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Is It Time for the BSA to Change Its Leadership Model?


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Is it time for the BSA to change its top leadership model?

For decades, the vast majority of council Scout executives have been selected from a system that works by promotion from within the BSA ranks. You work your way from district executive, perhaps to a field executive or specialty position such as development. You attend a variety of Scouting specific training courses over the years   Eventually you can be placed on a list for consideration as a Scout Executive at a council or national position if you meet the approval of your supervisor. “Putting your time in” has been considered to be essential.

The thinking was that through these experiences you gain the expertise necessary to lead a Scouting organization

However, the BSA has increasingly become an outlier among not-for-profits in the use of this model. Other national not-for-profits such as Goodwill, Easter Seals and Volunteers of America have long since moved toward a model where the local (or national) executive board can select any individual that they believe is best suited for the position of chief executive.  This person may have come from another not-for-profit or the business community. The candidate may bring specific skills such as fundraising or crisis management that is needed at that particular time by the organization. They may have extensive community knowledge and an invaluable network already established that would typically take years to develop. They have found that the personal characteristics, experience and leadership skills of the individual are more important than years of prior history within the organization.

The organizational history and knowledge needed by the top leader can be gained in a variety of other ways. Several other national organizations have leadership academies to provide new chief executives with the organizational specific knowledge and skills needed. The emphasis is on finding the best qualified individual to lead the organization. The local executive board is not limited to a small list of prescreened, nationally approved candidates.

 

Why make the shift in selecting top executives?

There are a variety of reasons. A few of them include:

(1)   ) To ensure that there is a constant infusion of new ideas and skills into the organization from outside the organization.

(2)   To avoid the development of a “good boy” network where agreement is valued and challenges to established norm is discouraged. An organization that requires working your way up a career ladder and not “shaking the boat” can be at a marked disadvantage in preventing organizational crises where challenging the norms and speaking out was needed.

(3)   To avoid the development of organizational blind spots.

(4)   It can also fast track the hiring of highly qualified individuals including individuals who are female or minority group members who otherwise might have to spend years working their way up within the organization.

 

When you look at some of the crises that the BSA is facing today, one may wonder if some of these were related to institutional structure and rigidity.  Did this lead to its failure to identify and its willingness to acknowledge serious internal problems?

 Has the current leadership model worked well in organizational growth, health and avoiding crisis? Or is it time for the BSA and its boards to consider a new model of executive selection?

Edited by gpurlee
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1 hour ago, gpurlee said:

Is it time for the BSA to change its top leadership model?

For decades, the vast majority of council Scout executives have been selected from a system that works by promotion from within the BSA ranks. You work your way from district executive, perhaps to a field executive or specialty position such as development. You attend a variety of Scouting specific training courses over the years   Eventually you can be placed on a list for consideration as a Scout Executive at a council or national position if you meet the approval of your supervisor. “Putting your time in” has been considered to be essential.

The thinking was that through these experiences you gain the expertise necessary to lead a Scouting organization

However, the BSA has increasingly become an outlier among not-for-profits in the use of this model. Other national not-for-profits such as Goodwill, Easter Seals and Volunteers of America have long since moved toward a model where the local (or national) executive board can select any individual that they believe is best suited for the position of chief executive.  This person may have come from another not-for-profit or the business community. The candidate may bring specific skills such as fundraising or crisis management that is needed at that particular time by the organization. They may have extensive community knowledge and an invaluable network already established that would typically take years to develop. They have found that the personal characteristics, experience and leadership skills of the individual are more important than years of prior history within the organization.

The organizational history and knowledge needed by the top leader can be gained in a variety of other ways. Several other national organizations have leadership academies to provide new chief executives with the organizational specific knowledge and skills needed. The emphasis is on finding the best qualified individual to lead the organization. The local executive board is not limited to a small list of prescreened, nationally approved candidates.

 

Why make the shift in selecting top executives?

There are a variety of reasons. A few of them include:

(1)   ) To ensure that there is a constant infusion of new ideas and skills into the organization from outside the organization.

(2)   To avoid the development of a “good boy” network where agreement is valued and challenges to established norm is discouraged. An organization that requires working your way up a career ladder and not “shaking the boat” can be at a marked disadvantage in preventing organizational crises where challenging the norms and speaking out was needed.

(3)   To avoid the development of organizational blind spots.

(4)   It can also fast track the hiring of highly qualified individuals including individuals who are female or minority group members who otherwise might have to spend years working their way up within the organization.

 

When you look at some of the crises that the BSA is facing today, one may wonder if some of these were related to institutional structure and rigidity.  Did this lead to its failure to identify and its willingness to acknowledge serious internal problems?

 Has the current leadership model worked well in organizational growth, health and avoiding crisis? Or is it time for the BSA and its boards to consider a new model of executive selection?

I think a lot of us have been saying this for a very long time. This system is not producing leaders capable of dealing with what the times require 

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I am not sure looking at other large not for profits is the answer either. The problem with BSA top leadership AND with other not for profits is all of them have a singular focus which is fundraising. All of the organizations regardless of good ol boy clubs, or seekers of new blood suffer from this same affliction. Listening in they willfully acknowledge this is priority #1, they even justify it with statements such as, "we cannot serve the members, or advocate for cause 'xyx' without $".

