This month’s What Would You Do? question in Scouting Magazine comes from Scoutmaster D.M. of Ft. Myers, Fla.:
We recently had our troop leadership elections, and the Scouts elected a senior patrol leader who is inexperienced, uncommitted, and has no real sense of responsibility. I am worried about the direction of the troop, but I want to respect the boys’ choice. What do I do?
As Scoutmaster, your job is to train boy leaders to run their troop. Your responsibility is to take the Scout that the boys elected and give him every resource you can in order to help him succeed.
First, however, you need to make clear to him what he’s gotten himself into. Senior Patrol Leader is a position of real responsibility, not a popularity contest or an office given to a Scout because “it’s his turn”. He needs to know what will be expected of him, and he needs to be taught how to do it. Refer to chapter 7 in the Scoutmaster Handbook on training boy leaders. Don’t try to talk him out of the job, although if he is having second thoughts about taking the job, make sure he knows there is no shame in changing his mind.
You should work with him to develop a vision for success in his position, his goals for the troop, and a way to measure when these goals have been reached. Tell him you plan to sit down with him once a month to talk about progress and how he’s handling the job, and that your door is always open to discuss issues he’s encountering.
In the future, you may wish to have a method for vetting potential SPL candidates. For instance:
- Two weeks prior to troop elections, any interested scouts should make their intentions known to you. During the next week, hold a conference with each candidate. Ask questions like “What is your understanding of the SPL‘s job?” “What goals do you have for the troop?” and “What is your plan to achieve these goals?”
- You may want to establish some minimum qualifications for SPL, such as being First Class or higher and having held a position of leadership such as PL or ASPL. SPL candidates will also benefit greatly from completing National Youth Leadership Training; you may wish to make this a requirement as well.
- One week prior to elections, each candidate makes a presentation to the troop – a short talk, maybe 3 minutes or less, with an opportunity to answer questions from the scouts.
- On election day, allow a one-minute recap of their presentation from the week prior.
- Candidates for SPL and Patrol Leader must understand that they are expected to take part in troop leadership training shortly after the election, then follow through and offer the training. Use the Scoutmaster Handbook chapter on training youth leaders as a minimum, but feel free to vary the training from year to year. See if you can find a copy of the old Troop Junior Leader Training kit and use it to do a more in-depth program.
Always keep in mind that it is the Scoutmaster’s duty and privilege to develop the youth leadership so that they can run their troop without adult interference or intervention. This is what makes Scouting unique among youth programs.