Gilcraft on Leadership




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By Gilcraft

If the single word "Leadership" connotes a very wide tract of country, which it is impossible for me to explore fully. 1 can only give you a series of rough sketches of various parts of that country which affect us particularly in Scouting, and leave you to complete your own travel book for yourselves.

Leadership comes naturally to but a few. Fortunately many more have some natural ability in that direction which will become effective, if only it is developed in the right kind of way. Leadership cannot be taught, but most of us can benefit from the advice, experience and example of those who have proved themselves good leaders, and, by striving to follow their lead, perhaps make ourselves better leaders in our own turn. Diffidence will not help us; we must make up our minds that we have in us something of the stuff of which leaders are made, and set out determinedly to make ourselves more efficient.

Arctic and Antarctic exploration has produced many leaders, such as Amundsen, Nansen, Scott, Shackleton, Watkins If you read the epic stories of their endeavors you will see that while training, equipment, food and transport had to be of the very best, and to be tried out beforehand in a long series of experiments, yet these things alone could never achieve success. Two more qualities were vitally necessary - the team spirit and comradeship of the party and the leadership of its head. In all the stories of these explorations you cannot but feel the tremendous power that came from the leader, who gave his whole mind to the job of looking after the welfare of his party, and to the attainment of the goal.

I will treat, first of all, with the leadership given in Scouting by boys. Of the Sixer in the Pack there is little to say, not because he is of no importance, but because he should not be asked to carry out his powers too soon. There is real danger in giving a Cub too much to do on his own; there is real danger in asking a Sixer to undertake the responsibility of leading his Six at all times. He can lend a hand in various ways; he can show the way in a game or in some simple test, but farther than that he should not go. Responsibility has a sobering influence, and although we naturally want our Cubs and Sixers to be sober, we do not want them to become dried-up old men before their time. Let them remain children and let them enjoy their childhood without being "hudden down," as we say in Scotland, with too much in the way of cares.

It is, however, a totally different kettle of fish when we come to the Troop and its Patrol Leaders. They are older - though I hope not too old - and much more can be, and is, demanded of them. As the Chief says on page 46 of Scouting for Boys, "if the Scoutmaster gives his Patrol Leader real power, expects a great deal from him and leaves him a free hand in carrying out his work, he will have done more for that boy's character expansion than any amount of school training could ever do." Remember these words were written over thirty years ago, and that the comparison is not nearly so accurate as it was then. The moral, however, remains the same. Boys of Scout age are old enough to be given definite training in responsibility and in leadership.

What is the Scoutmaster going to do about it? Would it not be a good plan to start with if he took to heart, and put in his own mouth, the Chief's "Words to Patrol Leaders"? "I want you Patrol Leaders to go on and train your Patrols in future entirely yourselves, because it is possible for you to get hold of each boy in your Patrol and make a good fellow of him. It is no use having one or two brilliant boys, and the rest no good at all. You should try to make them all fairly good. The most important step to this is your own example, because what you do yourselves your Scouts will do also. Show them that you can obey orders whether they are given by word of mouth or are merely rules that are printed or written, and that you carry them out whether your Scoutmaster is present or not. Show them that you can get badges for proficiency in different handcrafts, and your boys will with very little persuasion follow your lead.

"But remember that you must give them the lead and not the push."

A Scout lives the greater part of his Scout life, and practices the vast majority of his Scout activities, within the Patrol. It is impossible to exaggerate the value of a good Patrol Leader, who must be the natural leader of his Patrol if success is to be achieved. It takes a good leader of the whole Troop to choose the right leader for the Patrol, or, better still, to allow the Scouts to choose their right leader. Scouters frequently make mistakes in their choice. Scouts seldom, for they know all that depends on the right choice, even more than their Scoutmaster does. The Patrol Leader has to be the right fellow for that particular Patrol so that its Scouts respect him, and at the same time are on sufficiently good terms with him to be able to sit on his head, pull his leg, or salt his tea. Even under such varying adverse circumstances the Patrol Leader who is a leader will be able to say, "Now then, you chaps, we've had enough ragging now. What about finishing off that raft, or helping Dick with the spuds, or digging that trench?" He will then be the first to start lashing the raft, scraping the potatoes, or wielding the shovel.

A good P.L. is one who inspires his Scouts to follow him because he is always ahead of them, and never asks more of them than he is prepared to do himself. How can a Scoutmaster achieve such leaders? First of all, by being one himself. It is through being the Patrol Leader of his Court of Honor that he can set the whole tone. A Scoutmaster who is always giving orders for others to carry out, and who continually stands about, hands in pockets, watching the Scouts at work rarely gets good P.Ls., and if he has them he certainly does not deserve them. Perhaps it is they collectively who are the Scoutmaster, while he himself is a mere passenger who hasn't even paid his fare. He is rather like the man who always sat in the bus with his eyes closed, and when asked by a friend why he did this, replied "I cannot bear to see the women standing."

But, mark you! a Scoutmaster must not work for his Scouts: he must work with them. There is a deal of difference between the two prepositions, a difference that divides bad Scoutmastership from good Scoutmastership.