I think this is what happens when an org gets too large, it believes that its structure is necessary and thus funding to maintain said structure becomes necessary. What happens in almost all of these orgs is their purpose becomes sustaining the org not fulfilling the mission. This results in abdicating the real mission and replacing it with fundraising or other metrics equivalent to $.

 

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12 hours ago, SiouxRanger said:

Your comment has just enabled my connecting some comments I've heard from professionals and knowledgeable volunteers over the last few years..

The volunteers and some professionals recognize that enhanced program draws more youth to Scouting.  They bring their parents, and grandparents to Courts of Honor and Friends Of Scouting presentations.  More FOS contributions are realized and with more youth on the membership roles, the stronger the claim for United Way more monies.

On the other hand the professionals are targeting large contributions from few major donors.  To those donors, the argument is as above:  "we cannot serve the members, or advocate for cause 'xyx' without $." 

The major difference is that when pursuing large donors, no showing of effective or attractive program is necessary. The fundraising pitch to large donors sidesteps the existence or desirability of effective and attractive program, and high youth membership numbers.

And therein lies the reason why professionals care little about program other than providing ("tolerating") uninspired program: attractive program lays ("lies"?-I can't figure it out) not on the path to riches and is irrelevant..

In my council, carving knives and chisels for Woodcarving MB are dull or broken-kids can't carve.  A volunteer was called before the SECOND week of camp to come sharpen about 80 tools.  Rifles with no repair parts, so fewer can shoot.  Platform tent frames damaged so fewer tents per campsite.  And it just looks neglected.  Just so many things that could be repaired, or procured to enhance the summer camp experience are neglected by professional staff.  Summer camp fees continue to rise-beyond those of camps with a ton more amenities. Our camp attendance is down by over a third and cut from 6 to 4 weeks of camp.

Here lies the problem. Summer camp is supposed to be the highlight of a scouts year and if the camp facilities are broken down not so much.

Many of the items you mentioned being broken are not high dollar items and there is no reason for disrepair.

It is about the details. Why does someone not go through all equipment over the winter and order supplies/parts?

I agree 100% that good program will make scouting strong and get donations.

One last thing,  my LC does a camp donation drive for small project funding. They raise about $ 50k for each camp yearly. They put on the web site that you also agree to support FOS in addition to camp needs. It is in bold face print.

How much FOS goes to camp vs professional salaries? They truly care more about staff salaries. 

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5 hours ago, 1980Scouter said:

How much FOS goes to camp vs professional salaries? They truly care more about staff salaries

Well, when salary has to be made every 2 weeks and camp can sit for 9 months, it's easy to see why this happens. I'm sure it's easy to get addicted to donations. From '45 to the late 60's I'm sure they got all they asked for. But that gravy train is long gone. And yet the culture of rewards is still based on donations. In the meantime, there are fewer volunteers with less outdoor knowledge that need more help in order to deliver a better program.

That's a lot of change needed.

As implied above, the real challenge is getting leadership to see that the leadership isn't working. Who wants to admit that their leadership is dragging the organization down? ... that their way of doing things hasn't changed much for the better in a very long time? While I've been fine with the membership changes I've never really thought they were going to make a big change in numbers. The BSA leadership was absolutely convinced the changes would solve all their problems. I was hopeful when Mosby was made head honcho but it's been crickets since then.

I'm not sure there is anyone that understands all the issues and has the authority to change things. At least not yet. My guess is that there are a few on the national board that know all about these issues but until the rest of the leadership is willing to listen it's just wishful thinking.

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On 1/15/2022 at 5:10 PM, MattR said:

Well, when salary has to be made every 2 weeks and camp can sit for 9 months, it's easy to see why this happens. I'm sure it's easy to get addicted to donations. From '45 to the late 60's I'm sure they got all they asked for. But that gravy train is long gone. And yet the culture of rewards is still based on donations. In the meantime, there are fewer volunteers with less outdoor knowledge that need more help in order to deliver a better program.

That's a lot of change needed.

As implied above, the real challenge is getting leadership to see that the leadership isn't working. Who wants to admit that their leadership is dragging the organization down? ... that their way of doing things hasn't changed much for the better in a very long time? While I've been fine with the membership changes I've never really thought they were going to make a big change in numbers. The BSA leadership was absolutely convinced the changes would solve all their problems. I was hopeful when Mosby was made head honcho but it's been crickets since then.

I'm not sure there is anyone that understands all the issues and has the authority to change things. At least not yet. My guess is that there are a few on the national board that know all about these issues but until the rest of the leadership is willing to listen it's just wishful thinking.

You are right on the money...and sometimes I think that is why we need the "creative destruction" of a Chapter 7.

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On 1/14/2022 at 6:02 PM, gpurlee said:

Is it time for the BSA to change its top leadership model?

For decades, the vast majority of council Scout executives have been selected from a system that works by promotion from within the BSA ranks. You work your way from district executive, perhaps to a field executive or specialty position such as development. You attend a variety of Scouting specific training courses over the years   Eventually you can be placed on a list for consideration as a Scout Executive at a council or national position if you meet the approval of your supervisor. “Putting your time in” has been considered to be essential.

