Jump to content

Getting Youth Leaders to Step up

Recommended Posts

Our troop is smack-dab in the middle of a culture shift -- there are lots of reasons why we ended up where we are, but I think the important thing is that we're (finally) making step-wise progress.


Just after my son joined, and I asked about the patrol method, the SM responded "we're working on that." But in reality, everyone was fine with the status quo, which was adult-led troop method. I decided to take on the challenge, and it hasn't been easy. Everyone says "never attempt to take on a culture shift" but I'm hard-headed and I did.


I started with the troop committee. I didn't accept "we're working on that". I asked "what can we do to take a step closer?" and then started in on those steps.


The biggest single factor in our step-wise success was finding an advocate. A dad joined the committee, when his son joined the troop, and he sees things the same as I do. He's also an Eagle, and believes strongly in the patrol method.


Another step, and I have to admit to over-stepping with adult-led here, is that I insisted on sending our guys to a patrol-oriented summer camp this last year. Most of the older scouts don't go to summer camp anyway (they choose to go to Eagle Week, on a provisional basis). The younger guys don't really know any better, from one camp to another. Also -- we were completely without a functional PLC, a functional SPL, or functional patrols.


Step 2 was to do a weekend troop leader training, with prospective patrol leaders (the ones who wanted the title, for advancement reasons). At that weekend, which I organized, we reset expectations. Those who wanted to be a PL were told they now have "challenges", which include items such as "run your patrol according to National Honor Patrol criteria". They now have a benchmark to which they can relate.


Step 3 involved some more meddling. Our newly elected SPL was counseled heavily, and is now on the same page with respect to building patrol method. It isn't pretty yet, but it is an awful lot better than what it used to be. And honestly (and this is with a kid who is something of a wise guy, and has natural leadership tendencies, and draws others to his antics) he is far exceeding everything we hoped. In one short turn, he has completely revamped the PLC and youth leadership of the troop.


Step 3b was taking the kid who wasn't elected as SPL, but desperately wanted to be a leader, and asking him if he would like to invite all of our younger scouts to join a patrol with him. Then the younger scouts elected him PL. This one patrol is a complete restart of the patrol method from the ground up. We're prepared to mentor this PL, but honestly he is doing great all on his own.


The other patrol, all of the older do-nothing Scouts, has been the only remaining problem. Their newly-elected PL doesn't have time for the job, and refuses to do anything. In our new method, we've already had the SPL counsel him, and this last week, the outgoing SM and our new-to-be SM sat down with the SPL and this "problem" PL to work on expectations. I don't know what went on in their discussion, but I know the plan is that if he doesn't start making progress with his patrol (with respect to our expectations, which we communicated to him), then he could possibly be replaced before his six-month tenure.


It has been a struggle, but I think we're in a great place right now. In all honesty, what it has taken so far is to get other adults to step back, set up expectations with youth leaders, offer training, communicate often, turn the program over to them and then step back.


Along the way, I've learned that it is extremely easy to derail the rebuilding process. It takes a clear, consistent message coming from the adult leaders. We've even had some shouting going on in committee meetings. It wasn't pretty (it wasn't me shouting!). I've come to the conclusion that the personal adult agenda ("my son getting his Eagle") is probably the single biggest complicating factor. It has made me think deeply about my own personal agenda.


We have a long way to go, but we're in a good place now -- far better than what it had been.



Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 36
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic



1) WELCOME TO THE FORUMS!!!!!! (and yes I am screaming at ya :) )


2) I must respectfully disagree with this part of statement


If he gives you a bad answer tell him why it's a bad answer, give him some guidance....t


I would not tell him it's a bad idea, barring an emergency of course. I would ask him pointed questions that would make the youth realize on his own why it's a bad idea. Get the youth thinking, getting the scout reflect on past expereinces and his KSAs to figure out on his own what the problem with his solution is. THEN ask him some questions, possibly pointed, on what he can do to fix the problem.


AND, if the youth cannot comprehend what the problems will be, as long as it is not life threatening, let him make the mistake and learn from it. Sometimes experience is the best teacher.


