tuesday-talkback-youth-led

Tuesday Talkback: When youth leaders aren’t allowed to make decisions

Tuesday-TalkbackFather (or Mother) knows best?

Maybe, but that’s not how a Scout troop, Varsity team or Venturing crew is supposed to work.

Scouting is a youth-led, youth-run organization. Your responsibility as an adult leader is to train the young men and women, provide direction, coach and empower. Then you step aside.

That means you’re observing from the back of the room, not barking out orders from the front of it. Scouts and Venturers are free to make mistakes; that’s where real learning happens.

For today’s Tuesday Talkback, tell me this: Do youth leaders make the critical decisions in your unit? If so, how do you prevent adults from taking too big a role? How do you resist the urge to step in? If adults are the leaders in your unit, how can you change that?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts, and let’s have a discussion about the best way to handle this important issue. 

13 years ago…

Read what Scouting magazine readers said in response to a similar question in 2000.


Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by stepol

96 thoughts on “Tuesday Talkback: When youth leaders aren’t allowed to make decisions

  1. Over the past few years, the adult leadership in my troop have made a concerted effort to change from an “adult-led” to a “youth-led” troop. We’ve made sure that we send at least one, if not more, scouts to NYLT and other training programs available. We have definitely seen the transformation. Now, mind you, it’s not perfect. We allow them to learn from their mistakes. If something doesn’t happen, because of poor planning, it doesn’t happen. The boys understand that. However, we just kicked off a new year two weeks ago. The first meeting in a new meeting place and you could tell that it was going to be an issue. Our new youth leaders were struggling to even get the troops attention. I raised my voice, asking the group to pay attention to their leaders. Later on, I received a comment from our Scoutmaster, asking me to refrain. I feel that there are times that you have to let them lead, but there are also times that if you see someone floundering, you need to step in and give them a hand. Should I feel justified in my decision or should I keep out of it and watch chaos ensue?

    • I think it depends on the timing. The scouts should be given the opportunity to overcome the obstacle, but at some point you need to give them a leg-up so that they can move on to the next challenge. Think of it in terms of EDGE. While they’re still getting on their feet as leaders, they may require a little demonstration and guidance, but your goal should be enabling them to do it on their own.

    • You were wrong and set the SPL back in his leadership growth. The Scoutmaster guides the SPL and helps him to work towards running an effective troop. Then when the next SPL is elected, you’ll start from scratch.

    • @ CG…exactly what I was thinking; my actions were fully well-intended.
      @ Joe…The SPL and his ASPL’s were all struggling to gain the attention of the group, even with the tools we had already given them. The scouts were completely ignoring them. I struggle to see how you can say that I was wrong and hindered his growth. For the most part, I agree with our SM, but there are times when the “learn from their mistakes” process can be more detrimental to the cause.

      • I wouldn’t say you were wrong, it’s difficult to sit back and watch that situation and do nothing to help. And I don’t agree that you set the SPL back in his leadership growth. But it might have been more helpful to tell the new SPL (after the meeting) that when he feels he’s lost control and doesn’t know what to do, that he can turn to the adult leadership for assistance. And if there is a next time (and I’m sure there will be) you could go to him and quietly ask if he needs help rather than jump in.

        • Katie, I think you are spot on. Bob needs to go the the SPL and see if he needs any help. If the SPL say yes, then help. Another option, not as good, is to tell the Patrol leaders to get control of their patrol if the SPL is not available. SPL and PL are the ones in charge of the boys and adults should not interrupt.

    • Your Scoutmaster was correct. You should not have stepped in. Gaining control of the room is hard for anybody that is new in a leadership role regardless of age, but more so for youth who are leading peers that lack an adult level of maturity. You will wee the same thing occur over and over again with each new set of leaders and within their term. It will seam as though just as these leaders finally get it figured out, a new set get elected and it starts all over again. Very frustrating for adults, but this program isn’t about adult comfort levels or it would be very different.

      When we step in, we tell all of the Scouts in the room that the real person in charge is an adult, not the SPL. When you let the SPL continue to flounder, you’re actually mentoring them in ways that don’t work, allowing him to work through it and to figur out what will work for him. The SM should pick up on that topic in ongoing discussions with your SPL after each meeting. the SM should ask what worked and what didn’t and let the SPL answer from his own point of view. They often see things very different than we do. Offer suggestions of other things he could try. Don’t instruct him on how to gain control. What works best for you may not be what works best for him. Mentoring the youth leadership as THEY run the Troop is the SM’s main role.

