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SteveMM

Differences in Scoutmaster leadership styles

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Posted (edited)

This is the first thread I've created, although I have been lurking for a while.  I wanted to discuss differences in Scoutmaster leadership styles, and what people think is best. 

My son has been in one Scout troop, but it's really been two vastly different experiences.  There was a change in Scoutmasters a year or two ago, when my son was a Star scout.  Up until then, the atmosphere when it came to requirements was somewhat loosey-goosey.  It was an adult-led troop with extremely laid back leadership.  You would think that would lead to Scouts not advancing quickly, but it was the exact opposite because things got signed off and sometimes Scouts didn't *really* master the skill.   On the flip-side, the boys seemed like they were enjoying themselves and weren't all expected to be "Super Scouts."

When the new leadership came in, things were locked down considerably.  The patrol method was instituted, and Scouts holding leadership positions are forced to actually do what their position says they should be doing. That's all good, but the new Scoutmaster is a major hard-ass and many of the kids (including my son) aren't too fond of him as a result.  As an example, the Scoutmaster has been pretty tough on my son at times because my son also played competitive travel soccer for the last five years and thus missed some Scouting events because of soccer tournaments.  My son, who is pretty easygoing, has actually said to me, "I'm done with him."  My concern is that while Scouts will probably learn more, there will probably also be more dropouts because the unspoken expectation is that Scouting is supposed to be their entire life.

My son will have his Board of Review for Eagle as soon as it can be scheduled -- probably in a few weeks.  He just turned 15 about 10 days ago and his interest in continuing Scouting is stronger than it's ever been because he's looking forward to "giving back" to the younger Scouts.  I'm glad, for experience sake, that he's seen both sides of the coin in his troop.  A happy medium between the two would have been best, but that's not always how life works.

So ... I ask all of you assembled ... which is the better type of Scoutmaster, if you had to choose between these two? 

Edited by SteveMM

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Posted (edited)

Scoutmaster "type" sounds like it may play second fiddle to a smooth "transition" ...

I've seen many scoutmasters and different styles now.  IMHO, the best scoutmaster I've ever seen was the first.  He was very laid back and very natural with the kids.  The scouts liked him and did not hide things from him.  He was open and they were too.  He would do very little direction.  Almost everything was a relaxed question and it was so relaxed the scouts didn't know he was coaching them.  They thought it was just a relaxed conversation.  "So what's the plan?" ... or "who's going?" ... or "how did that work out for you?" (his version of pointing out a bad decision).  I do think his style was better or the best, but a big factor is he was the first scoutmaster I experienced and he set my expectations for all future scoutmasters. 

Style ...

  • I prefer a scoutmaster that "looks like" he's never taking control.  IMHO, a key point of scoutmaster is NOT promoting yourself or your knowledge of scouting.  Instead, it's about minimizing yourself and letting the scouts be up front.  I envision Peter Fonda from easy rider mixed with a great baseball coach.  Just keep cool.
  • I also prefer a scoutmaster who looks like the number one concern is getting the scouts out doing things.  Adventures.  Activities.  Doing things.  In that structure, the scoutmaster has lots of opportunities to coach and make a difference.

Transition ...

  • The next scoutmaster always has a problem.  The scouts know how the game works.  Then the rules change mid-game without their consent or prior notice.  It can easily cause issues.  
  • Plus it can be worse in many eyes.  With "troop shopping", the scouts visited other troops to find the one that fits their personality.  Now, they've invested their time and years.  Then the SM wants to change the personality of the troop.  Scouts and parents can legitimately view it as unfair. 

I can't criticize a SM for wanting to make a better troop.  BUT, there will be pain.  Sadly, things often don't really become smooth until the previous scouts age out or leave.  

For me and my sons ... what I'm looking for in a troop is ... 

  • Relaxed leaders ... I want the friendly relaxed set of adult leaders who coach, but let the scouts develop their friendships, have adventures and lead their own program.  That means there should be two or three uniformed adult leaders for every 40 scouts.  The rest of the adults are away drinking coffee or playing cribbage.
  • Full program ... I want a troop program that gives my son the "OPTION"  to camp 35 nights a year.  Two nights a month.  Plus one week summer camp.  Plus one or two optional extended mid-adventures or high-adventures.  With that option, my son should easily be able to average 25 nights a year camping.  
  • Great friendships ... I want a troop where my son's patrol does things as a patrol.  Ski trips.  Movies.  Game nights.  Etc.  I want my sons' patrols to be a home-away-from home close knit set of friends.  

 

Edited by fred8033
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I've seen about 5 SM transitions in one troop.  Boys really get attached to their SMs, so any change is rough on older scouts. Adults grow and learn as well. And that can be tough.

I personally favor a disciplined coach who takes the game they're coaching seriously.