BUT I like the tell him to get back to you when he's figured something better out.

part!(This message has been edited by eagle92)

Link to post
Share on other sites

>>It has been a struggle, but I think we're in a great place right now. In all honesty, what it has taken so far is to get other adults to step back, set up expectations with youth leaders, offer training, communicate often, turn the program over to them and then step back.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thinking for yourself?

It's worth remembering that some people, especially youth members don't always get that many opportunities to think for themselves.

Adults sometimes allow people like their boss, their spouse, their co-workers to tell them what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

Youths face even a longer list of people telling them.

I think that there is a big difference between "Thinking for yourself." And "Following Instructions."

Very often when people have a problem with following instructions the fault is with the instructions or how the instructions were communicated.

For example asking a PL to find a good place for the Patrol Camp site is a lot different than telling the PL to set up camp over there.

"Over there" might be a place that is filled with ant nests.

A good way to start to get people to think is by asking (Never Telling!).

Then keep asking questions.

Such as "What do you think?"

"Why do you ..."

The real trick is doing this so that they "Buy into" what you kinda thought anyway. But being the good leader that you are, you will of course keep an open mind and be willing to accept that what they want to do or the way they want to do it, just might be better that what you came up with.

A great tool in helping to get people to think for themselves is reflection.

Done right it really do a lot.

To-day at work after lunch I got the report from the kitchen.

It showed that we had 200 portions of breaded fish left over.

200 is a lot.

I met with the guy who was in charge of the fish and said that I thought that 200 portions left over was a bit too much.

Being as we have turkey chili for supper and turkey chili isn't a big hit, I know that the staff will eat most of the left over fish. (They like breaded fish.)

I thought about what I'd done.

I had informed the fish cook that the population was down. I mentioned that I'd never seen it as low. I'd told him that we only had 898 inmates and it wasn't that long ago that we'd had over 1,000.

I had told him not to cook all the fish.

We had 330 pounds 1,320 portions.

He did as I asked and only cooked 290 pounds, 1,160 portions.

I was at fault for not telling him exactly how many to cook.

The fish comes in pre-cooked and only needs to be brought up to temperature. It takes about ten minutes in the oven.

I asked him how we might prevent having so much left over?

He didn't seem to have an answer.

I asked what time he'd cooked it at?

He said that they had started about 08:30 and cooked it all.

Then the his light went on!

He came up with the idea that maybe not cooking 1,160 portions all at the same time and batch cooking it would be the way to go.

I of course could have told him that.

But it was better that he came up with it himself.

Now he has gone away not thinking that I'm some smart Alec and the chances are that he will remember this because he came up with the idea,rather than me telling him what should have been done.


When you meet with your PL's you might want to let them know what the task at hand is and then ask them how do you think we should go about doing this?

When the task is completed ask them again "How did it go?" and "What do you think we could have done better?"


Rome wasn't built in a day. -Trying to get people who have never really done anything but as they have been told is at times an uphill task.

But the payday at the end is well worth it.


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Eagle92

I would not tell him it's a bad idea,

In some situations, I can agree with you. But my read on the situation, and I could be wrong, is that the young PL lacks confidence. In that case, letting him come to a wrong conclusion and failing is worse than forcing him to come to the right one.

In other situations, your right. Sometimes kids will give you a wrong answer just to get you to give them the right one. If you think they're doing that, you method is effective in nipping that behavior in the bud.

A word of warning though, make sure you word your response in a way that it doesn't come back to you as "He told me to do it this way!"

Let's try somesample scripts:

(PL lacks confidence.)

PL:Whereshould wepitchour tents?

SPL: Where do you thinkyou should pitchyou tents?

PL: I don't know.

SPL: Then takea walkaround the campsite andpick a spot. Iknow you'll finda good one.

(PL either doesn't want the responsibility, or wants the SPL to do the thinking or work for them)

PL:Whereshould wepitchour tents?

SPL: Where do you thinkyou should pitchyou tents?

PL: I don't know.

SPL: Then takea walkaround the campsite andpick a spot. Iknow you'll finda good one.

PL: How about over there on those sharp rocks?

SPL: If you think that'sgood spot, you shouldpitchyour tent there. I'm sure the partol trust you enough to rely on your judgment.


Link to post
Share on other sites

And so this takes us to the ultimate question between adult and boy-led programs.


