Skills of Leadership
Skills of Leadership
The Boy Scouts of America has long been involved in the development of leadership in
both its adult and youth members. A number of years ago, research and experiments led
to the idea that leadership could be taught much as any other skill. Eleven leadership
skills were identified as those crucial for success to a Scouting leader-although they
clearly applied to other leadership roles as well. These skills of leader ship are now a part
of Boy Scout Leader Wood Badge, Junior Leader Training Conference, and Post Leader
Workshop and are scattered throughout items of Boy Scouts of America literature.
In the years during which these skills of leadership have been explored by the Boy Scouts
of America, much research has taken place in the behavioral sciences. As a result, these
skills have been brought up to date to agree with current thinking and application. As
training programs are revised, the approach to leadership skills will be slightly modified
to overcome these concerns.
For our purposes, leadership is defined as "the process of persuasion or example by
which an individual influences a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared
by the followers." Thus, the leadership process is a function of the leader, the follower,
the goals, and the situation at the time. It is active, exerts influence, requires effort, and is
related to goals.
Leadership skills become the vehicle by which the leader achieves given objectives.
Leadership is the active and dynamic process of applying those leadership skills called
for in given situations.
Applying Skills of Leadership
Any musician knows that an individual part in an orchestral work can sound strange if
played alone. It is only when an instrument's part is blended with the other instruments in
the orchestra that the beauty of the symphony or sonata emerges. The same can be said
for each of the individual skills of leadership. Each functions well only when combined
with the others to produce an effective leadership style.
An individual skill of leadership seldom is able to stand alone. Used in concert, each
complements the other and the result can be greater than the sum of the parts. In
counseling, for example, one must first evaluate the needs and characteristics of the
individual to be counseled and the resources that are available. Counseling involves clear
communication, an element of control, and setting a good example of representing the
group's needs to the individual and vice versa. An effective teaching situation will
probably involve all eleven skills to a greater or lesser extent. In a symphony orchestra,
French horns are often silent, sometimes play solo passages, but more often add a
richness and harmonic variety to the total work. The same applies to other instruments--
and to a balance of leadership skills.
Participants in leadership or management training (and Wood Badge) often return to their
home situations to make dramatic changes in leadership styles, using- the new skills they
have acquired. A disaster often results. Leadership skills and management training are not
designed to cause a dramatic change, but rather to help a person fine-tune the skills he or
she already has. If something runs, don't fix it! Yet almost anything can be made to run a
little more smoothly with some minor adjustments. A skilled mechanic seldom adjusts
more than one thing at a time, however. This is the only way the mechanic can find out if
the adjustment produces the desired results. The wise use of the skills of leader ship will
result in an improvement if applied subtly and discreetly over a considerable period of
Avoid the temptation to oversimplify by asking the leader to identify a problem and one
or two skills of leadership that could be used in its solution. Leader ship skills simply
don't work that way--they must be used in concert with each other.
Skill # 1
Communication involves several factors: receiving, storing, retrieving, giving, and
interpreting information. It is important that members of a group communicate freely
with each other. Exchange of information often involves a "transaction," a stimulus
followed by a response. It's important that these transactions be kept open or
complementary. Crossed or blocked transactions result in people talking at one another
with no real communication. As a result, information is not exchanged.
Information is received through hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. Obviously
we receive information by reading what is written or listening to what is said---and we
often do a poor job of these. We also receive powerful messages through facial
expressions, body language, an individual's general appearance, costume, etc. The more
ways we use to gather information, the better the information is received, understood. and
put to use.
Most people store the information they receive in their memories. The memory can be
supported with notes, sketches, written references, and similar techniques.
Retrieving or recalling information is important. It often is closely related to how the
information is stored. People known for outstanding memories have simply developed an
effective retrieval svstem. This can include memorizing using memory joggers, repeating
the information as it is received, taking notes, and skillful use of references.
Giving information involves the same five senses used to receive it. In giving
information, however, speaking or writing clearly, using visual methods, watching and
being sensitive to the group, asking for feedback. and summarizing what has been given
results in an effective transfer of information.