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I'm inclined toward Lao Tzu's quote in the Troop Leader Guidebook: 

A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  "we did it ourselves"

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Posted (edited)

This question is tough, because it's multifaceted. As far as the Scoutmasters conduct, I've seen a variety of these situations, so I'll refrain from commenting without more direct knowledge. 

Scoutmaster transitions are always hard, especially on older Scouts. I've been through 3 changeovers within my own unit in the last 15 years. Some of my NYLT staff have approached me for advice on new Scoutmasters they are having trouble with back in their home units. Managing these transitions is typically sloppy and the Scouts suffer for it. The culture is going to change, sometimes subtlety and sometimes overtly. Sometimes for the better, and just as often not.  A whole topic could be made on this subject alone, so I digress.

My preferred method of Scoutmastership is similar to @fred8033's comment. When it comes to working with youth, A Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster should be behind the scenes with a few exceptions. The Scouts are the leaders, and we are there to support them and their development. My own philosophy is that Scout age youth are up to the task of leading and developing themselves and each other, and my role is as a facilitator, mentor and friend. I don't play the role of cop, teacher, principal, or coach unless rules are being broken that effect health, safety or is violating the Scout Oath and Law. I try to use soft power approaches and conversations with my Scouts vs asserting my authority over them. I do the best I can to get to know my Scout’s personally, at the very least the senior scouts and their families as much as I can. It's a partnership between them and I, and we're all on the same team. 

Baden Powell put it well: "To get a hold on boys you must be their friend."

My own strategy is actually not really about me, but about the Scouts I'm working with. I adapt the level and delivery of oversight and advice I give to my Scouts based on their age, experience, maturity and situation. I don't work with a group of 11 year old crossovers the same way I do my NYLT staff. Even within a group, like my NYLT staff, my approach changes over time as they develop and grow as a group. I try to adjust to what the goals of the Scout are. The way I work with a Scout who is "all in" on Scouts will vary from the one who plays 3 different sports and Scouts is one of just many things for him. In High School, if my Scoutmaster had been foolish enough to make me choose between SPL and Band when I was a Scout, I would have chose band, and that would have been a terrible choice for me long term knowing what I know now. 

In short, I’m in no way capable of passing any sort of conclusive judgment for your situation, nor would it do much good. I think the path forward for you, your Scout and your Scoutmaster is challenging. Depending on how new this Scoutmaster is, your Scout should consider bringing his concerns to the Scoutmaster, and try to talk through how they can work together on making the Troop better. That’s a seriously tall task for a 15 year old, and much of it depends on the maturity and wisdom of the Scoutmaster. In most Troops across America, the imperfect man or woman is Scoutmaster, because the work is done by those willing to do it, and we take what we can get. None of us are perfect, especially not me. We’re all still learning and growing, even as adults. Your role in this also matters, as an ASM or Committee Member, you have a bit more weight than if you're a parent that is mostly un-involved. Either way, good luck to you, your Son, your Scoutmaster and your Troop. 

Edited by Sentinel947
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Best type of Scoutmaster?   Takes no credit to himself, seeks no credit for what happens or "gets accomplished".   The Scouts get the credit and feel the success.  The Scouts make the plans, with some direction ('you sure about that? Have you asked What If here?").  It is never so much Scoutmaster Led as Scoutmaster Likes . 

Lao Tzu  is correct.  And B-P is correct.   A Scout should feel the SM is a friend, and not a "boss".   He should see the SM as a Senior Scout, someone who knows his Scouting, or if he doesn't in some respect, is man enough to admit it, and mature enough to know where to ask for help. The SM's philosophy should be reflected in the ASMs too. 

Socratic method (ask questions to lead to knowledge)  is preferred.  

The SM of my youth sat at the campfire, smoking his pipe and sent the ASPL's and PL's to teach and sign off on requirements. And he told stories.   

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The best scoutmaster is the one that does a great job of motivating your kid. And yet kids are different.

When I was a scout I would have told you I wanted the laid back SM, but I also know in hindsight that once in a while I needed my butt kicked. My best lessons were when an adult challenged me just the right amount. Sometimes that was more than just a simple question.

Lao Tzu also said: "Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt." I mean, he did write a book called The Art of War. Not exactly scout stuff :) . What we really need is a book called The Art of Motivating Teenagers. It could be a list of Lao Tzu quotes with appropriate word changes "The supreme art of parenthood is to subdue the teenager without fighting." "If you know the teenager and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred eye rolls."

Your son might not like this guy, but he might learn a lot by trying to make it work. He also might not but that's life.

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@MattR you've confused two figures. Lao Tzu is the founder of Taoism. He's famous for having written Tae Te Ching. I'd argue a Scout has much to gain about leadership and life by studying Lao Tzu. 