You pull up to the campsite with 4 cars 2 trucks and a trailer full of camping equipment.


Why would any adult "suggest/ask/direct/coach/mentor" to the boy leader where, when, how or why anyone should set up camp? Unless the boy is a total air-head, it should have dawned on him what was coming next once he got out of the car without some adult having to tell him like he's a two-year old.


If one treats their boys like they are dolts, they will act that way.


As long as adults treat their boys like children that can't figure things out for themselves, they will stay that way. Why learn when some adult is going to teach you. Why problem solve anything, some adult is going to tell you what to do eventually. Why take initiative on any priorities, the adults will tell you what you need to do next. Don't worry about screwing up, some adult will have a backup plan anyway and they'll take over. If adults keep doing these kinds of things there boys will NEVER step up and take over! Why should they?! Until they absolutely have to without any safety net, these boys will prefer to sit on their hands than venture forth with any leadership.


:) When I get out of the car, I usually find my equipment, look for a site away from the boys and start putting my tent up. Once that's done, I set up my chair and then find my coffee cup and either make coffee or start wandering around other sites looking to mooch a cup from someone. What the boys do is entirely up to them. What do the other adults do? Exactly the same thing. Safety net? Nope, I don't carry a spare key for the trailer. That's not my job. That's what I have a QM for. Until he asks me to carry a spare key, it's all up to him to it figure out.


If I was camping with a group of adults, I would do EXACTLY the same thing! Except I would pitch in and help with the common equipment chores. But I'm only present to fulfill the 2-deep leadership requirements for BSA, and I can do that sitting in my chair drinking coffee.


Your mileage may vary,



Link to post
Share on other sites

Stosh wrote: "As long as adults treat their boys like children that can't figure things out for themselves, they will stay that way. Why learn when some adult is going to teach you. Why problem solve anything, some adult is going to tell you what to do eventually. Why take initiative on any priorities, the adults will tell you what you need to do next. Don't worry about screwing up, some adult will have a backup plan anyway and they'll take over. If adults keep doing these kinds of things there boys will NEVER step up and take over!"


In current BSA "EDGE" terminology (Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable), when do you "Enable" a Scout, and how do you do it? On one extreme are the adults Stosh describes who can't quite get over the "Guide" phase. On the other extreme is the character Hondo from the movie of the same name: When Hondo (John Wayne) hears that a boy can't swim, he promptly tosses the boy into deep water, thereby skipping over the Explain, Demonstrate, and Guide steps.


EDGE assumes that a Scout doesn't know what to do or how to do it and has to be taught. The "Hondo" approach assumes that a Scout can figure it out. EDGE puts the responsibility on the adult to delegate to the Scout, while always leaving open the possibility of reeling him back in for more Explaining, Demonstrating, and Guiding, at the adult's discretion -- or the Scout's request. "Hondo" puts the responsibility on the Scout from the beginning; there is no delegation from the adult, and no "yo-yo effect."


Earlier in this thread I wrote: "It is important that Scouts in positions of responsibility be sufficiently trained in what they are supposed to do before we expect them to do it." Maybe I'm wrong about that.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Barry's post:

"Great post and I'm glad to see it working. I am curious to how you are getting the adults to change. Your above comment is 90 percent of the problem of changing the troop culture. Its not that adults don't want to change, they just don't see where to change, and don't know the steps to getting there."


Barry, I wish I had some sort of magic formula that has worked 100% of the time. But I'm stumbling through it as best I can. I've figured, first of all, that I can't step on toes in the process. So I'm careful about what I say. In committee meetings, at first, I'd make comments and suggestions, some of which were pounced upon. So I'd look for another angle at the next meeting.


What I also figured out, with this particular group of adults, is that as long as they don't have to do anything extra, they're all for it. They didn't see, at first, the value behind sending a couple of youth leaders to council-level Brownsea Training (the old Brownsea, patrol method curriculum). They said "why can't we do that ourselves, and save the money?" So, in addition, I offered to organize a weekend TLT program.


Having an advocate on the committee really helped. One person trying to change troop culture is an annoyance. Two, on the other hand, then maybe the others catch on...


One standard suggestion is to make sure that other adults are trained. But our adults are almost all fully-trained. As Kudu has stated several times, how much are you really learning about youth leadership and patrol method at SM LPST? In my case, the guy teaching it barely mentioned it.


