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Developing Boy Scouts in the 21st Century: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
A few years ago I joined a group of scouts gathering for a march in a Fourth of July parade held in West Jordan, Utah. I was impressed with the group of scouts who were excited about walking a few miles in hot weather, carrying the banner of the scouting program. The scouts enjoyed marching side by side with their scout leaders. The march was great- thousands of people lined the street to clap and in some cases salute the scouts as they walked by. The scouts had a wonderful experience. I imagined that many of these scouts would become future leaders in their community, state and nation.
John Gardner spent a lifetime studying leadership in America. In a publication on leadership, Gardner raised the following question: Where are today’s leaders? America has a population today of over 300 million people. America should be producing more leaders. I believe scouting program is the source for producing America’s future great leaders. I have been a part of the scouting program for more than four decades and would like to offer seven strategies for developing our future leaders.
First, recognize that we are losing too many of our boys.
The number of boys who drop out of school is dramatic. The number of young boys who later go on to college is shrinking fast. Many young boys are more attracted to gangs, pornography and violent video games. Our prisons population is increasing while the number of men in the workplace is in decline. To reverse these trends, scout leaders need to be creative, innovative and search out more resources to improve the quality of their programs.
Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement in America observed: “The spirit is there in every boy; it was to be discovered and brought to light. Today’s scouts need energized leaders who provide them with the tools they need to realize their potential.”
Second, develop a strategic plan that includes specific goals for each scout.
Taking time to plan is taking time to succeed. A few years aog I visited a cub scout den in Albany, Georgia. The scout leader was a busy doctor. Although this doctor was busy he made time to plan interesting activities for the scouts. It was obvious he spent many hours using software on his laptop computer to develop a strategic plan for the program. The leader had a spreadsheet that detailed progress toward badges for each scout.
The scouts in this program were highly motivated and looked forward to attending each week. Powell observed: “Be prepared…the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” The same is true of scout leaders- if they are prepared the program will succeed.
Third, update your activities and resources.
To inspire and motivate today’s scouts requires the latest information. Many online resources and training activities are available to every scout leader. Albert Einstein said: “True genius is access to information. The genius behind successful programs lie in leaders who are lifelong learners and motivated to learn to latest program or activity available for his scouts. One way to see how things have changed is by taking a look at a Boy’s Life magazine from twenty years ago and a copy of today’s magazine.
The latest magazine focuses on new technology, interesting scout topics and innovative programs. Powell urged leaders to: “See things from the boys point of view.” Survey your scouts and find audience centered activity that will increase their motivation and enthusiasm.
Fourth, reach out for the one.
Successful leaders take the time to survey the scouts and work with them to develop scout centered activities. Successful leaders have one-on-one interviews with each scout to assess their personal needs and interests. Successful leaders watch out for the one scout that is not participating or doesn’t seem to be fitting in. Sir Robert Baden Powell said: “If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk.”
Fifth, manage your meetings, don’t let meetings manage you.
Too many meeting agendas get lost in reviewing upcoming activities. A carefully worded handout of activities reduces the number of questions asked. Today’s meetings should focus on how to increase retention. Too many boys are finding other activities more attractive. Utilize meeting time to brainstorm ideas and strategically plan for the future. Powell observed: “We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.”
Sixth, be state of the art.
Leaders need to regular readers of the current issues of Boys’ Life. This magazine is a great example of “state of the art” articles, humor, and games. For example, a recent month included articles on car innovations, GPS technology, and paper airplanes I attended a scout meeting in Deland, Florida where each scout made his own rocket. The competition was fair. State of the art competitions encourage the scout (not the parents) to build the project, earn the badge, complete the work. State of the art programs encourage scouts to go to college and become a lifelong learner. State of the art programs include the latest technology and inventions. State of the art programs teach scouts effective interpersonal communication and leadership skills. Powell observed: “I have always believed: That if there is the right spirit, we can kick out the”im” from “impossible.”
Seventh, promote a proactive strategic vision.
The twenty first century presents a number of challenges for scout leaders. How do you deal with the competing distractions boys face- electronic video games, local team sports, the internet? The old days of scouting are gone. It’s a new day, with new challenges. In an increasingly negative world, scouts can be taught to be optimistic, proactive role models. The leaders of tomorrow will need to know complex technology, possess strong communication skills and recognize the value of working together to bring success to our home, our communities, our nation, and the world.
Baden Powell was a great optimist. He recognized that the future can be bright. To insure a bright future for our young scouts, adult leaders need to be state of the art, great role models and move with innovation and flexibility in developing an exciting, strategic program for their scouts..Baden Powell concluded: “The most worthwhile thing is to put happiness into the lives of others.” The opportunity to bring happiness into the lives of scouts has never been greater.
Former speechwriter for the US Supreme Court
Faculty, Daytona State College
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