Simon Sinek on Leadership

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 Character BPage/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 IMGP5234challenging — 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 IMGP6898model 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 IMGP6865help 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”?

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Basic Chili Mac for Patrols

carson_22345_mdIts rumored that just before passing from this world, Kit Carson, a famous frontiersman, is rumored to have said;

I wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili!

Out on the frontier, chili was the basic foundation for a good hot meal that could be made from whatever was readily available or already on hand.  Brown up some local meat from the trail (rabbit, squirrel, etc.) add some re-hydrated beans, spices and water from the nearest creek and let the concoction simmer over the campfire while setting up camp and you’ve got an easy-peasy hot meal to satisfy your team.  Even better, add some fresh cornbread to sop up any leftover juices.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of chili recipes only to discover that these variations on a central theme can be improvised very easily once you’ve mastered the basic stew pot combo.  Now, everyone has their own preference about chili depending on their region of the country, family upbringing and such.  Beans versus no-beans; chocolate or currant jelly; cubed stew meat versus ground beef; pasta or plain; with cheese or never with cheese and so on.

imgp6406Feel free to disagree with my “basic chili mac for patrols”, but if you’re starting to learn to cook for your patrol, it may save you time at the campsite and keep everyone largely satisfied until you are confident enough to tackle something more challenging.  On the plus side, once you’ve mastered the basic version, you can spin out many variations – testing what you and your pals like.  Remember what Alton Brown (from the Food Network on TV) says; “I know people that could serve me canned tuna and saltine crackers and have me feel more at home at their table than some people who can cook circles around me. The more you try to impress people, generally the less you do.”  Keep it simple, practice, and then you’ll have a bunch of fans raving about your cooking.



  • Spice kit (make at home in a sealable jar, quart size freezer zipper bag, etc. – combine 1 Tsp of salt, 1 Tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1 Tsp of garlic powder with a half Tsp of chili powder, and a half Tsp Oregano. – feel free to adjust the ratios, amount, and types of seasonings as you practice the recipe to suit your own preferences)
  • 1 pound of extra lean (93% lean if possible) ground beef
  • 1 small or half of a large onion, diced (prefer yellow, can use white)
  • 1 “standard” can (14.5 ounces) of petite diced tomatos (with liquid from can, don’t strain it)
  • 1 “standard” can (14.5 ounces) of tomato sauce
  • 1 “standard” can (16 ounces) of beef broth
  • Half a box (16 ounces) of elbow macaroni (can substitute wagon wheels, mini shells, etc.)
  • Cold water, as needed while simmering.


  1. Dice onion and place it bottom of large camp pot (or dutch oven) over mild heat to begin to sweat the onions.
  2. As they slowly become transparent (couple of minutes on the stove or over the coals of the campfire), add the ground beef and break it up as it begins to brown using spatula or cooking spoon.
  3. Keep folding the onions and beef together as it browns – do not overcook or burn the meat.
  4.  A
    patrol-chili-1Chili Mac with Elbow Pasta and Corn

    dd spices to taste from your pre-made spice kit (likely dump the whole bag/jar) and stir it in.

  5. Add diced tomatos, sauce, and beef broth while stiring.
  6. Add uncooked pasta.
  7. Bring to a boil, then simmer while stirring from the bottom to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pot.
  8. Once gently simmering, cover to retain moisture. Every three minutes, stir from bottom and check progress of pasta (it will soak up excess liquid as it cooks.)  If the pasta needs more liquid, add a half cup of water at a time (but don’t turn it into soup.)
  9. As soon as pasta is cooked (soft, spongy when bitten) – it’s ready to serve.

Serving suggestions:

Patrol members can top the chili with a dollop of sour cream, or a handful of shredded cheddar cheese, or crumbled tortilla chips (or all three!)  If they like spice, chopped green chilies or jalapenos (with or without seeds) could be added.


Using your imagination and thinking about other stews and casseroles you’ve tried, you should be able to come up with some interesting variations using the basic recipe as a starting point.