Occasionally, I've said some things to some dads that are overly involved with a group of Scouts, or with their own sons (issuing orders, so to speak). I've sort of quietly asked them to let these Scouts, or their son, to figure something out themselves. Sometimes that doesn't go over well, but that's my problem. I've got to figure out a better way to handle it.


When I figured out "we're working on it" (w.r.t. patrol method) wasn't really the case, I thought about stepwise progress. Our adults, and Scouts, haven't been able to give up adult-led advancement-oriented troop method in one big step. My advocate and I have both figured out that the oldest Scouts in our troop are pretty much a lost cause. They are not going to change their ways in the two years, or less, that they have left. It took some manipulation of the mid-level Scouts, the ones who have never had a youth leader role model in their time in the troop, to make some things start happening.


Quick story: committee meeting last week. One dad (father of PL of the younger-scout patrol), prior to the meeting, tells me that his son has lodged a complaint about the new SPL being kind of pushy and overbearing. We said we'd talk with him, but at the same time, I pointed out that the kid who is the newest SPL has to figure out how to do the job. He's a 16-yr-old who has never had, in the time he's been in the troop, an SPL that has been functioning. He's had no role model, and that we had to give him a little leeway to figure out how to do the job, and that yes, he'd be awkward at first.


(I have a couple of other stories that would make you shake your head in disbelief, be outraged that a group of Scout leaders would let happen, or make you smirk -- one of which was going on yesterday -- but I'll leave those for another time -- I want to see where yesterday's story is headed)



Link to post
Share on other sites

dkurtenbach: I think you summed it up even better than what I was trying to describe. I'm seeing EDGE as an adult-led management tool that we are trying to teach to the youth. Unfortunately it does little or nothing for the development of real leadership. Your "Hondo" approach is pure leadership, literally sink or swim! :) If you don't know, you had better figure it out and figure it out quickly! These are leadership skills!


I always use the Hondo approach first and if it doesn't work out in the best interest of the boy, I will supplement it with a wee bit of guiding suggestions, but I do every little with the management methods, including EDGE.


Using your analogy, the TF boys get tossed in the shallow end of the pool to get their feet wet (literally) with the process. They are now experiencing a problem, their feet are wet. Figure it out! Either walk around until your feet dry off or change your shoes and socks. It's not that difficult to figure this out and doesn't need EDGE management training. As the boy gets older and better adapted at figuring things out for himself then toss him into deeper water.... His learning curve is based on his personal experiences, not some theoretical explanation and demonstration conducted/led/managed by adults!


A number of years ago our troop had a bad experience at our council's summer camp and our boys were not happy. When my youth leaders complained to me, I simply suggested that they do something about it. (Hondo approach). The panic/blank look on their faces prompted me to state: "The council camp isn't the only BSA camp in the state!" From that point onward I did nothing to get ready for summer camp the next summer. A new camp was found that promised to meet their particular needs, they registered, picked out MB's, collected $$ and did everything. I drove, pulled the troop trailer, and filled the position of one of the two-deep leadership for the week. That was the sum total of my involvement. All my ASM's and other adults did even less!


The boys got absolutely no training in how to set up, organize, plan and execute summer camp activities. They figured it all out on their own without any adult involvement! This year (yet another scout) has been working on summer camp arrangements for a month now and reported just last Monday that the camp's website hadn't yet been updated for next summer's program. There is no ASM advising them, hounding them, making sure they are on task, or guiding, mentoring, directing, coaching them in any of this process. The boys are doing the leading, period! If you want to get to summer camp, you had better learn quickly how to get yourself there!


The EDGE method trains managers....


The Hondo method trains leaders.... :) Love John Wayne!


EDGE assumes (love that word) the trainer is the expert and the trainee is a total dolt. You need detailed instructions on exactly how to do a simple task, i.e. tie a knot. This process trains the listener to master a task based on memorized steps of instructions. It does NOTHING to develop the thought processes to be able to take limited information and apply it in other areas of problem solving, a very important facet of developing leadership skills!