      If a meeting is complete chaos, it gives the boys an opportunity to own the problem and own the fix. Otherwise it’s not really their Troop.

      If this approach concerns you, I would suggest that during the meeting, you follow the lead of the SM and then ask him about your concerns at an appropriate time afterwards. Delivering the program is ultimately his responsibility.

    • Too be honest, both keeping quiet and speaking out are appropriate depending on details of the situation that you haven’t described. If there was current or future safety concerns then stepping in is required. If the failure of this meeting will impact future events and meetings in a way that could not be recovered than your actions were probably not out of line. The manner in which you got the scouts attention also influences if your response was appropriate. Was it a “signs-up” or a one line lecture?

      Regardless of the action taken the key will be the after action response. Both for the adult leaders and the youth leaders. Adults need to ask how much they contributed to the problem (both in training, meeting set-up and leading by example (adult small talk shows a lack of respect that travels) and what alternatives were open to them. Youth leaders need to address not only the short coming of the youth leaders of the meeting but also the leaders in the ranks. How could they have facilitated the leadership of the meeting.

      For me, this might have been an opportunity to teach leading from behind. Could you have had one of the youth leaders on the floor to step up and lead by example (assuming that you could get there attention and relay your thoughts to them). Could they have been the one to raise there voice from the floor.

    • Bob,
      I think that an adult leader needs to step in when there is a situation where a boy leader needs support. Not doing so will leave a boy feel unsupported and for a youth to have his first or early leadership position not supported may cause a great deal of harm later on. You state “giving a hand” and not “doing it” for them. Being a SM or ASM means that you mentor and guide. I would have backed you on telling the boys to listen to their leaders. I don’t think you took over anything. It would be cruel to stand by an do nothing.
      I believe that one of the greatest leadership developers is patrol lead camp outs. I was 12 when I planned my first patrol camp out. I wanted to rank up as well as my patrol members. We ran an adult lead troop at the time which plainly stated “sucked”. We as scouts started to take over as we rightly should of.
      Boy leaders – yes they can screw things up, sometimes, but most of the time they get it right and do a very good job at running things.

  2. My troop is a young one and when I became Scoutmaster 2 years ago there was little to work with. I am now transitioning them to “Scout Led” and they are starting to “storm.” I am taking Wood Badge so that I may be a better resource to help them through it. I pray that I am not too late.

  3. This came up just last week at our committee meeting. The scouts had voted for their choice for next year’s summer camp earlier in the week, and some of the committee members took exception to the overwhelmingly-victorious camp for reasons ranging from “it’ll be too hot” to “it breaks the tradition of going to a summer camp in the mountains” to “it doesn’t conform to the criteria established by the PLC in 2005.” The conversation among half of the committee was getting dangerously close to overruling the scouts’ decision when I pointed out that this is supposed to be a boy-led troop and that we shouldn’t overrule their decision unless safety is an issue. The looks on faces told me that the simple reminder was sufficient, and the conversation turned to making the scouts’ choice work. The one hold-out was offered the compromise of being able to make his case to the PLC, who will then decide whether or not to re-open the election.

    • I am all for tradition except when it gets into “well that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Interests and expectations change as the boys change. And it leads right back to the adults making all the decisions and the PLC becoming a figure head only.

      When I came into the current troop there were several “rowdies” who constantly disrupted the meeting. A couple of the older boys had become “the enforcers” trying to get these boys under control. Long and short of it, it didn’t work. Then I found out why.

      The boys had no vested interest in the troop. The adults made all the plans for campouts (when to go, where to go, what to do) and even made all the decision on what badges were presented at meetings. Once we started turning that around, peer pressure for the other Scouts got them more under control or they left and went to another troop (or quit altogether) because “it’s no longer fun”. But for the boys who stayed it finally became fun.

      I’m not saying we’re perfect. But we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go yet. And it’s a journey that always has a new destination. The learning curve is steeper for some than others but it’s a skill that must be learned.