Next to jazz music, there is nothing that lifts the spirit and strengthens the soul more than a good bowl of chili. – Harry James

  • BEANS? Instead of pasta, you could substitute two cans of red kidney beans. They add fiber and will help fill up the hungriest of patrol members.  However, like the actor John Goodman said; “Chili represents your three stages of matter: solid, liquid and eventually gas.” This often depends on whether there are beans in the mix, and if they had been thoroughly rinsed before cooking. If you use canned beans, or bring re-hydrated beans, be sure they’ve been well rinsed before adding them to the mix.  I usually rinse them at home, let them soak overnight, and rinse them twice in the morning before packing them in the cooler to bring on the camp out.
  • Southwest Spice? Substitute “Ro-Tel” (diced tomatoes and diced green chili peppers) for the normal “petite diced” tomatoes, and try adding mild or hot salsa to the mix.  Change out the elbow mac for wagon wheels, rotini (corkscrews) or small shells (which hold more of the liquid in each bite).  Add frozen corn and black beans.  Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream.
  • Shepherd’s Pie? Instead of adding pasta, you could add frozen peas, carrots and corn (or whatever suits your taste) and then once simmering, add a layer of instant mashed potatoes (cooked separately) over the top of the mixture. The mashed potatoes add a cap to keep liquids locked in, and add heft to the final delivery in each patrol member’s mess kit bowl.
  • White, Chicken Chili? Instead of ground beef, used shredded chicken (perhaps pre-cooked at home and brought to camp frozen in a container. Use chicken stock in lieu of beef stock and a cup of whole milk in lieu of tomato sauce.  You could stick with pasta or substitute instant rice or two, 15 ounce cans of navy beans (small white beans or small cannellini’s)


Hands down, the best side dish for chili is (arguably) fresh cornbread made over the fire in a skillet or dutch oven. Our troop had it’s favorite recipe which was largely bomb-proof (we’ve managed to goof up the process, but got good results each time.)  It started as a way to introduce a veggie (very finely chopped broccoli) into the meal by hiding it with a lot of butter and cheddar cheese inside the corn bread, but we’ve found that the plain cornbread or the version with cheese taste just fine without the “green stuff”.  The recipe can be found on our old troop blog site: or from its original source – “The Scouts Dutch Oven Cookbook” by Tim and Christine Connors.

Svalley-forge-history-hike-3-2012-011ide Salad!  Bring an unscented, plain (no chemical treatment) plastic trash bag to camp.  At camp dice a head of iceberg lettuce, chop up tomatoes (or strain two cans of diced tomatoes), and add other veggies to taste (i.e. shredded carrots, rinsed and drained chick peas, rinsed and drained navy beans, etc.)  Pour in a half bottle of favorite dressing, then grasping the bag halfway down so that there’s a little air space at the bottom, shake vigorously.  Place bag in center of table, roll the edges of the bag down and place tongs or serving utensils.  When everyone is full, all trash can go into the salad bag for quick clean up at the table!  (This trash bag salad can even be used to make a great “taco-salad” by adding precooked, cooled, ground beef, chipotle-ranch or thousand island dressing, and tortillas)

Biscuits!  If your patrol is not a fan of cornbread, we’ve often brought pre-baked grand’s biscuits from home, or cooked them in dutch ovens at the campsite.

Baked Potatoes! If you have a large patrol to feed on a very tight food budget, you could wrap potatoes in heavy duty aluminum foil and bury them in hot coals in the campfire about 60 minutes prior to dinner time.  Using an oven mitt or welding gloves, test the individual potatoes for “done-ness” by gently squeezing them –if they “give” gently they’re ready.  If they’re hard as rock, they’re not done.  Patrol members can scoop out their potatoes in order to serve the chili in the potato skins, or they simply treat the potatoes as a side dish with butter or sour cream and chives.  The potatoes will help fill everyone up and stretch the chili among more people – helping to hold down overall cost per person.

What are some of your favorite variations on chili or side dishes?


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Advancement Done Right

IMGP7176Although the various methods of scouting are equally important and equally vital to a balanced and well run program, some capture more attention than others.

