“Learning About Leadership” is adapted from Patrol and Troop Leadership, the handbook on leadership development written for Patrol Leaders and published by the Boy Scouts of America in 1972.
In most football teams the quarterback is the team leader. Why is that? Is there something magic about the position? Does he automatically become the leader — the guy who makes the team go — when he is named quarterback by the coach? No, there’s more to it than that. Lots more. Usually he is named quarterback because he’s already a leader. He’s already the kind of guy the other players like to follow. And if the coach is wrong about him, he probably won’t stay quarterback very long. If he can’t lead the team, he won’t have much value even if he can hit a receiver at 40 yards. Because every successful
team must have a leader.
That goes for your Scouting team, too — your patrol and your troop. In fact, if the patrol and troop are to succeed, you need several leaders. Guys like yourself who want to try “quarterbacking” in Scouting. One of the aims of your local council Junior Leader Training Conference is to show you how to become a better leader. Let’s begin by being honest about it. This handbook is not going to make you a good leader. You are not going to find 5 or 10 simple rules to follow to become a good leader. If leadership were as easy as that, almost everyone would be a good leader. And you know that most people are not.
There are no rules for leadership. But there are certain skills that every good leader seems to have. You learned about them at your local council Junior Leader Training Conference and have practiced some of them in your troop at home. Some of these skills you may already have even without knowing it. That’s the funny thing about leadership — a good leader doesn’t necessarily know how he does it. He just does what comes naturally and the others follow him. Although he may not know it, he has mastered the skills of leadership. This doesn’t mean we guarantee that you’ll be elected student council president next year. Or that you will be the Super Bowl quarterback 15 years from now or President of the United States in 35 years. But we do guarantee that you can make yourself a much better leader in just a few weeks or months.
What Is Leadership?
Leadership is a process of getting things done through people. The quarterback moves the team toward a touchdown. The senior patrol leader guides the troop to a high rating at the camporee. The mayor gets the people to support new policies to make the city better. These leaders are getting things done by working through people — football players, Scouts, and ordinary citizens. They have used the process of leadership to reach certain goals.
Leadership is not a science. So being a leader is an adventure because you can never be sure whether you will reach your goal — at least this time. The touchdown drive may end in a fumble. The troop may have a bad weekend during the camporee. Or the city’s citizens may not be convinced that the mayor’s policies are right. So these leaders have to try again, using other methods. But they still use the same process the process of good leadership.
Leadership means responsibility. It’s adventure and often fun, but it always means responsibility. The leader is the guy the others look to get the job done. So don’t think your job as a troop leader or a staff member will be just an honor. It’s more than that. It means that the other Scouts expect you to take the responsibility of getting the job done. If you lead, they will do the job. If you don’t, they may expect you to do the job all by yourself. That’s why it’s important that you begin right now to learn what leadership is all about. Wear your badge of office proudly. It does not automatically make you a good leader. But it identifies you as a Scout who others want to follow — if you’ll let them by showing leadership.
You are not a finished leader. No one ever is, not even a president or prime minister. But you are an explorer of the human mind because now you are going to try to learn how to get things done through people. This is one of the keys to leadership. You are searching for the secrets of leadership. Many of them lie locked inside you. As you discover them and practice them, you will join a special group of people-skilled leaders. Good exploring — both in this handbook and with the groups you will have a chance to lead.
The Tasks of Leadership
In this section, we will consider several common statements about the people who serve in leadership positions throughout our world. After you have read the statement, decide for yourself whether you feel it is true or false and why you think it is.
Here is the first one. True or false? The only people who lead have some kind of leadership job, such as chairman, coach, or king.
Do you think that’s true? Don’t you believe it. It’s true that chairmen, coaches, and kings lead, but people who hold no leadership position also lead. And you can find some people who have a leader’s title and ought to lead. But they don’t. In other words, you are not a leader because you wear the leader’s hat. Or because you wear the patrol leader’s insignia on your uniform. You are a leader only when you are getting things done through other people. Leadership, then, is something people do. Some people inherit leadership positions, such as kings, or nobles, or heads of family businesses. Some are elected: chairman, governor, patrol leader. Some are appointed, such as a coach, a city manager, or a den chief. Or they may just happen to be there when a situation arises that demands leadership. A disaster occurs, or a teacher doesn’t show up when class begins, or a patrol leader becomes sick on a campout.
Try this statement. Is it true or false? Leadership is a gift. If you are born with it, you can lead. If you are not, you can’t.
Some people will tell you that. Some really believe it. But it’s not so. Leadership does take skill. Not everyone can learn all the skills of leadership as well as anyone else. But most people can learn some of them — and thus develop their own potential. You don’t have to be born with leadership. Chances are, you weren’t. But you were born with a brain. If you can learn to swim or play checkers or do math, you can learn leadership skills.