  4. Boy scouts run our unit. Our scoutmaster opens the troop meeting and then comes to another room where the adults meet. The key is having adult scouters who keep the boy led tradition alive – if you don’t have such, ask for help from your district or council to get you help in the short term and train your adult leaders correctly for the longer term. As far as avoiding the urge to step in, my son’s scoutmaster spends much of his time keeping the adults away from the boys, calling in a boy scout to help if a younger scout needs help while moving the younger scout’s dad back to the adult side of camp.

  5. We try to use flyby coaching to prevent hovering and adult takeover. Adult leaders are asked to quickly assess and give brief advice to the youth leaders and then move away and onto something else. This allows the adult to give insight but empowers our scouts to decide what they want to ultimately do. Sometimes they fail, and that’s alright (as long as health and safety aren’t compromised).

  6. We are finally youth lead. It takes a strong SPL and 1 or 2 others that are NYLT trained as well. Making sure the SPL is trained and mature enough to garner respect is the key. Love it. Won’t go back to before my time.

    p.s. Getting adult leader trained at Woodbadge is very beneficial as well so they know what to expect and how to coach and mentor and not take over.

  7. I’ve seen Troops where the Scouts led it, but the Scout parents had issues-this is the worst scenario for the Scouts! I’ve also seen SM led Troops-second worst scenario. I think it should be Scout run, but adults need to educate and guide the Scouts. After all, if a Scout wasn’t educated through Great Expectations or Great Medicine, how can you expect him to know how to lead? The adults should give the Scouts everything they need to succeed and only then let the Scouts learn from their mistakes. As an adult, I feel I need to lead by example. If the Troop has a Troop committee, I would discuss it there with the SM present.

    • IMO this is how it should be. We are trying to educate our Scouts in leadership, but we’re going counter to a sense of entitlement that has been passed down by a number of Scouts who are no longer in our Troop.

  8. Our troop is in the midst of a large controversy. 40 years ago the local Civic League donated 100 acres to our local troop, and it became our Camp Richard. Now, our regional Council decided, without discussing it with our troop leaders or our scouts, to sell this land to a developer. When I volunteer troop leaders stood up to the council, they kicked them out of scouting and sued them personally and now, instead of our scouts making decisions about troop leadership, we’re waiting for a judge to do it! (read more here, and help us out by signing our petition: http://tinyurl.com/kidsnotgreed)

  9. We are nominally a Scout-led Troop, and our Scoutmaster is pushing it hard. However, we have one mom (our Troop Committee Chair) who rules with an iron fist and won’t let go. She will overrule our SPL at the drop of a hat (and get angry at Scouts who tell her that they’re following the SPL’s directions), won’t allow “critical” decisions (by her definition) to be made in the Troop Committee meeting unless she’s present, etc.I’m thinking about leading a coup…

    • Sounds like she doesn’t get it…might be time for your COR to step in and have a discussion with the CC on how scouts work and if she doesn’t get in the canoe with the program she can get off at the next island.

    • Training, Training, Training

      CC is not a youth-facing position, it’s an adult-facing position. She needs to understand her role in the workings of the troop.

      Sometimes a painful change is the only choice. However: as the Scoutmaster / Asst. Crew Advisor of a new troop, I advise not leading a coup unless you’re truly ready to walk. It may come to that.

    • It’s really simple. The SM & ASMs work primarily with the Scouts. The CC herds the “cats” or the other adults in the Troop. The Committee should have little interaction with the Troops at a regular Scout meeting except in specific circumstances: BORs, the Chaplain with the Chaplain’s Aide, the Scout QM with the adult QM, etc. The CC SHOULD NOT be telling the SPL what to do. The Committee provides the support to the program designed & executed by a well-run Boy Led Troop.

  10. We are nominally a Scout-led Troop, and both our current Scoutmaster (and his heir-apparent) are trying to move farther in that direction, to counter a long-time trend of Scoutmasters using the SPL as a mouthpiece.

    However, our Troop Committee chair is attempting to hold on with an iron fist. She overrules the SPL and senior Scouts at the drop of a hat when they attempt to demonstrate leadership and initiative (then gets angry at them for “talking back”), won’t allow “critical” decisions (by her definition) to be made at the Troop Meeting, etc.