The Patrol Leadership Council has an opportunity to work with the adult leaders and the Troop’s Advancement Committee Member to discover “best fit” ways to encourage individual scouts to pursue advancement through rank requirements and merit badge unit studies.

BSA says this about advancement at their web page:

Boy Scouting provides a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them through the advancement method. The Boy Scout plans his advancement and progresses at his own pace as he meets each challenge. The Boy Scout is rewarded for each achievement, which helps him gain self-confidence. The steps in the advancement system help a Boy Scout grow in self-reliance and in the ability to help others.

Note the call-out about each scout planning his own advancement and progressing at his own pace to meet each challenge.  If the scout is responsible for planning and executing his own advancement path, what is the troops real role in the method of scouting called “advancement?”  What does a “strong advancement program” look like?

092Based on years of observing other troops in action, I think it means making opportunities for each scout to become engaged in the process is very important.  Showing the obvious and less-obvious benefits to advancement help scouts begin to see why it’s an integral part of the program.  Advancement, done right, fosters personal growth and provides healthy interactions with adults who are experts in their field (Merit Badge Counselors).  Further, the planning and logistics of scheduling interviews with MBCs helps develop life-long skills that will translate to college and/or career.

All troops must be careful that a “strong advancement program” can be defined in a lot of ways depending on the audience.  To parents who are eager for their sons to become Eagle Scouts as quickly as possible to benefit college and career placement, a “strong advancement program” may look like a stereotypical merit badge mill – churning out one or two badges per month and a dozen at summer camp.  The downside to this approach is that much of the planning is done for the individual scout and they lose out on the very processes that enable the personal growth and development of self-reliance, self-initiation.  Further, pushing an artificial schedule violates the tenent of allowing the boy to progress at his own pace. It can be emotionally crushing to individual scouts when their patrol completes a badge, but he is left to finish on his own time with no further assistance.  Some boys will respond assertively, but others may languish and become disenfranchised from the program.

Go, go, go!To the adults and the PLC of some units, a “strong advancement program” could mean a streamlined path to meeting planning — simply focusing on teaching skills and bringing in MBCs for quick sign-offs — as an alternative to providing thoughtful team/patrol competitions, time spent sharing wisdom from the wild, planning service projects (to aid the community in a genuine spirit of selflessness, not simply check off another “required” activity).

Other scouters have challenged me on this topic, asking “what difference does it make?”  That’s a great question!  It is easy to see the differences during a week at summer camp – various troops line up for morning colors and present very different levels of constrained chaos.  Some require adults to get things in order, others have only moments of confusion before patrol leaders and their SPL get everyone settled and ready.  Summer camp is one place where the evidence of a year’s preparation is put under a spotlight.

B-P did say; “You can only get discipline in the mass by discipline in the individual.” Since advancement ought to inspire discipline within the individual, not the group, there’s a strong test for evidence of how each unit approaches this part of the program.

Is this morning chaos at camp due specifically to differences in “advancement programs” — no, not entirely, but as we talk to the scouters from these troops over the week, we find tell-tale indicators that do differentiate the units.  Often, the troops that are “adult led” or have a strict schedule of completing advancement as part of the weekly troop meeting (group participation instead of individual skill mastery) have a hard time at camp since the individuals have not been prepared to function on their own (they are now hardwired to act as groups).

This translates (unfortunately) into a “herding cats” exercise at the flag post and throughout the week of camp activities.  We see patrols moving from nature hut to rifle range “en masse” and working as a team to complete worksheets at the picnic table back at the campsite.  Johnny doesn’t understand questions 4 thru 6?  No worries, his buddies will fill those out for him to get signed off – even if they don’t explain it to him so that he actually learns about environmental sciences or rifle safety.

2013-07-03_Pirate Gateway

It has always been my understanding (perhaps incomplete or flawed) that the general intention of advancement programs in scouting was to provide “a series of surmountable obstacles and steps in overcoming them” so that the boys develop specific traits.

Traits like:

  • Character BPself reliance (they ought to be in control of their own advancement path, pace, timing),
  • initiation of action (as opposed to passivity – they ought to learn to “step up” and initiate the process and own the process as opposed to others pushing them along or directing their detailed steps), and
  • urgency of action (once started, get it done quickly – don’t let assignments drag and become stale through inaction).

