A Management Story: Herding Cats

This week we were asked to write about experiences we had either with management or in a management position. At first I thought to myself, “Deloy, I’ve never managed anything before. how am I supposed to do this?” then I remembered that I actually did hold a management position. Various management positions. And was expected to produce results with little to no training on managing. For Four years. It’s Boy Scouts story time! 

            Above you’ll see the flag of the very first patrol I ever led. What is a patrol you ask? A patrol is a group of four to eight boys (or girls now) that form up the basic unit within the scouting troop. Troops are organized by patrols in order to manage gear and food for campouts. Patrols also participate in seasonal contests of skill, First-aid meet, Klondike derby, etc. there are a few leadership positions for the troop as a whole contained within patrols. These are positions like patrol leader, scribe, librarian, quartermaster, historian, and the rarely occupied position of webmaster. The top two positions of the youth leadership are the Senior Patrol Leader, SPL, and the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, ASPL. Of these positions, I held all of these positions, except for web master and librarian, at least once or twice during my six years in scouts. I held patrol leader for at least three and I held ASPL for one. positions change every six moths. Now that that nonsense is out of the way, lets dive in the the story. 

            When I became patrol leader, I was awarded the position, even thought I didn’t qualify for it, because the guy who was supposed to do it would never show up on campouts. I started attending special monthly meetings to plan the weekly ones and plan monthly campouts. When it came time for the Klondike Derby, a winter campout where troops construct their own shelters and participate in themed events while pulling “sleds” with their equipment to earn points for an equipment raffle, there was no sign of the guy who was supposed to be doing my job so I was given the job officially. It snowed so we took our sled’s wheels off and had fun pulling it through the snow. We had a lot of fun but we didn’t get many of the events done. I attribute this to me not knowing anything about how to actually lead these boys. After two years, I was leading another group full of new boys in the same event and I resented it because I wanted to be with guys I knew. We did better but I was too hard on the boys and nobody was happy. Then I learned that I was given these new boys because I had grown a lot over the two previous years and the adult leadership thought I was the best possible example for these boys. During my last year in, much more mature than I had been even then, I was put in charge of a group of boys so new, I had to teach them all of their knots and first-aid knowledge on the fly. At one event I remember that I was not allowed to help my guys at all. I was supposed to be a “passed out” person in need of first aid and my guys were supposed to practice their skills on my make-believe injuries. I tried to explain that they were so new that they knew absolutely nothing, but the kid running the event, who was less experienced than even me, was of the opinion that I was full of crap. After fifteen minutes of the kids flailing about and making fart jokes, I finally gave up on being silent and helped my guys get back on track but the kid in charge screamed at them and kicked us out. Several of my guys were shocked into tears and thought that they did something wrong. I quietly explained to them that it wasn’t their fault and that I had been in a similar position four years ago. After that event, we aced nearly all of the remaining ones and I made sure that each kid learned something positive out of the failures we had that day. And when it was all said and done, I gave that kid in charge of the first-aid section the chewing-out of a lifetime for yelling at my guys like he did. 

            I say all of this to say that while leading younger scouts may seem as difficult as herding cats, it’s doable. You have to put yourself in their position. These kids get yelled at enough by their parents, they don’t need me doing it. it’s not a good motivator. If you are firm but speak softly and give a reason as to why you’re supposed to do things a certain way, generally the kids will go along with your decisions. At the end of the day, its all about language and motivation and I believe that’s in line with what Deloy has been getting at with leading Geeks.