A colleague at work sent me a link to a brief article on leadership by Simon Sinek, titled; “When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.” (click here)
The title sums up the article well, but it made me think about how we inspire leadership from the earliest experiences with patrol living. In troops I’ve been involved with as a youth participant or adult, I’ve typically seen a similar model (of course there’s room for variations!) where the boys start as recent crossovers or are grouped largely by age/experience. A patrol leader and “APL” are designated or voted upon, but they get mentoring from a Troop Guide or ASM. It’s up to the rest of the boys to learn their “jobs” well and acquire skills for their upcoming adventures.
The responsibility of the PL/APL duo is to communicate clearly and effectively with the SPL/ASPL/TroopGuide and assigned ASM – then carry instructions to the patrol for execution. At first, this process is pretty shaky for several reasons – the patrol is still learning and mastering basic skills. Putting up a tent for the first time (and it the dark, likely) is a much more daunting task than most of us can remember. Following a series of directions is also challenging — rookies tend to focus on the first admonition and forget the chain of directions that followed after step one.
Clearly, leadership is about strong communication skills and patience while repeating instructions as needed until the disciplines become ingrained.
Further, as the patrol matures through experience, it’s inevitably time to rotate responsibilities – grubmaster, patrol cook, clean up duties, tents, quartermaster, and so on. A wise patrol leadership duo (PL/APL) will push the patrol to rotate duties between each trip so that everyone gets experience in all the positions. That way, if someone is absent, the patrol functions fine without them (while missing them and encouraging them to come back ASAP).
So, its true that we need workers to learn their jobs – and Simon’s article doesn’t dispute that notion. I think his concern is most clearly summed up in this statement:
…eventually we get promoted to a position where we become responsible for the people who do the job we used to do. But very few companies teach us how to do that. Very few companies teach us how to lead. That’s like putting someone at a machine and demanding results without showing them how the machine works.
How do we overcome that in scouting? There are a number of ways. There are training programs within the unit, and outside of the unit which discuss leadership, but we also model it through our leadership principles of Primus Inter Pares (first among equals) and “BE-KNOW-DO” which emphasizes character, skill mastery and an urgent sense of engagement — being anxious to jump in and lead as opposed to a sense of passivity (waiting for someone else to step up).
During all that skill mastery on campouts, and job rotation, there were times when the PL/APL duo were out of touch and decisions had to be made. The team got together and made it happen. That speaks to engagement and willingness to step up in a vacuum. Additionally, the PL/APL duo are not sitting back and being serviced by the rest of the patrol – they’ve got their own sleeves rolled up and are pitching in on various duties. To the extent possible, the leadership duo share their learning and practice with their peers – ultimately paving the way for another duo to step up next season and “formally lead” (when all have been leading informally as they suffered through mistakes and successes together as a team). The one task that falls on the PL/APL duo is taking responsibility for the patrol. If one of the team members fails, the leadership team shoulders the fallout and restoration.
This is one of the hardest lessons to learn when we get promoted to a position of leadership—that we are no longer responsible for doing the job, we are now responsible for the people who do the job.
While I am in favor of “teaching” leadership principles (i.e. connecting what we intrinsically understand in our gut with clear definitions and tightly worded concepts) to help in accelerating the leadership process, I also recognize that some people are more comfortable taking the responsibility from day one and others are more hesitant. Personality will drive some to the forefront, but that enables others to contribute in other ways (i.e. technical proficiency, specialized skill sets, expert status on challenging technical duties, etc.) All valuable to the team.
How about you? Can we teach effective leadership in a classroom? Does it have to be learned “on the job”?