Interpreting information is vital. In many cases the information was given and received,
but somehow communication did not result. Blocks to communication include motivation
(one of the two parties didn't think the information was important), conflict (two
messages didn't agree), experience (your own back ground or prejudices cause you not to
accept what is said), personal dislike (you dislike the other person so you filter out what
he or she says), distractions (you don't receive because something else is on your mind or
something distracts you), and attitude (you think you already know all about the topic).
Most people learn approximately 11 percent of what they know by listening, but 83
percent of what they know by seeing (observing and reading). People recall 20 percent of
what they heard but can recall 50 percent of what they both heard and saw. Thus. a
"multimedia" approach to communicating is vital.
Clear communication is essential. Avoid initials, acronyms, technical jargon, and
unfamiliar words in communicating with others. The success of establishing and
maintaining a group will depend largely on how well its members communicate with
each other and with those outside the group.
Skill # 2
Knowing and Using Resources
To establish a group, you must know what you have to work with. Two types of
resources can be used-those available to the group and those available from within the
group's own members.
Resources available to a Scouting group can come from literature and books, members of
the chartered organization, parents and friends of members, local businesses, community
organizations and services, and programs of the local Scouting council and its districts.
An inventory of these outside resources is a valuable tool for the Scouting leader. A
formal listing might be helpful, but the same results often can be obtained by simply
asking the question, "What do I need and where can I get it?" The more people doing this
type of thinking, the more resources will appear.
Usually the resources available within the group are greater than any individual member
is likely to perceive. The Personal Resource Questionnaire filled out by each group
member is a way to begin. Each member of the group lists some facts about his or her
background, attitudes, and abilities. The questionnaires are shared and group members
quiz each other to expand on what has been noted. This almost always triggers additional
resources, which are then listed.
Members are next urged to share what they consider to be "meaningful experiences"-
things they have done that would be considered successes. Members of the group look for
resources in the successes each has experienced. All discussions must be positive-no
negative statements are allowed.
As members see the resources available to the group and from within the group, they gain
a better understanding of each other and the potential for what the group can achieve.
Skill # 3
Understanding the Characteristics and Needs of the Group and Its Members
For our purposes, a characteristic is "a trait, quality, or property distinguishing an
individual, group, or type." A need is "a want, a requirement, feeling the lack of
something that would be useful." The characteristics and needs of youth can vary widely
from one person to the next. They often depend on the young person's background in the
home, school, church, and other organizations as well as the particular situation at the
Each member of a group has some important needs. At the basic level is the need for
food, water, shelter, and warmth. The next level involves the need for safety and security.
Next is the need for friends, association with others, interpersonal relationships, order,
and a feeling of belonging. At the fourth level, needs include recognition, self-respect,
independence, and esteem. The final level involves the need for self-fulfillment,
confidence, achievement, and growth to the individual's full potential.
Recognizing these needs and how well they are met will often explain the characteristics
of the members of the group. If one level of needs has been some what met, then other
needs emerge as dominant. For instance, a boy from an unstable family in a poverty
stricken urban neighborhood beset with street crime may respond quite differently than
one from a stable and loving middle-income family residing in a safe suburb. A
relationship between observed characteristics and the true needs of an individual may be
misleading, however. The seemingly self-assured individual might in fact be playing a
role in an attempt to feel secure. On the other hand, the quiet and reserved person might
be so self-confident that he or she sees no need to attract attention.
Skill # 4
Effective planning is usually the result of seven specific steps.
1. Consider the task. This involves what has to be done, who does what, when, where,
2. Consider the resources. What time is available? What are the skills of the group? What
equipment and supplies are needed and available? What other items should be
3. Consider alternatives. What happens if something goes wrong? What are the
emergency procedures? What is the alternate plan? Could the alternate plan be better than
the original plan?
4. Reach a decision. Who has the responsibility? Is a poor decision better than no
decision? Is no decision a decision? Is a group decision best? A decision usually is
needed at every step in the process.
5. Write down the plan. The act of writing down an action plan may cause it to be revised
or refined. The final plan might need considerable discussion.