The thinking was that through these experiences you gain the expertise necessary to lead a Scouting organization

However, the BSA has increasingly become an outlier among not-for-profits in the use of this model. Other national not-for-profits such as Goodwill, Easter Seals and Volunteers of America have long since moved toward a model where the local (or national) executive board can select any individual that they believe is best suited for the position of chief executive.  This person may have come from another not-for-profit or the business community. The candidate may bring specific skills such as fundraising or crisis management that is needed at that particular time by the organization. They may have extensive community knowledge and an invaluable network already established that would typically take years to develop. They have found that the personal characteristics, experience and leadership skills of the individual are more important than years of prior history within the organization.

The organizational history and knowledge needed by the top leader can be gained in a variety of other ways. Several other national organizations have leadership academies to provide new chief executives with the organizational specific knowledge and skills needed. The emphasis is on finding the best qualified individual to lead the organization. The local executive board is not limited to a small list of prescreened, nationally approved candidates.

 

Why make the shift in selecting top executives?

There are a variety of reasons. A few of them include:

(1)   ) To ensure that there is a constant infusion of new ideas and skills into the organization from outside the organization.

(2)   To avoid the development of a “good boy” network where agreement is valued and challenges to established norm is discouraged. An organization that requires working your way up a career ladder and not “shaking the boat” can be at a marked disadvantage in preventing organizational crises where challenging the norms and speaking out was needed.

(3)   To avoid the development of organizational blind spots.

(4)   It can also fast track the hiring of highly qualified individuals including individuals who are female or minority group members who otherwise might have to spend years working their way up within the organization.

 

When you look at some of the crises that the BSA is facing today, one may wonder if some of these were related to institutional structure and rigidity.  Did this lead to its failure to identify and its willingness to acknowledge serious internal problems?

 Has the current leadership model worked well in organizational growth, health and avoiding crisis? Or is it time for the BSA and its boards to consider a new model of executive selection?

Just read this again.

I can't upvote more than once.

You are "right on."

 

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  • 3 months later...

Promoting from within is critical if you are attempting to maintain positive aspects of internal culture. It does cause slower responses to external cultural shifts; however, most people are not looking for the same thing in BSA that they are in other non-profits. 

In my opinion, we want promotion from within, and every paid Scouter should have the strongest Scouting background possible. The volunteer positions can absorb the people with weaker or no Scouting background.

I was at UPS for 15 years, in management meetings I would always bark out, "When are we buying our company back?" because we lost a huge part of our corporate culture when we went public, and subsequently started hiring management from the outside. We went from work hard, play hard, take care of our people, to work hard, no playing, and squeeze the employees as hard as you can. Trust me, bringing in outsiders to fill critical executive positions will in a few short years obliterate the culture of BSA just like it has obliterated other non-profits and for profit companies. 

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On 1/14/2022 at 9:07 PM, 1980Scouter said:

I truly believe in the elimination of the council office. Limited staff can work out of the camp or remotely.  Much less overhead and cheaper to operate. Money could be spent to maintain the camp in good condition. 

This is always the question, doe we raise money in order to have Scouting, or do we have Scouting in order to be able to raise money.  I am in a large council and largest part of the professional staff is fundraising, development, etc.

On 1/14/2022 at 7:02 PM, gpurlee said:

Is it time for the BSA to change its top leadership model?

Yes

During the challenge with the Chartered Organizations (UMC) the BSA did nothing.  Our council did nothing.  Basically they don't care about the units.  They would much prefer to not even have actual units out doing things.  Much easier and less messy just to have some photos of Scouts doing things.  All that is needed is a some cub packs (they're always cute) and some Troops to generate an Eagle or two to trot out.  Then all is good, donors are happy, and the cache of "Scouting" pays off.

There was an event for a troop and the council field director (one of many middle management types in the council) who told everyone that he knows Scouting was strong and growing due to the amount of money raised at the council dinner.  That's the metric for success, cash.  Not units, not participants, not nights camping...it's cash

Hardest number to find is how many actual Scouts (Cubs / Scouts BSA / etc) is the council serving

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On 5/19/2022 at 2:58 PM, Jameson76 said:

Not units, not participants, not nights camping...it's cash

I have long made the argument that Scouting was in the entertainment business.

Providing fun and engaging activities while intermixing learning and leadership aspects in those activities.

A happy and engaged Scout brings his friends. And participation grows.

It just seems that my council, and apparently National, has no clue.

Math is not Scouting.

Enthusiasm is.

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56 minutes ago, SiouxRanger said:

Math is not Scouting

Neither is hiking, camping, canoeing, or an particular activity.  As you say, the program is in the entertainment business.  Children wish to explore their world  The most popular merit badges at summer camp are STEM.  So if you are trying to say that STEM activities do not attract and entertain children, then you would not be correct.   Scouting needs to incorporate STEM activities into the program in a manner to challenge those who are interested but not negatively affect those who are less interested.  It is a technique that works and attracts youth.  

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