How about this statement. True or false? “Leader” is another word for “boss.”
Well, what do you mean by “boss”? A guy who pushes and orders other people around? No, a leader is not one of those. (But some people try to lead this way.) Or do you mean a boss is somebody who has a job to do and works with other people to get it done? This is true. A leader is a boss in that sense.
True or false? Being a leader in a Scout troop is like being a leader anywhere else.
This one is true. When you lead in a Scout troop, you will do many of the same things as any leader anywhere. The important thing now is Scouting gives you a chance to lead. You can learn how to lead in Scouting. You can practice leadership in Scouting. Then you can lead other groups, too. The skills you will need are very much the same.
What Does a Leader Deal with?
Every leader deals with just two things. Here they are: the job and the group.
The job is what’s to be done. The “job” doesn’t necessarily mean work. It could be playing a game. It could be building .
The group, such as a patrol, is the people who do the job. And in many cases, the group continues after the job is done. This is where leading gets tough, as you’ll see later.
Think about this situation. Mark has a lot of firewood to split. There he is, all alone with his ax. He’s got a job to do. Is he a leader? We have to say in this situation that Mark won’t be leading. Why? No group. There’s nobody on the job but Mark.
Here’s another example. Danny and three of his friends are on their bikes. They have no place to go. They’re just riding slowly, seeing how close they can get to each other. Is Danny — or any one of the others — a leader? From what we know, we have to say no. Why? No job. There’s a group of friends, but nothing special to be done. You don’t need a leader for that. (You don’t need a group, either.)
The Job of a Leader
A leader works with two things: a job and a group. You can always tell when a leader
- The job gets done.
- The group holds together.
Let’s see why it takes both.
Frank was elected patrol leader. That same week, the patrol had a job cleaning up an old cemetery. It was Frank’s first leadership position, and he wanted it to go right. In his daydream he could see the Scoutmaster praising him for the great cleanup job. So when Saturday morning came, Frank and the patrol went over to the cemetery, and Frank started to get the job done. He hollered. He yelled. He threatened. He called them names. He worked like a tiger himself. It was a rough day, but the cemetery got cleaned up. Frank went home sort of proud, sort of mad, and very tired.
- “How’d things go, Frank?” the Scoutmaster asked a few days later.
- Frank: “Good.”
- SM: “No problems?”
- “No.” Frank wondered what he meant by that.
- SM: “Oh! Well, a couple of the boys in your patrol asked me if they could change to another patrol. I thought maybe something had gone wrong….”
And that was how Frank learned that getting the job done isn’t all there is to leadership. He had really given the group a hard time, and now they wanted to break up. Almost anybody with a whip and a mean temper can get a job done. But in doing it, they usually destroy the group. And that’s not leadership. The group must go on.
Another new patrol leader called a meeting at his house. Everybody seemed to be hungry when they came. So they got some snacks from the kitchen. Then they tossed a football around. It began to get dark, and one by one they went home. Everybody had fun. But the patrol meeting — the job — never started.
One of the following statements is the message of this section. Which one?
- Nice guys finish last.
- Mean guys finish last.
- Leaders get the job done and keep the group going.
- Leaders have a special title or badge that makes others like to follow.
We’ll take the third one as correct. Will you?
What Affects Leadership?
Leadership is not magic that comes out of a leader’s head. It’s skill. The leader learns how to get the job done and still keep the group together. Does this mean that the leader does the same things in every situation? No. Here’s why.
Leadership differs with the leader, the group, and the situation. Leaders, like other people, are all different. No leader can take over another leader’s job and do it the same way. Groups are different, too. A great football coach might have difficulty leading an orchestra. A good sergeant might be a poor Scoutmaster. So when a leader changes groups, he changes the way he leads.
Situations differ, too. The same leader with the same group must change with conditions. A fellow leading a group discussion needs to change his style of leadership when a fire breaks out. As a Scout leader, you probably can’t lead the group in the rain the same as you do in the sunshine. An effective leader, then, must be alert at all times to the reaction of the members of the group; the conditions in which he may find himself; and be aware of his own abilities and reactions.
Picture a long scale like a yardstick. On the low end, there are no leadership skills. On the other end, there is a complete set of leadership skills. Everyone is somewhere between those ends! Where do you find yourself at this time? Unknowingly, you may be further up the scale than you realize. As a staff member [youth leader] you’ll now have the opportunity to find out.
How Will You Know You are Improving?
You learn leadership best by working with groups. That is something like learning swimming best by getting into the water. Yet you can’t keep track of your progress without a guide. You must know and understand what you are trying to learn. This means you have to know what the skills of leadership are.