what they like or don't like about how their troop approaches the topic of the evening.

Now, ideally that bunch will be the bulk of unit leaders, but that's where the hard work is. RT has to earn a reputation for being the place where good scouters go to get an honest appraisal of their actions. And that has to be sold to the scouters not in the room. It has to be so good that prospective parents ask: "How many of your leaders go to roundtable?"

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When I became SM I convinced the CC to throw out all troop rules and go by the book the way the BSA said to do things. Almost all disputes are solved by looking up the rules in GTA or GTSS. This allowed comittee members to give feedbook based on the rules and less on personal opinion. I also provide a "state of the troop" discussion on a quarterly basis to let the committee members know how well we are doing at the patrol method, what challenges some of the scouts are having and to update them on what I have learned (or taught) at RT. I always ask for feedback which can be painful sometimes because they have no idea what being SM is like.

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