    Any thoughts on how to counter?

    • We have the same situation of an iron fisted Troop Committee chair who has berated scouts and their families for “Boy-Led” initiatives. He nearly drove my now Eagle Scout son out of scouting for it. Can’t seem to understand the need to move ahead and let go of the ways of the past. So sad.

  11. It is a constant struggle to keep well meaning adults from taking over the program, especially from new parents. I have watched new youth leadership struggle through troop meetings and/or campouts. Great learning experiences each and every time. The program can stagnant without some direction and prodding from adult leadership, but these decisions must be made by the youth. I have seen some incredible program run by adults – the only lesson the boys learn? Let the adults run it and we will have a lot of fun.

  12. Was my post removed or did I forget to hit “post?” I hope it was the latter. One way to find out…

    Our troop is in the midst of a major crisis. The local Civic League donated 100 ac to our troop 40 yrs ago; and Camp Richard was founded. Now our troop falls under the leadership of a regional Council that has never participated in the upkeep of the Camp or supported it. And the leadership, without talking to our kids or our leaders, decided to sell this land to a developer! When our troop spoke out against this, they banned them, changed the locks and sued our volunteer adult leaders.

    This is what passes for leadership in our area. Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/kidsnotgreed.

  13. The three best ways to really have a youth run unit is for one to go strictly off of the NYLT ciriculum on one end and also take after the example of Venture Crews on the other(in terms of charing outings and administrative functions). But most important of all, as adults(parents and scouters), we shouldn’t give in to the temptation of running the unit ourselvs just because it seems easier or because we think we know better. Instead, lets use that energy to ADVISE our youth and let THEM run the troop. How can we teach our youth to fish if were not willing to give them the fishing rod?

  14. Funny our family was crucified for using the term we need to let our troop be a BOY-LED troop! My oldest, now an eagle scout was crucified at his Eagle Board of Review for discussing the need for the adults to step back and let the boys lead the boys and find out what failure meant. I mean crucified to the point that he left the Board of Review in frustration and tears and not wanting anything to do with adults who had a tunnel vision. He has always been a scout and an individual who walked to the beat of a different drummer and saw the activities and the leadership capabilities of troops his friends were in. He was NYLT trained and came up against stone walls when he tried to introduce new ideas into the troop for activities and guidelines. The adult leaders have to let our youth scouts step up to the plate and take responsibility. How else will these young men become valuable citizens who develop a can do attitude. Fast forward a year later: Eagle Court of honor for my oldest was done HIS way and the old guard of the troop had issues, yet his court of honor was extremely meaningful to him and our family. Youngest scout in the family is a Star scout and has introduced a new concept of Venture Patrol to the troop to keep our older scouts interested and develop scout and leadership skills that can disseminate down to the younger scouts. He had to jump through hoops and make the Patrol Leaders Council listen, but they did. We are counting this a step in the right direction for becoming more boy-led and driven. Maybe the tide is turning as our older stalwart committee members let their grip loosen some and allow the boys to experiment. It is so important that our troop re-establish the boy led mentality so the boys may feel they are important contributors to the program that serves them, their families, and our community so well.

    • Sorry to hear this. This is always one of the questions we ask at our Eagle boards – what can be done to improve scout leadership in our troop? Sometimes we have Scouts who say, “nothing,” other times it’s “let us fail once in awhile.”

  15. It took me 2 years to get our unit boy lead after 17 years of adult lead. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to have a model scouting unit.

    1) I taught them position by position what was needed. Without the training they are just floundering. Now the boys teach the next group what they need to do.
    2) I sent boys to NYLT. It’s now part of our unit that if you’re going to be SPL that you’re promising to go to NYLT as soon as possible. This was a HUGE step for us and I can’t recommend it enough.
    3) I changed my standard answer to be, “What did your patrol leader or Senior Patrol Leader have to say about that?” or “ask your patrol leader”. The only person I give answers to any more is the SPL.

    It didn’t happen over night, but quickly the boys took ownership of the unit and learned that we would respect their decisions even it they weren’t the ones we’d of picked. They know that part of being a leader is making mistakes and figuring out ways to either not make them again or how to get out of them.

