Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 4: Tools of the Trade

In Scouting, as in life, change is inevitable.

You’ve got new merit badges, new locations for campouts, new roles in your unit, new health and safety regulations, and more.

That makes change the only fact of life guaranteed to never change. And these days, both in and out of Scouting, change happens at a faster rate than ever before. Resistance is futile, but how you respond to it is entirely up to you.

Let’s say change is a bucking bull; do you: (A) Jump off and run away, (B) Hold on and try to survive, or (C) Grab the horns and steer. In other words, do you resist change, accept it, or lead it?

At Wood Badge, we learned how and why to try the third approach. It’s one of many Tools of the Trade I took home from the course in August, and it’s the focus for this edition of Wood Badge Wednesdays. (If you want to catch up, please read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.)

Consider this:

Experiencing Changes

What kinds of changes affect those of us involved in Scouting?

  • Scouting program — Joining a new unit or transitioning from one Scouting program to another.
  • Team development — Small groups within Scouting — dens or patrols, for example — coming together as a team.
  • Locations — New spots for meetings, summer camp, weekend trips, etc.
  • Responsibilities — New leadership roles for Scouts or Scouters — especially tough if you’re the first one in a position new to your unit.

Possible Reactions to Change

There are three basic ways to respond:

  • Fear/resistance — Allow change to control you and intimidate you.
  • Acceptance — Try to make the most of what’s happening by adapting what you do.
  • Leading — Starts with acceptance but evolves into determining the outcome of change.

Six Steps to Lead Change

Ready to try leading change? Here’s how:

Step 1—Recognize that change happens.

It’s inevitable. Once you can accept that “different” doesn’t always mean “worse,” you’re on the right track. The more quickly that realization happens, the easier it is to accept the challenges the future presents. Eventually, you’ll learn to savor the new opportunities.

At Wood Badge: Change happened not daily but hourly during my weeklong Wood Badge course at Philmont. In the first 24 hours alone, I met 50 different people, heard Scouting terms that were foreign to me, and played games meant to keep us off-balance.

Step 2—Empower others to help you lead change.

You’ve got friends in life and in Scouting. Use them. Just as a politician surrounds himself/herself with trusted advisers, you should find a close contingent of people with the willingness, expertise, leadership prowess, and credibility to help you enact change.

At Wood Badge: This happened naturally. As I’ve said before, Wood Badgers are a self-selecting bunch. The only people who bother paying for this course in time and money are the most dedicated volunteers. (Nobody else is crazy enough to try!) In my patrol, I was the clear rookie, meaning I had plenty of opportunities to learn from others’ experiences. As the days passed, we found common ground and grew stronger as a team.

Step 3—Lead change based on vision, mission, and values.

If we don’t know where we’re going, how will we get there? To lead change, we need to know where we’re headed. This means understanding our values (the Scout Oath and Law), our vision (the desired end result), and our plan (the steps necessary to get there).

At Wood Badge: Before we arrived at Wood Badge, our Scoutmaster, John Stone, asked each participant to write down his/her vision, mission, and values. As I said in Vol. 1, mine is built around empowering other leaders to do their best by giving them the tools they need to succeed. I really need to print that statement out and hang it in my office, just like corporations do with their mission statements. That way those words watch over everything I do.

Step 4—Establish urgency.

People need a compelling reason to change. Without urgency, great ideas sit idle for months or years. This makes Scout units stagnant and gives Scouts a reason to drop out. To create urgency, show others the vision of what change can do, and outline the steps needed to make that change possible, necessary, and desirable.

At Wood Badge: When was urgency not a part of Wood Badge? As I’ve said before, the course is designed to put us through the fire as a group. When we came out on the other side, we were all stronger because of it. By the final night, we didn’t even need the staff (no offense, y’all!).

Step 5—Move ahead, regardless.

You’re going to encounter some sticks-in-the-mud along the way. People unwilling to accept the inevitability of change. Your approach, to paraphrase Dori in Finding Nemo, is to “keep swimming.” Bring these Scouters along for the ride (but let them sit in the back seat at first). As change occurs, they might come around and get pumped. If the lightbulb stays off for them, they’ll eventually remove themselves. Call it survival of the fittest.

At Wood Badge: Fortunately, there were no sticks in the Wood Badge mud. But each of us — myself included — had moments of crankiness and reluctance where we dragged our heels a bit. Thankfully, everyone stayed pointed toward the goal, threw our arms around the stragglers, and moved forward.

Step 6—Create a culture that embraces change.

Whether we’re talking about a small team of people, a Scouting unit, a business, or an entire organization, it’s important to actively seek out change. Those who stand still get left behind. So in your pack, troop, team, ship, post, or crew, make sure you’re seeking out ideas. A good reminder: There are no bad ideas. Nothing stifles innovation faster than a brainstorming session where participants feel uncomfortable.

At Wood Badge: Because we had just six days, this applies less to the actual course than to the aftermath. Each Scout leader experienced these steps firsthand and left with the tools to bring home. Now they can create that change culture in their own unit.

The Importance of Lifelong Learning

There’s a reason they update the dictionary every year to add new words (“man cave,” “bucket list,” “mash-up”).

The world is constantly changing. That’s why lifelong learning is such an important concept, and it’s the best way to embrace change at a personal level. The best leaders are the best educators. They seek out training opportunities for others, but they don’t stop there. They’re also responsible for seeing to their own continuing education.

If you’re a veteran Scouter, ask yourself: When’s the last time you got trained?

Your Turn to Share

What changes have affected your Scouting career? How did you handle them? Share your stories of change below.


Wood Badge Wednesdays

This is Part 4 of a five-part series called Wood Badge Wednesdays. Here’s the schedule for the entire series; each week I’ll explore one of the five central themes of Wood Badge for the 21st Century:

  1. Living the Values (Sept. 12)
  2. Bringing the Vision to Life (Sept. 19)
  3. Models for Success (Sept. 26)
  4. Tools of the Trade (this post)
  5. Leading to Make a Difference (Oct. 24)

It’s Your Move

Ready to take Wood Badge for yourself? Start by contacting your local council to learn how.

You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!

Anyone from any council also has the opportunity to sign up for Circle Ten Council’s Wood Badge course at Philmont. The next course is held in August 2013 at Scouting’s paradise in New Mexico. Here’s the course link!