6. Put the plan into action. All too often, great plans are formed but never followed.
7. Evaluate. Evaluation must take place all during this process. As each step is taken, it is
evaluated against the previous steps to assure that the original task is still being
In many ways, the steps for planning are similar to those for problem solving. Solving a
problem is a type of planning; developing a plan is a type of problem solving. Substitute
the word problem for the word task, and the seven steps can be used in either case.
When faced with a specific project to complete or a problem to solve, a process known as
"verbal rehearsal" works well and is easily understood by boys. Here the members of the
group literally "talk it up" as they decide how to approach the project or problem. As in
classic problem solving, seven steps are involved.
1. What is the problem? A problem is any situation that a group may need or want to do
something about. A clear understanding of the problem is needed before the group can set
2. What's our goal? A goal redefines the problem into a positive statement that answers
the question, "What do we want?" A goal must be important to the group and
must be realistic, not based on wishful thinking. A Seal should require the group's best
effort, and members should feel good after reaching it.
3. Stop and think. Here the group should stop talking and allow each person to examine
the problem and goal before continuing to the next step. Often boys—and adults--take the
first suggestion that is offered and jump directly into action. If group members take a few
moments to think and form their ideas they will be able to add some original thought to a
plan to be followed.
4. Make a plan. A good planner is always looking for options. The ability to think of a
large number of possible pathways to reach a goal is an important skill. "What happens
if... ?" examines the consequences of a particular course of action. For each alternative
there are pros and cons. Once the alternatives and consequences have been discussed, a
decision is made on a start-to-finish plan.
5. Do it. Action must follow the planning. If the group has discussed the plan in enough
detail, each member will know how to proceed.
6. Keep at it. Nothing worthy of achieving is gained without endurance. The group must
recognize that before a plan is abandoned, sustained effort is needed. Sometimes only a
small adjustment in the plan is required to make it work.
7. How did it go? Was the goal attained? Did we give our best effort? What might have
been changed? It is important to evaluate the entire problem-solving process so that the
result will be a better plan next time.
Skill # 5
Controlling Group Performance
Controlling group performance is an important but often misunderstood function of
leadership. To some, control implies that a whip-cracking boss is in charge. Coed control
is far more subtle. A group needs control to keep its members moving in the same
direction for best results. If a plan is to be properly carried out, someone must direct the
effort. Controlling is a function that the group consciously or unconsciously assigns to the
leader in order to get the job done. Skillful control is welcomed by the group. The
expression "Come on, you guys, let's get our act together" is a plea for someone to take
charge and bring the group under control.
Control of group performance involves six basic operations.
1. Observing. The leader should be in a position to see the group, communicate with its
members, and be available, but not appear to dominate. Coed work is praised.
Suggestions, rather than orders, are given for improvements.
2. Instructing. The leader must often give instructions as the work proceeds and the
situation changes. The leader must communicate well, apply the skill of effective
teaching, and allow members to use their own initiative. As long as the work is
progressing well, the leader should not intrude.
3. Helping. When a group has decided that it wants to perform a task, the leader must
help the members be successful. The leader does a good job personally, takes a positive
approach, and gives a helping hand when needed. Care is taken to see that an offer to
help is not implied criticism.
4. Inspecting. The leader must know what to expect to see. The leader should know the
plan and the skills involved. A checklist is valuable. If the work is not correct, the worker
is led to the proper performance of the task. Again, a positive approach with helpful
suggestions for improvement is vital.
5. Reacting. How the leader reacts to the efforts of the group is important. Praise the
person if the work is good, but the praise must be sincere. If the work is not correct,
praise the parts that were done well and accept responsibility for work not done well. A
reaction such as "Gosh, I guess I didn't explain it very well" doesn't hurt the leader but
makes the person feel good about corrections that are suggested. React to the total job--
do not focus on obvious weak points.
6. Setting the example. The most effective way of controlling group performance is the
personal example of the leader. How the leader observes, instructs, helps, inspects, and
reacts is vital.
Skill # 6
Effective teaching is a process by which the learning of an individual or a group is
managed or facilitated. Five elements are involved, but these are not necessarily steps in a
1. Learning objectives. Before attempting to teach, it is important to know what is to be
taught. Asking "What should the participants be able to do by the end of the session?"
determines the learning objectives. Learning objectives are stated in performance terms.