    As to what keeps me from stepping in every time I see something coming? I love my role as Scoutmaster to much! I have truly the best job in scouting because my job is now to deal with individuals in my scoutmaster conferences, and in guidance…oh and I keep the fire going when they are out of the campsite. I tell new parents I’ll ban them if they start getting into the boys business.

  16. Out troop is 18 months old. Started with 6 new Scouts and 6 that just completed their first year in a troop that was not Boy run. We are now about 22 active Scouts and 30 registered. What is difficult about Boy Run is the lack of skill and experience that the boys have. Training on the process only is getting us so far, they just don’t know what they don’t know. The scouts are 13 and under, and still lack the “research” skills or desire to go find the answers to get them to the next level.

    We have a PLC meeting, scouts are tasked with at least leading the process, finding an adult who can teach a skill to them (then we try and have the scouts that get it teach those who struggle at the next camp). Boys find an adult to task with researching camping opportunities outside their limited experience. So while we are not totally boy lead, at least we have a lot of boy run.

    It is my prediction that it will take at least a year or 2 more of this interaction before we can back the adults nearly out of the process. The big stuff still is lost on the boys and many of the adults … Backpacking, canoe trips, etc still are a pipe dream that most can’t wrap their minds around, yet.

    Boy Lead Boy run, easy to say, not so easy to get going … but like most things, focus, plans and effort will get us there.

    Boy lead B

    • Bryan: Hang in there. As the Scoutmaster and Asst. Crew Advisor of a troop and crew that combined is roughly that same size, I’d say you’re doing fine.

      One thing I have done is to have a meeting with the PLC before a meeting where we will be teaching something new (knots, cooking, firebuilding, etc) and gone over it with the scout who will be teaching so they have a clue what to teach. They know they can always ask the adult for help, but having the adult teach one or two scouts ahead of time so those scouts can teach the rest helped us.

    • I provided our SPL a list of 50 camping places in Kansas & Missouri along with possible activities that can be done at them as I was seeing a repeat of the same activities from last year to this year w/o any new ideas. There was also a lack of planning more than 2 months in advance. Since I am on District Staff & serve on a Council Committee, I am Scouting almost every weekend of the month. I need more than 6 weeks notice about the next campout to be one of the adults that goes as I like to have at least 4 adults on every activity. I didn’t tell the SPL what to do or give him any guidance other than providing the “tools”.

      At the very next meeting after the PLC, he rattled off the next 4 campout dates, locations, activities, along with what they were going to do in the meetings leading up to each one. While it is not 6 months in advance as I would like, it is definitely an improvement on what was happening before.

      The execution has left something to be desired, but at least the campouts are going on the date scheduled instead of being rescheduled to a different date at the last minute.

  17. I would like to get some perspective from other Scouters about how this relates to organizing activities for the troop. I just became the Activities person for my son’s troop. The troop voted and planned next year’s activities. But they chose places that are familiar to them. I think scouting is about having a mix of new and familiar experiences

    What are your thought about my changing the place where we go do the activity they chose? For instance: We still do a Kayak and Camp weekend. But we do it at a new place.

    • I agree with you about trying new places, however I don’t think you should change a location without the troop’s knowledge. Present them with the idea and suggest other locations and see what they say.

    • What we did at our last PLC was have the boys whiteboard it on butcher paper. Anything they wanted to do as a Troop. We got, “Go to Mars” and “Go to the Moon,” but also a lot of other ideas. Our Scoutmaster plans to take that paper back to the PLC and the Troop and ask them to choose their activities – preferrably new stuff (or new campsites) and go from there.

      That’s just how we’re trying to do it.

      • Doug, this is basically what I just went through. I sat down with all the scouts and asked what activities/MB/etc they wanted to do this year. The next week we discussed places they wanted to go. Between the two lists the PLC (with some coaching, not telling) put them together and came up with a good swing at the troop calendar. After some minor tweaks it became cast in really hard mud.

    • Before your unit’s Annual Planning Conference, the Scoutmaster is supposed to meet with the troop committee to review the calendar and potential troop goals. This would be the appropriate time for you to bring up potential new locations. He in turn will present your suggestions to the SPL who in turn will get patrol input via the Patrol Leaders at the Annual Planning Conference.