Yipee! I can tie a knot, but if someone tossed me in the water, would I know what to do with it? If I can't swim, maybe I can tie a knot in my necker and tie it to a canoe and hang on. Or maybe, I can just reach up and grab the canoe and forget about tying the stupid knot! :)


Leaders can be managers, but managers don't have to be leaders.



Link to post
Share on other sites

1T: In some situations, I can agree with you. But my read on the situation, and I could be wrong, is that the young PL lacks confidence. In that case, letting him come to a wrong conclusion and failing is worse than forcing him to come to the right one.


It depends on the "fail". Sleeping on a pile of rocks really is not life threatening. On a ledge with a 50' drop ....


So, for the young PL who makes that first time tough decision, at the end of the weekend let him know that you are proud that he kept his patrol safe from harm. I usally end with " ... and I promise to never treat you like you're a girl scout." (And for you GS fans, I know that many come to my crew competent ready to lead, but let's not tell the boys!)


For crew activities (which often do allow for lots of failure on an individual basis) I have chocolate bars as "epic fail" awards. That tends to blunt the pain.

Link to post
Share on other sites

... riding jblakes horse a little further ...


EDGE also assumes there is no reference besides the teacher. That's why I'll sign off on the teaching method requirement if a scout tells a noob to read the Handbook, then shows the Handbook, and the boy does the Handbook. If that boy who just taught that skill can't remember what EDGE stands for, I'll probably offer him some chocolate as well as my initials.


... oh and for tossing kids in deep water ... ability groups trump teaching method. If you've been explained and demostrated by the best, you ain't any further along than the kid who did some light reading about strokes the other day. You're "first jump" into deep water may be within reach of a guard's pole, but you're the one being tested. Either do, or go back to the safer area.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The units that I have seen that have trouble getting youth leaders to step up have been units that have a higher than average effort towards the advancement method. A culture has developed where scouts take positions to fulfill an advancement requirement. And where adults counsel boys to take a position because they need it to fulfill an advancement requirement. Once that advancement requirement has been fulfilled, the scouts now drop back from actively contributing to the troop until the next time that they need to fulfill a requirement for their next rank. Then this is supported by adult scouters and BOR's that reward scouts with advancement even if the scout gave minimal effort to his POR.


One strategy to getting youth leaders to step up is to break that tie and spend less effort on the advancement method. Don't teach first class requirements to meet the advancement requirements, teach outdoors skills that are needed for the next outing to make it more fun and safe, whether or not those skills are advancement requirements.

Don't treat POR's as advancement requirements, but as real responsibilities with real authority. Where an occasional camp out gets cancelled because no one stepped up. It is really no different than the problem many units have where parents don't step up to share the workload of supporting the troop, where as long as events continue to happen, they dont see a need. I like jblake's description of tossing opportunities into the wastebasket when no one volunteers. It is a very visual demonstration to the boys of events that wont happen if they dont step up.


Be sure to celebrate and publicly congratulate when a scout steps up and gives real effort. Give him some type of homemade troop award to recognize real achievement. Those will be more meaningful than handing out a rank advancement where scouts know that the rank award recipient made little if any effort to step up.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

One also has to remember to keep the expectations in line with the abilities of the boys.


Assuming one has a patrol of all FC+ scouts, why would anyone ever figure they would need to step in and "help", "guide", "mentor", these boys? Of course, if they got their knots checked off because they tied them once, and they filled out a menu and got that checked off, and they watched someone start a gas stove, and..., and..., ??


If a FC scout is properly trained and has the skills to do the job, then one doesn't need to interfere further into the process. If they have a hurdle to climb, they might ask advice, but that's okay along the way, too.


Make sure your boys are ready, then let them fly.


A lot of boys will not "step up" because they lack confidence in their skills. The way most of the FC skills are taught, I would be nervous too. Everyone is in a big hurry to get to Eagle they fail to actually learn along the way. Every SMC and BOR should be directed towards, what is the next step? What do you want to try next? What's it going to take to "be prepared" for the next step? I'm a firm believer that most boys fail because they weren't ready/prepared in the first place.


Boys will step up naturally if they feel themselves prepared and knowledgeable. No one sets out knowing they are going to fail. They aren't going to step up if they know that someone else is going to step in along the way and take over as well.


Your mileage may vary,



Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...