Boy Led != No Adult Involvement


[Author’s note: Throughout this article I am not referring to any specific Troop, this is more general.]

I’ve had the opportunity to visit several Boy Scout troops during my time in Scouts, and the one thing I know for sure is that each one operates differently. Some may be just slightly different, and others are waaaaaaaaay out there. I’ve seen the Troops that are very much “Follow Me Boys”-ish with all the good little soldiers lined up neatly and in uniform while the Scoutmaster leads them through whatever it is they’re doing. And I’ve seen the opposite end of the spectrum, where the mass chaos that is a Troop meeting appears to be a re-enactment of the moshpit at a Slipknot concert by a group of ragtag boys with a couple that appear to have on an untucked uniform shirt and there’s a bunch of leaders in the corner socializing and not interacting with the boys because “we’re boy led.” The vast majority tend to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. My problem is that in both of the extremes, the leaders just don’t get it (in my humble opinion).

In the one extreme, you have a troop that is very much led by the Scoutmaster. He is in charge and the boys go along with what he’s telling them to do. I think we can all recognize that this is not a boy led environment, which is counter productive to the aims of Scouting. Will the boys learn about leadership? Sure…indirectly. Pretty inefficient though. And for the purposes of this post, isn’t really what I wanted to focus on.

It’s the other side of the spectrum that is equally missing the point. The group that thinks Boy Led means the adults are completely and totally hands off. If that was the case, why even have a Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmasters; the Committee could handle the “adult” stuff, right? I realize for the new parent the sight of a boy led Troop may look disturbing because they’re used to the very much adult planned, guided and led Cub Scout Pack, but when you have a Webelos unit visit and the families walk into a scene out of “Lord of the Flies,” well…that might be a bit much.

The problem that I see is that too many well-meaning leaders think that “boy led” means that their job as an adult leader is to stay out of the way. Granted, that is part of the job, stay out of the way of the boys from learning and developing their leadership skills and running the Troop. But the thought that boy led means no adult involvement is kind of silly. Obviously adult involvement is necessary; if it wasn’t, there’d be no adult leadership positions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for boy led. Boys should be planning and carrying out the activities that they want to do, working on the badges that they want to work on, etc. They’ve got their structure for boy leadership with the Patrol Leaders and Assistant Patrol Leaders, Senior Patrol Leader and Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, in addition to the numerous other leadership positions (Chaplain’s Aide, Quartermaster, Scribe, Historian, Bugler, Den Chief, etc.). And through the PLC they develop a program and assign responsibilities. But all the structure in the world won’t make a bit of difference if the boys in the roles don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s where the adults come into play.

One of our most important challenges is to train boy leaders to run the troop by providing direction, coaching and support. The boys will make mistakes now and then and will rely upon the adult leaders to guide them. (Scoutmaster’s Handbook, chapter 3.)

The important theories here are in training and guidance.

The training part should be quickly and immediate at least on the Troop level. No sense in having a boy in a leadership position for any length of time without the training – he may be able to struggle through but a trained boy would make both the boy and the troop’s time easier. Beyond your TLT you have NYLT (National Youth Leadership Training) and NAYLE (National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience). Both of these are excellent opportunities for the boys.

Training also extends to the adult leadership as well. I would hope that any adult Scouter involved in the Scouting movement would know that there is a set curriculum for adult leaders that is position specific. Beyond the Youth Protection which all adults must take before they can turn in a leader application and must retake at least every 2 years, there is the Fast Start training, Leader Specific training (classroom) and for some positions Outdoor Skills training that requires a 1- or 2-night overnighter. Putting adults in leadership roles who are not fully trained is a disservice to the boys.

As an aside, I sat in on a Troop Committee meeting recently as a representative both of a Pack and of the District Training Team to review the new Youth Protection requirements and the upcoming 100% trained leadership requirements. One of the other people present (who at the time was another visitor but now is the Chartered Organization Representative for that Troop and it’s affiliated pack) complained that we’d never get leaders if we forced them to take the time to get trained. My response was something along the lines of “If they aren’t willing to go get trained, then they’re not the type of people that the BSA, I as a parent and leader or you should want in a leadership role.” I still stand behind that response.

Anyway, in addition to the regular training is this really helpful document put out by National, publication 18-236, called The Youth Leadership Training Continuum – A Guide for Scout Leaders and Parents. I strongly recommend that you take a look at this if you haven’t already, it gives quite a bit of great information on getting the boys trained for their leadership positions. If you are a Scoutmaster or a Senior Patrol Leader reading this who doesn’t already do this supplemental training in their Troop, I’d suggest you consider implementing it in the near future.

But the training is only half the battle, and I think this may be where the biggest disconnect happens with those mass chaos style units. In addition to the basic fundamentals of the training program for the youth, there is the concept of continued training and coaching by the Scoutmaster corps. I think most of the units that let the chaos ensure take a standpoint of “Well, boy led means we are hands off.” But that isn’t necessarily the case. Boy led means the boys are in charge, but as adult leaders we are responsible for providing guidance and coaching to the youth leadership to help them improve their performance and the overall program of the Troop. If the program is lacking, the other boys will “vote with their feet” and you won’t be able to have a boy led troop with no boys to lead. And a unit of just adult leaders already exists, it’s called the Commissioner Corps!

There is a difference between “taking over and having the adults show the boys how it is done or do it themselves because it just isn’t working out with that young man” and giving the boy guidance on the role he’s taken on and how he is getting it done. But it appears that many unit adult leaders believe the line is so fine between the two that they would rather sit back and let the blowing of the conch shells begin than taking an active role in helping the youth leadership achieve what it is they’ve set out to do. Not doing this supplemental guidance and coaching is also, I believe, a disservice to the boys.

Is meeting with the SPL or a Patrol Leader (or any youth leadership position) to discuss how they are performing and see where they are having problems that they want assistance with, or offering encouragement and advice on ways to improve considered taking over? Decidedly not. There is a time and place for everything, so I’m not suggesting doing this mid-announcements at a troop meeting. But Scoutmaster Conferences and Boards of Review are not just for advancement. And there’s after-meeting sessions or phone calls that can be done as well.

So the next time I see a unit that hasn’t published a plan for attending the 5000+ person jamboree 3 days before they’re supposed to leave, I’m not seeing the pitfalls of the boy led method in action, I’m seeing a failure of the adult leadership to provide proper training, coaching and guidance to the boys so they can lead themselves.

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