      • That’s if your troop is doing an annual planning conference. It seems our Troop does a 1-2 hour sporadic PLC to plan 3 months out. They also have a short PLC after each troop meeting to see if they are on course. The SM & at least 2/5 ASMs are Wood Badge trained. One of the ASMs is a former District Commissioner so they all should know how things should work.

        I asked about the Annual Planning Conference & a 12-month camping plan & got “that’s too far out for us to plan” from the most junior ASM, the only one of the 6 SM/ASMs that still has a son in the troop. While the SM/ASMs not having sons in the troop (most of their sons are in college) demonstrates a commitment to Scouting, I think they may have lost a little perspective that parents have other commitments including other children competing for their time & knowing a camping schedule 6-12 months out would be wonderful for them to begin planning.

  18. I have seen a truly boy led troop. I have also seen a troop in which the adult leaders plan the calendars, the SPL regurgitates the plans to the troop, and the troop considers itself boy led. Does the truly boy-led troop make mistakes sometimes? Sure they do, and that is when the adult leaders step in and guide the youth leaders.
    I would like to know if others have encountered a troop that calls itself boy led but in truth is not, and would welcome suggestions for adjusting the attitudes of the SM and ASMs.

    • Sadly, you need to get the “adults” out of the way, and get their egos on the sidelines. Too often the problem is that the SM or ASM is trying to re-live their own Scouting days, or they have never had a position of authority or leadership, and don’t know how to handle the responsibility any better than the young men they are trying to lead. Try to get the SM and ASM to let the boys do their own thing, while they watch from a safe distance. If you have a parent or committee member who is a trained educator (particularly if they know anything about a theory called constructivism, and have their YP training) let them take charge for a meeting. You may be surprised at what a difference it can make.

      • It doesn’t have to be a trained educator. Someone with a military background where they have taught leadership could be of great benefit. I helped educate, teach, train over 400 college students commissioned into the Army. We allowed our Seniors to run the ROTC program from planning to executing. The Cadre provided the logistical support and coordination (firing ranges, campsites, etc.) for what was planned by those Seniors. During the weekend training exercises & during leadership labs, we never stepped in unless the older Cadets were teaching something wrong or there was a safety issue.

        There are many parallels between what the military does to train its junior leadership and what we are trying to impart in leadership training to our Scouts. Sadly, the SM/ASM corps in our Troop is a closed group since many of them have been doing it 10 years with only 1/6 still having a Scout in the Troop. Thus, I am relegated to the sidelines as a Committee Member who tries to avoid interaction with the Scouts so the SM/ASMs can actually do their jobs.

  19. Scouts should make most of the decisions in the troop…where to camp out (within reason)…if they plan a camping trip to a unviable location, something too dangerous, etc., the SM should ask questions to get them to rethink their decision.

    Safety is 1 reason that this principle should be violated. If the boys want to have a hike, and thunderstorms are imminent, then the SM should step in

    The focus should be getting them to think about the decisions they are making. Example – if they plan a campout where the planners can afford it, but there are issues with all the scouts being able to afford it, the the SM needs to skillfully lead them into a discussion so that they can accomodate everyone – might be nice to camp in Hawaii if you are from Texas, but only a few would be able to afford to get there.

    All parents should be indoctrinated (yes, I did say indoctrinated) into the chain of command – if a parent sees something that he thinks should be done, it should be communicated to the SM, who then has the opportunity to consider it and communicate it to the SPL if appropriate. The SPL can then communicate it to the PLs, and so forth. Parents, even ASM’s should be encouraged to communicate with the boys through the SM. This is in our troop manual that we share with all new scout parents (although some “seasoned” parents sometimes need remedial courses in it)

    At campouts, we even require the boys to request permission before entering the adult campsite. We also show them the reciprocal courtesy of requesting permission to enter their campsite. This permission is always given, but reinforces the control they should be expected to have.

    That having been said, if a meeting has gone out of control, the SM or one of the parents can do a “signs up” to quiet them down. However, the SM should get with the SPL or whomever was conducting the meeting, and use it as a teaching opportunity on how to handle it the next time.