Again, the Patrol Leader, young and irresponsible and rowdy as he may appear to be, looks past all the Scoutmasters and Commissioners direct to the Chief Scout, In so far as the Scoutmaster gives him the Chief's teaching direct from Scouting for Boys or from others of his writings, in so far he will be a good leader. I feel somehow that of late, unwittingly perhaps, we have tended to push the Chief into the background of our Scouts' memories, and have failed to make full use of the personal magnetism of his appeal to them. One has only to travel abroad among Scouts, whether it be to Jamborees or otherwise, to realize that, whether the Chief is present in person or not.

To return to the Court of Honor; there the Scoutmaster must act as the leader of his P.L.s; there he must train them as his own Patrol. He cannot expect to get water out of an empty jug; he cannot expect a Patrol Leader to teach fire-lighting, tracking, map-making, and so on, if he has not got just that little bit of extra knowledge which makes him better able to teach his Patrol, but which does not make him conceited. The Scoutmaster must not be afraid to trust his Patrol Leaders - distrust is fatal to all progress and all leadership. He must allow them, and give them opportunity, to make mistakes, and there will be plenty of these. He must frequently look the other way while the P.L. learns to lead, and have patience to let things go slower and not so well while the learning is in progress.

There is no better place for the training of a Patrol Leader than camp. "Camp is the Scoutmaster's great opportunity" for this as well as for his study of the Scouts' characters, and for the development of their Scouting.

To sum up - so far as Patrol Leadership is concerned - I quote from an article in The Scouter "Every Scoutmaster has witnessed the improvement in character which visits a boy so soon as he becomes Patrol Leader. That is the value of leadership. That is why it is important to keep as many boys as possible in the Troop to the age when they can become Patrol Leaders." (Do not let that age be too great. Do not be afraid of young Leaders.) "There is only one organization in the world which offers a boy such an opportunity for enjoying leadership, and that organization is ours. It is a misunderstanding Scouter who throws that unique opportunity away. If the saying that 'before we command we must obey' be true, I would say that it is truer still that before we can obey we must command. The Leader who goes from his Patrol, where he has given orders, to the outside world where he must obey them, will the better understand why he must obey."

I have purposely devoted the greater part of my space to the Patrol and its Leader, not only because of the importance in Scouting of that position, but because the same idea can be applied to those older in Scouting. What is true of the Patrol Leader is true of the Rover Mate, but to an intensified degree. As boys grow older the hold of the gang diminishes, so that a man's intimate associates are only one or two, and his more remote acquaintances many in number. Younger men regard themselves as the equals of all; they are inclined to resent superior authority and to invest it with an air of superiority which makes them feel inferior themselves. They are prepared to follow one or two whole-heartedly when they know them intimately, or to be swayed in company with many others, by one or two whom they only know remotely. This last is mass- suggestion, and in it lies many pitfalls and dangers, since in the main mass-suggestion seems to influence more for bad than for good.

The Rover Mate is more on a level with the other members in the Crew. His personality counts for more than his present knowledge. His leadership is more of a temporary character, since leadership in the Crew should rightly change frequently. He has, therefore, to be more tactful in his requirements, more far-seeing in his objectives, which is an education in itself. He has to be ready, too, to call on anyone with more knowledge to take his place temporarily for some particular job or other, and to show no hesitation in doing so. In some ways it might be said that a Rover Mate exists on sufferance, but he must not let that worry him; it is more of a challenge to higher endeavor and to prove his worth as a leader. During his term of office he will learn his own, and the others', limitations. Even more, perhaps, than the Patrol Leader to his Scoutmaster, he must give a complete loyalty to the Rover Scout Leader and to the Crew as a whole. With the R.S.L. in the picture there is an association of older and younger in a joint leadership - an association which is very valuable for both. Experience and energy are welded together; common sense and enthusiasm merge; the combination should be of real value to the Crew.

I have hinted at the leadership that Scouters should give in the various sections of the Group, but there is a lot that we should hold in common. Leadership is of the greatest importance in any voluntary organization, the very existence and force of which depends on the inspiration of its leaders. The basis of leadership is character. The road to leadership is through service, and the higher one's ideals the greater will be the service rendered.

At the Norwich Conference the Chief stated the four essential points to look for in a leader. I reproduce them for you:

  1. "He must have whole-hearted faith and belief in the rightness of his cause so that his followers catch the contagion, and share his fanaticism.
  2. "He must have a cheery, energetic personality, with sympathy and friendly understanding of his followers, and so secure their enthusiastic co-operation.
  3. "He must have confidence in himself through knowing his job. He thus gains the confidence of his men.
  4. "What he preaches he must himself practice, thereby giving personal example to his team."

To these four points I am bold enough to add two more: the ability to look ahead and to aim high without becoming oppressed with detail, and courage, the moral courage to say "no," to change plans which have proved unworkable or unsuccessful, to realize that the hurt to one man's feelings cannot be allowed to injure the cause. These two points were expressed in Gallieni's words to the then young Marechal Lyautey on the latter's appointment as his Chief of Staff:

"I don't want to know anything about details. I want to keep my brain free to conceive and direct. The end is my sole concern; the means are your business. I have taken your measure. I believe things will go well. If they don't I shall drop you. I never let my own feelings count once a question of duty is involved."

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.