Sun Tzu was the general who wrote The Art of War. The Art of War has a few "updated" versions where the translations to English are simplified, and famous examples throughout history are inserted to illustrate the principle outlined by Sun Tzu. The copy I have of The Art of War actually cites Robert Baden Powell two or three times. There are actually some great nuggets about leadership throughout the book that aren't just useful in a military context.  I agree, much of it is not Scout appropriate stuff. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Tzu

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi 
https://www.amazon.com/9781593080174-Books/s?k=9781593080174&rh=n%3A283155

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On 6/28/2019 at 2:44 PM, AltadenaCraig said:

I'm inclined toward Lao Tzu's quote in the Troop Leader Guidebook: 

A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  "we did it ourselves"

 

15 hours ago, MattR said:

The best scoutmaster is the one that does a great job of motivating your kid. And yet kids are different.

When I was a scout I would have told you I wanted the laid back SM, but I also know in hindsight that once in a while I needed my butt kicked. My best lessons were when an adult challenged me just the right amount. Sometimes that was more than just a simple question.

Lao Tzu also said: "Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt." I mean, he did write a book called The Art of War. Not exactly scout stuff :) . What we really need is a book called The Art of Motivating Teenagers. It could be a list of Lao Tzu quotes with appropriate word changes "The supreme art of parenthood is to subdue the teenager without fighting." "If you know the teenager and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred eye rolls."

Your son might not like this guy, but he might learn a lot by trying to make it work. He also might not but that's life.

Both post are well said. I went into scoutmastering with the objective of AltadenaCraig's quote, "A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists". But, I found MattR's thoughts, "The best Scoutmaster is the one that does a great job motivating our kid". So, I believe both traits are equally important for a good Scoutmaster. 

And both, require practice. Parents by nature are active teachers of their young kids, so standing back and letting scouts make choices (bad choice) requires an intentional thought process. And practice. Learning to motivate the many different personalities of scouts and PLCs is an art all by itself. How does one motivate "one step forward" without commanding "Hey! Take one step forward"?

Reminds me of my kids; Bless his heart, my oldest is the product of anxious nervous parents often using the swat of a hand for motivation, while our 3rd never knew sting. Practice, practice practice...........while barely existing. :o

Barry

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Thanks for all of the opinions, particularly those who tried to answer my question.  The new SM is a decent person who is trying to do things right, at least in his own eyes.  Shortly after taking over as SM, he began (and eventually completed) his Woodbadge.  He's basically all-in on Scouting, which I can respect.  His son is one of those kids that I call a "Super Scout," which basically means that Scouting is his only extra-curricular activity.  He never misses a merit badge weekend, campout, or training opportunity, and he has a ton of merit badges as a result.  One of the biggest problems I have with this SM is that he expects all of the boys to be like his son.  Not every kid's Scouting path is like that.  For some, Scouting is one of several activities that he loves.  I'm glad my son is getting his Eagle, but he was also just elected ASPL, so the pressure will continue for him to be at every outing and meeting.  That shouldn't be as big of a problem as it used to be, since he's backing away from the super-competitive travel soccer he's been doing for years.  I have noticed that the SM has been chummier with him since he's been coming to nearly every meeting this year, which isn't the way it should be. 

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Side note: My son beat the SM's son in the ASPL election, which brought me far more joy than it should have 😀

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21 minutes ago, SteveMM said:

Side note: My son beat the SM's son in the ASPL election, which brought me far more joy than it should have 😀

The ASPL is not an elected position, the SPL appoints the ASPL with guidance from the SM

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Posted (edited)
6 minutes ago, Rock Doc said:

The ASPL is not an elected position, the SPL appoints the ASPL with guidance from the SM

Perhaps that's how it works in your troop.  That's not how it works in ours.  In our troop, the ASPL is elected, serves for six months, and then becomes the SPL.  At that time, an election is held for a new ASPL.  

Edited by SteveMM
Clarity

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, SteveMM said:

Perhaps that's how it works in your troop.  That's not how it works in ours.  In our troop, the ASPL is elected, serves for six months, and then becomes the SPL.  At that time, an election is held for a new ASPL.  

The process is outlined here: https://troopleader.scouting.org/assistant-senior-patrol-leader/  Electing an ASPL prevents the SPL from selecting his choice of assistant. 

 

Edited by Rock Doc

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7 minutes ago, Rock Doc said:

The process is outlined here: https://troopleader.scouting.org/assistant-senior-patrol-leader/  Electing an ASPL prevents the SPL from selecting his choice of assistant. 

We're clearly not doing it by the book.  I'm a Committee Member and didn't have a hand in choosing how we do it, but personally I don't like seeing an appointed ASPL.  Invariably the SPL elects his best bud, which can reduce the number of Scouts who have an opportunity for leadership.

There are a lot of differences from troop to troop on how things are done, and even from council to council.  Don't get me started on how our council handles Eagle letters of recommendation.

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