  20. Our troop was started 17 months ago with a den of Webelos Scouts who were rejected by the local troop (yes, there IS politics in Scouting). In our first year we grew from 8 to 18 and have all of the qualities of a healthy troop except for older boys to teach our young Scouts. We are struggling and progress is slow, but we are working at it and seeing results, small as they are. The SM has years of experience, is wood badge trained, and truly understands the program. Our biggest challenge is with the assistant scoutmasters who do not have scouting experience. They constantly want to control and correct, stepping in too often and certainly too soon, and resort to raising their voices and giving lectures on behavior and respect. First, this does not work, and second, several of the boys have shared at their Boards of Review that the worst part of the troop is the arguing among scouts and the yelling from adults. Yes, these ASMs have gone through training and yes, we’ve spoken to them but it isn’t easy to change personalities. To answer the question of the day, we cannot wait till our Scouts are old enough and skilled enough to run their troop; it will be wonderful to step aside and see what they can do.

  21. There has to be a balance between scouts and leaders, we have had boys who were elected to positions bf popularity and not ability and the result was a mess. The “popular” boys did not want to put in the time needed and eventually the troop was out of control. The SM was not one to step in and take control. I believe it should be be the boys, BUT with the SM and ASM standing up when things are not going well. the boys also need to know they can and will be removed from office and replaced by a better candidate if they are ineffective.

  22. Bryan, For me the answer is clear. “TRAINING” If an adult leader really wants to have a youth led troop, team or crew then he or she needs to get as much training as possible. Start with your Position Specific Training. Take Wood Badge. Go to the Philmont Leadership Challenge. Take the Mentoring Workshop. I would also suggest staffing a National Youth Leadership Training to learn the same concept your youth will learn as participants.
    The next step is to get your youth trained. Use Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops, Crews and Ships. Venturing Crews can use Venturing Crew Officer Orientation. Send your youth to NYLT National Youth Leadership Training. Do a Kodiak Challenge. Send youth to NAYLE National Youth Leadership Experience.
    All of the training programs I have mentioned are great tools, but the most important training is the individual training an adult leader can have with a youth leader. There is no manual for this training. It is done on an as needed basis. The goal is to prepare that youth in every possible way to be a success. It is reviewing agendas for a PLC, or providing the resources needed for troop meetings. It is discussing the needs of individual unit members and working out plans to fulfill those needs. It is reviewing an activity and helping that youth to do it better next time.
    If I am not mistaken this sounds like what a SERVANT LEADER would do.

  23. The analogy I like regarding boy-led troops is the one of the Scoutmaster as a football coach. The coach (SM) can do anything he wants with the Quarterback (SPL) during the week. In fact, it is the most important time to coach. When the game (troop meeting) begins however, the coach (SM) is strictly on the sidelines. He can call a timeout and bring the QB (SPL) to the sideline for a short, quiet conversation but at no time can he go out on the field and run a play. The QB (SPL) can also huddle with his team leaders (ASPL, PL, etc.) and get them more involved but the only time the coach (SM) is allowed to address the team (troop) is at halftime (Scoutmaster’s Minute). After the game is over, the serious coaching begins. This also applies to troop overnights and especially at summer camp. Those are game time situations. At no time during the game can adults be heard barking our orders.

  24. I completely agree with boy-led troops, however there seems to be a trend pushing that too far. How much is to much “boy-led”? We see troops here that pride themselves on letting the chaos ensue and the boys will figure it out- but they don’t because there is little to no guidance and teaching. Boy led does not mean no adult guidance. There needs to be that presence to say no, the troop probably shouldn’t take a boating campout in January, or to look at things like logistics when planning events (cost, support, etc.). The boys want to have fun and including them on these decisions is crucial, but letting them make all decisions is not teaching or guiding them properly.

    • This guidance should come during the yearly program planning leading up to and immediately after the Annual Planning Conference. The PLC should be making all decisions regarding the program; proper input from the Scoutmaster and troop committee during this process will enable them to make the right decisions.

      • Guidance is an ongoing necessity. Yes, there is guidance at the Planning Conference but what about at other times. A game at a meeting didn’t go well. The SPL likes high adventure only which leaves out the new boys because of rank and/or age and/or skills. The PLC wants only backpacking but the boys want cycling.

        Guidance does not mean the adults take over. “After action” discussions allow the boys to see what went right, what was challenging, and what might have been done differently. And, yes, there has to be the new SPL finding his way as a leader, especially if he hasn’t been SPL before. They do need to be able to “control” troop but when it becomes obvious that the SPL needs help, is over his head in a particular situation, adult guidance has to step in.