The reward for each achievement completed is earned and deserved as:

  • the requirements were fulfilled,
  • the skills were mastered and
  • the self-confidence was built through the process.

The goal is to encourage the individual boy to engage in the process as it is the process that works the growth and enrichment of the lad.  A group effort inevitably diminishes the affects of the process.

Oh, the group moves forward and earns many patches, badges and other shiny trinkets along their journey, but is this “badge hunting” the goal of the advancement program or a distraction (when the goal becomes bragging rights, status, or trinket accumulation)?

Don’t get me wrong – that patch or certificate is a fair and appropriate symbol of accomplishment – not for what has been done, but for the newly built capability to serve others as indicated thru that patch. So a badge for first aid is not a trinket at all, but a statement that:

I am now prepared, at a moment’s notice, to respond and react with a measured approach to apply the skills I now possess. I will not shrink from that opportunity to serve others, nor will I laud this skill over others in pride as I should have known these things in order to fulfill my role as protector and guide to my own household – both present and future tense.

eagle oathAdvancement programs can, however, become derailed from this noble purpose and the objectives can become confused as though the earning of medals, patches and such are notches on a gunslingers pistol grip indicating conquests instead of opportunities to serve others through new skills and experiences.

Ultimately that is the telling difference between a hubristic young lad who is full of himself versus those who are better prepared to do a good turn – and are on the look out for those opportunities.


Advancement has a lot to offer each individual, but if it becomes a group exercise driven by schedules and artificial pace setting, it can fail to achieve it’s best intentions. 

Secondarily, we need to guard against the misinterpretation of the advancement program as a mercenary means to an end (i.e. “I want to be an Eagle to get into College easier, or land that corner office job” instead of to serve others per the Eagle Scout Oath).  Even B-P recognized these concerns and left us the admonishments;

  • “In Scouting, a boy is encouraged to educate himself instead of being instructed.”
  • “Scoutmasters deal with the individual boy rather than with the mass.”
  • The Scoutmaster must be alert to check badge hunting as compared to badge earning.”
  • “Teach Scouts not how to get a living, but how to live.”
  • “And then the final and chief test of the scout is the doing of a good turn to somebody every day, quietly and without boasting. This is the proof of the scout. It is practical religion, and a boy honors God best when he helps others most. A boy may wear all the scout uniforms made, all the scout badges ever manufactured, know all the woodcraft, campcraft, scoutcraft and other activities of boy scouts, and yet never be a real boy scout. To be a real boy scout means the doing of a good turn every day with the proper motive and if this be done, the boy has a right to be classed with the great scouts that have been of such service to their country.”

May I also recommend this article –…/the-mystery…/

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Meeting Recap 2/8/2016

Tripods are useful camp gadgets by themselves, but they’re also the basis of many other helpful structures. It’s amazing how the finished effort is so much greater than the simple sum of the individual parts (three walking sticks and some cordage). When a patrol of, say, six young men work together, they can accomplish things that six individuals (working alone) could not do.

CSB #1803

Tripod lashing pencil drawingHad another great club night.  After some dodgeball, we broke into small groups and the boys practiced clove hitches and lashing together tripods.

Tripods are an easy introduction into building wilderness gadgets and camping equipment from sticks, branches and some cordage brought from home.

Tripod hammockTripods can be used to construct wash racks, hammock hangers, slingshots, signal towers and camp entrance gates.

Tripod have a high utility for a number of reasons – they’re sturdy, lightweight, easy to assemble and can be adapted to a wide range of uses.

I like the fact that they have a parallel to verses in the Bible, too:

Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A Tripod Towercord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Where the tripod gets strength and balance from having three poles to support weight and keep steady, a group of three…

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Building Strong Patrols

Patrols by any other name, work just as well. Teamwork, loyalty, bonding, shared experiences, fulfilling responsibility to the others in your group all help build young men into initiators instead of passive couch potatoes.