To "know," "understand," "appreciate," or "value" are slippery words that have no part in
good learning objectives. Learning objectives should clearly state what the individual will
be able to do as a result of the learning experience.
In a structured teaching situation, it is wise to write down the learning objectives as
guidelines to the instructor. The objectives usually will determine the content of the
instruction. In casual situations or "opportunity teaching," the objectives might not be
written but should be clearly in the mind of the instructor.
2. Discovery. A discovery is any sort of happening that has three results.
Knowledge is confirmed. People discover what they do know. Until then they might
not have been sure.
The need to know is established. People discover that they do not know something
they must know if they are to be successful in what they want to do.
Motivation is instilled. Participants discover the desire to learn more.
Sometimes a discovery just happens. An alert leader can turn this happening into a
learning experience. This is referred to as "opportunity teaching." In more structured
teaching, an instructor often will set up a discovery as the introduction to a learning
activity. A discovery can be simply a leading question, or more complicated as in
3. Teaching-learning. Once the discovery has shown what the person already knows the
instructor has choices to make.
The person knows and can do what is desired. The learning objectives have been met.
Subtract what the person knows from what is desired and work on what the person
needs to know.
Give the full instruction session. The participant will learn what he or she needs to
know and will review what is already known.
Teaching involves a variety of communication techniques. We learn principally from
hearing (lecture, discussion, conversation, dramatization), seeing (reading, displays,
visual aids, demonstrations), and doing (trial and error, experimenting, copying the acts
of others). As each task, skill, or idea is broken down into simple steps, the learner can
confirm what he or she now knows, needs to know, and wants to know. Thus, learning is
actually a series of discoveries. Each step should lead to some success—it is important to
keep the person encouraged that progress is being made.
4. Application. Each individual should have an immediate chance to apply what has been
learned. Application must be deferred in some situations, but immediate application is
In attempting to apply what has been learned, another discovery likely will occur, which
leads to new learning objectives, more teaching and learning, and further application.
5. Evaluation. Essentially, evaluation is a review of what happened to see if the learning
objectives were met. In a teaching situation, we are always checking to see. "Did it work?
Do 1 understand? What do I do next?' In effect, the evaluation itself often becomes
Recycling. If evaluation shows that the person has not learned what was to be taught,
there is a need to recycle-teach it again. The approach may be changed, the steps
simplified, or the explanation more detailed, or the learning objectives might need to be
Research has shown that learning is most effective when it is self-directed. The more
deeply a person can be involved in his or her own learning, the more that individual will
learn and the longer he or she will retain what has been learned. Teach from the point of
view of the student--not the teacher. Be sure that personal objectives are met before
dealing with organizational objectives. Move from what is known to what is unknown,
from what is simple to what is more complex.
It is important to note that the five elements of effective teaching are not necessarily a
series of steps, each to be completed before the next is attempted. Rather, these elements
are a mix of factors that can be used to plan a learning experience or evaluate its worth.
The five elements are not a lockstep process through which one marches in a training
experience. Training must flow and stay flexible to meet the needs of participants.
Skill # 7
Representing the Group
With knowledge of resources, skill in communicating, and an understanding of the
characteristics and needs of the group and its members, the leader is prepared to represent
Some steps are involved in representation. Before representing the group, it is important
to get all of the facts available, decide on the nature of the situation, determine the
group's reaction, and make mental or written notes. When representing the group to a
third party, it is vital to give the facts; give the group's reaction, feelings, and position;
respect opinions of other groups dealing with the third party; consider personality
problems; and again make mental or written notes.
Then the third party's decision, attitude, or actions must be represented back to the group.
Here it is important to again present the facts, explain the decision, and thoroughly
represent the third party's attitude and opinion.
As a leader represents the group to the "outside world," the group begins to develop its
own attitude, identity, and direction. The role of the patrol leader in sharing the interests
and desires of the patrol to the patrol leaders' council--and carrying out the decisions of
the patrol leaders' council with the patrol members--is a classic example of representing a
group in Scouting.