        • “when it becomes obvious that the SPL needs help, is over his head in a particular situation, adult guidance has to step in”

          While I agree I also have to say that HOW you step in is just as important as WHEN you step in. Take the example of Bob above, who raised his voice to get the scouts to listen to their leaders. In the same situation, I’ve taken my SPL aside for 30 seconds, given him a couple of pointers on how to get their attention himself, and then sent him back into the fray. I work hard to only step into a situation when safety is involved.

          My SPL, who is also my foster son, spent the two months leading up to our first meeting asking “Why Scouts? Why are you so behind this program? Couldn’t we just do this on our own?” By the third meeting that had changed to him discussing chain of command with the scouts and complaining that they were coming to me with questions (which I sent back to the PL and SPL). I’ve refrained from pointing out to him: “That’s why”.

  25. When I came back from Wood Badge, I realized I was working too hard. I took my PLC group on a retreat and had them plan out the entire year on one of those big desk-top calendars. First I took the SPL aside and told him he was running the meeting today. I took the other adult leaders aside and told them they were to sit in back and listen. We first played a couple of team building games and then got to work.I was surprised how quickly the SPL caught on and the PLC took over. I took their plan to the troop committee, they bought into it, we published our troop calendar and the year was set! Outings soon became a two-part camp-out. The adults on one side and the troop on the other side. Another SM friend of mine told me that after he sent a couple of his green bar boys to leadership training, they came back and told him “we got this now.” I just works if you let them do it. The old saying “plan your work then work your plan” applies here.

  26. Send all 13-year-old Scouts and especially Youth Leaders to National Youth Leadership Trainining (NYLT) and adults to Wood Badge. Both youth and adult leaders need to know what is a youth-led Scout unit. B-P guidelines are very specific about the values of the Scouting method created and tested at Brownsea. Compare and contrast youth leadership with other troops, crews, etc. and with other countries. Scouting is more than meetings and camping. It is the best experiential education method for youth leaders to make the changes the world needs. (@ScoutmasterJose)

    • I agree! If only NYLT wasn’t so expensive I’d be sending every scout over the age of 13 there. Unfortunately, as a new unit of 20+ youth, many of which are low income, our funds are lacking. Council will only sponsor one major outing/year, which puts these youth in a position of choosing “summer camp” or “NYLT”, when really I need them at BOTH :(

  27. We work hard at being youth led. Last night, as the meeting got to a chaotic phase (they had done a cooking demo, and were eating …) the new adult I was chatting with asked me if I needed to go get them back on track. I said no, but I’d check with my SPL and Crew President. They said it was under control, and I trusted them.

    Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, everyone was done munching on the “tacos in a bag” that they had made and was ready for the next activity: Inventorying patrol boxes and cleaning out the closet (the QM had demanded this activity since the closet was looking much worse for wear after 2 outings). They then moved on to a Scout Law word association game.

    It’s possible. Give the youth the reins and let them ride. They’ll rise to the occasion and impress you!

  28. While yes the intent is to be boy-led, far too often the adult leaders (particularly the SM in our case) feel that they must be in charge of every aspect of everything that the troop does. they set the agenda for the PLC meetings, decide what, when and where of activities, and generally criticize the SPL when they don’t do things his way. What’s more disconcerting is that the SM has been to Wood Badge, and completed his ticket! Yet, he still doesn’t get it.

    Empowering and enabling boys to make good (and bad) decisions is part of their development as leaders. So long as their decisions do not put themselves or anyone else at risk, then allow them to fail. Far too often, we as leaders think that if they fail at something, or if it doesn’t go perfectly, that it is a reflection on us. It isn’t, and it can’t be.

    We all learn more through failure than we do from success. If we never experience failure, then we can never know of we really did get ti right, or it if was just luck or coincidence. I hearken to what Tomas Edison said after he created the incandescent light bulb after more than 1,000 attempts. Asked if he was frustrated with failing so many times, he replied that he had simply found 1,000 that did not work.

    We need to let boys discover their leadership potential by providing them with the proper scaffolding and support to allow them to be successful, but while allowing THEM to do the work.

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