Trail Life Troop 113

When it comes to building a strong unit with lively, engaged patrols, it’s important to remember that William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt got it right when he said “…a Troop is not divided into Patrols. A Troop is the sum total of its Patrols” Put another way, a troop doesn’t really exist to build patrols (although logistically it may appear that way at times), but instead, the groups of boys who form patrols make up a troop.

IMGP5238As adults we can guide, instruct, demonstrate and enable, but patrol spirit isn’t something built from a set of directions or poured out of a can. To be certain, our job as adults is to provide opportunities for the boys in patrols to bond over fair competitions, nominal awards, healthy recognition and surviving shared circumstances (both good and bad).

The consistent use of patrol leadership gives boys an experience in group living and…

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Paradoxical MB Development?

A recent article titled “Boy Scout Merit Badges and the Paradoxical Digital Future of Being Prepared” appeared online which made the bold statement;

So, for all the talk about getting kids away from computers, BSA isn’t committed to making digital detox its core mission. Fundamentally, the organization craves relevance.

The article takes a blunt look at the apparent paradox of an outdoor adventure program that is pouring much of it’s time and effort into being relevant in a modern world by developing new curriculum that brings the boys inside to work with technology.

Where the organization got it’s start over 100 years ago by stating;

There was once a boy who…wanted to learn to camp out, to live again the life of his hunter grandfather who knew all the tricks of winning comfort from the relentless wilderness the foster-mother so rude to those who fear her, so kind to the stout of heart. (1911 BSA Handbook)

It is now proffering “Animation,” “Digital Technology,” “Programming,” “Robotics,” “Game Design” and soon to be released “Advanced Computing,” “Biometrics,” “Computer Aided Design (CAD),” and “Multi Media” merit badge unit studies to captivate its youth members imaginations.

new desk

There is nothing wrong with enabling boys to learn relevant skills to explore potential hobbies or occupations — in fact, that’s a great aspect to most youth leadership programs.  However, is the continued development of tech-oriented curriculum a way to popularize the program at the expense of the underlying mission

…to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law?

Perhaps this is nothing more than a tempest in a teacup – the addition of popular badges doesn’t change underlying requirements for personal growth and advancement.  It merely adds options, choices and customization to the program.

On the other hand, why not add some glamor to wilderness survival, pioneering, and backpacking the way Bear Grylls does in his TV show “Man Vs. Wild”?

132One of the troop’s most favored camporee events was the “Buckskin Games” where everything was a throwback to the most basic and fun scouting skills.  Most boys were completely fascinated by the blacksmith demonstration — beating the living daylights out of glowing iron rod to fashion a coat hook had them lined up for hours waiting their turn.

We still need to know how to survive following a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster.  These skills are far from outdated — just lose power for more than a day and most people start to go crazy.

Let us hope that the powers to be won’t merely take the easy way, but instead reinvigorate the core of the scouting movement to build character, wisdom and true scout-craft.

Go, go, go!


Can I learn more about other youth program’s advancement criteria?

Trail Life USA

Royal Rangers

Christian Service Brigade

Federation North American Explorers


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5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker

Basic tips, but helpful reminders as getting a new boy started in outdoor adventuring can become very expensive quickly if everything is bought new and all at once. Staggering out purchases, leveraging “birthday gifts” from extended family and shopping in a thrifty manner can make a big difference. Many outdoor gear shops have “quietly advertised” deals for scouters when they qualify for the discounts (i.e. purchase items as a group, show up in store wearing full uniform, etc.).

Enjoy your travels this Fall and be safe!

Trail Life Troop 113

Buying outdoor gear doesn’t have to empty your bank account. Here are some great tips on applying thrifty strategies to gear up for outdoor adventures (from

Source: 5 Tips for Buying Cheap Gear – Backpacker


Of course, there may be group discounts available from some camping supply stores for troops that are part of a non-profit organization.  It’s always worth asking about, and at worst case scenario, you may have to submit a group order — which just takes a little coordination among the families to research what gear they want and submit the individual orders together.

One example that my troop has used in the past is provided by Campmor, here in New Jersey. We even had Campmor send us a product specialist to do a gear review and how to care for demonstration during a troop meeting!  Thank you, Campmor!

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