Skill # 8
When a program or project has been completed, it is important to find out how well the
objectives-were met and if improvements can be made for the future. An evaluation
should reflect two dimensions of the project--its effect on the total group and its effect on
each individual member.
Six simple questions can be used to evaluate almost any project or program. The first
three questions relate to the group's success in carrying out the project, while the second
three questions relate to individual group members.
1. Did the job get done?
2. Was it done right?
3. Was it done on time?
4. Did everybody take part?
5. Did they enjoy themselves?
6. Do they want more?
An evaluation as soon as an event or activity ends is a handy measure of the immediate
reaction. Sometimes, however, a more valid evaluation can be made two to three weeks
following the event or activity. In retrospect, the later evaluation may be more valid. It
also is less subject to the enthusiasm of the event and a natural desire to please (or
condemn) the leadership.
Evaluation is a continual process as a project is under way. Here the six questions are
1. Are we getting the job done?
2. Are we doing it right?
3. Are we on schedule?
4. Is everybody involved?
5. Are they working well and satisfied with what they're doing?
6. Do they want to continue?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, or if there is any doubt, the leader needs to
take some action.
Skill # 9
Much has been written on the styles of leadership and how they are applied in given
situations. Five styles of leadership generally are recognized.
1. Telling (or ordering). The leader alone identifies the problem, makes the decisions, and
directs the activities. The style appears autocratic and may or may not involve the
opinions of the group members.
2. Persuading (or selling). In this style of leadership, the leader still makes the decision.
Having made the decision, the leader must sell it to the group to get cooperation.
3. Consulting. Group members participate and provide input. The leader may suggest a
tentative decision or plan and get the group's reaction. Having consulted the group, the-
leader still makes the final decision, usually based on group consensus. If consensus can
not be reached, the group is encouraged to note and follow the desires of the majority.
4. Delegating. The leader identifies the problem, sets certain guidelines, boundaries, or
rules, and then turns the problem over to the group or one of its members. The leader
accepts the decision of the group if it falls within the boundaries and guidelines
established. While authority may be delegated, the responsibility must remain with the
5. Joining. The leader steps down as leader and joins the group. The leader agrees in
advance to abide by the group's decisions. It is important to remember that joining the
group is still leadership. Before deciding to use this style, the leader must carefully
consider the resources of the group and, if necessary, change to a more direct leadership
No single leadership style is "best." Each depends on the situation, experience of the
group members, and tasks to be done. As leadership styles move from telling to joining,
the leader's authority appears to diminish and the group's participation increases.
Selecting the appropriate style of leadership is an act of leadership based on the nature of
the situation and the ability and experience of the group members. Leadership is a
dynamic process, varying from situation to situation with changes in leaders, followers,
goals, and circumstances.
Skill # 10
Counseling in one form or another goes on constantly as the leader works with the
members of the group. Counseling can be used to encourage or reassure an individual, to
develop a more effective member of the group, or to help solve a specific problem.
Counseling is helpful when a person needs encouragement, should have more
information bearing on his or her task, needs help in interpreting facts, or is uncertain
about what to do, or the leader feels the need to correct a situation. The counselor first
must find out if there is, in fact, a need for counseling. The counselor must recognize that
no two counseling situations are alike, that each person is different, and each problem is
different. There are no pat solutions.
There are six keys to good counseling.
1. Listen carefully. Give undivided attention to what the person is saying.
2. Ask yourself, "Do I understand what this person is trying to say?"
3. Summarize frequently to assure understanding, keep on the track, and check what is
4. Additional information might be all that is needed. The person might not have all of
the facts, or might not know all of the resources available. The counselor must be sure to
give information, not advice.
5. The person must be encouraged to think of different ways of handling the problem.
The individual has the problem, has thought about it in greater detail than the counselor,
and might have arrived at a solution. He or she might only be seeking confirmation of
6. Above all, the counselor must not give advice. The objective of counseling is to lead
the individual to his or her own solution.
A general rule in effective counseling is to keep the individual talking. Many counseling
sessions fail when the counselor attempts to arrive at a Solution before the individual has
finished telling the complete problem. Use "trigger words" to keep the person talking.
Phrases like'What did you do then?" or "How did that make you feel?" can bring out
more details. Words of sympathy or understanding such as "Wow," "Oh my," or "That's a
shame" are helpful. Only when the individual begins to repeat himself or herself will
additional information be of value.
Some counseling sessions uncover problems that are serious and might require
professional help. The Scouter involved in counseling must consider his or her efforts as
"first aid' to a young person with obvious and serious problems. Be careful not to counsel
above your abilities. Our objective is to help youngsters the best we can--not to become
amateur psychologists. The leader should be prepared to refer a troubled young person to
a competent professional in this field if it appears necessary.
Skill # 11
Setting the Example
The most persuasive Leadership skill is the personal example of the leader. A good leader
sets a positive example in these ways:
1. Following instructions. Following instructions, obeying the law, and carrying out tasks
in the recommended manner points out that rules and procedures are important.
2. Trying hard. The leader must work as hard as--if not harder than--any member of the
group. Leadership by direction is not as effective as leadership by example.
3. Showing initiative. A good leader must do what has to be done without waiting to be
told or forced to act. An effective leader respects the good suggestions of the group
members and encourages each person to show initiative.
4. Acting with maturity. An effective leader shows good judgment. The group members
see that the leader's personal behavior is directed toward accomplishing the task.
5. Knowing the job. Generally, a leader should have a mastery of the skills to be used. If
not, the leader must apply the resources of the group toward achieving the task.
6. Keeping a positive attitude. A positive attitude is vital as an example to group
members. The leader's personal frustration or discouragement should never be apparent.
Failure should be considered a potential learning experience. Enthusiasm is contagious.
Role models are an important method in Boy Scouting. This applies not only to adults,
but also to youth leaders. Boys often will copy the actions and behaviors of leaders they
like and admire. Boys will literally walk, talk, and act as the example set by the adult and
youth leaders of the troop.
Leading The Reflection
Lay the Ground Rules for Discussion
Have participants sit so they can see each other, and ask them to agree not to interrupt or
make fun of each other. Let them know they are free to keep silent if they wish..
Facilitate the Discussion
As a leader, avoid the temptation to talk about your own experiences. Reserve judgment
about what the participants say to avoid criticizing them. Help the discussion get going,
then. let the participants take· over with limited guidance from you. If you describe what
you saw, be sure your comments do not stop the participants from adding their own
thoughts. Above all, be positive. Have fun with the activity and with the session.
Use Thought-Provoking Questions
The following types of questions are useful in reflecting:
Open-ended questions prevent yes and no answers. "What was the purpose of the
game?" "What did you learn about yourself?"
Feeling questions require participants to reflect on how they feel about what they did.
"How did it feel when you started to pull together?"
Judgment questions ask participants to make decisions about things. "What was the
best part?" "Was it a good idea?"
Guiding questions steer the participants toward the purpose of the activity and keep
the discussion focused. "What got you all going in the right direction?"
Closing question help participants draw conclusions and end the discussion. "What did
you learn?" "What would you do differently?"
Remember, reflecting on an activity should take no more than ten to fifteen minutes. The
more you do it, the easier it becomes for both you and the participants. Remember that
the value and the values of Scouting often lie beneath the surface. Reflection helps you
ensure that these values come through to Scouting participants.
A Model for Reflection
Discuss what happened. Direct open-ended questions toward specific incidents. For
example, you might ask, "Who took leadership? What did they do to make them a
leader?" or "How did decisions get made?"
Make a judgment. Ask the group to decide if what happened is good or bad. Try to focus
on the good things first. Direct your attention toward specific skills. For example, you
could ask, "What was good about the way decisions were made?: Then you could ask,
"What didn't work so well about the way you made decisions?"
Generalize the experience. Try to get the participants to see the connection between the
game or activity and regular Scouting experiences. You could ask, "How can we use the
ideas we learned today in our own units?" If you can be more specific, "How can we use
what we learned about decision making on a unit campout?"
Set goals. Begin with the positive. Ask the participants what skills they used today that
they would like to keep doing. Then ask what things they need to change to work
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