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#4 Lessons From Camp: It’s About The Boys Not The Leaders

July 28, 2015

(Or what I learned about corporate meetings while sitting around the campfire. )

Tonight we’d like to take a moment and recognize a couple of individuals. First, we’ll take a few minutes to talk about the Silver Beaver award and next we’ll take 15 minutes or so to hold a Woodbadge “Bead” ceremony.

I’ve been involved with Scouting for the past 39 years; from the time I was eleven years old, I fell in love with it. I’ve been to countless summer Scout camps. Last week I went again, this time as an Assistant Scoutmaster. I accompanied my two youngest sons who are just starting out in the Scouting program. 

Scout camp is a wonderful time. You sleep in a tent for six days, eat campfire food, get sunburned despite your best efforts, wear the same shirt everyday, but mostly, you get to watch boys learn and grow. My sons are currently the patrol leaders for their respective patrols. It was amazing to me that they could keep track of themselves, let alone take a leadership role for other boys. 

Camp, and in fact Scouting in general, is about the boys. It’s not Adult Scouts of America, it’s BOY Scouts of America. And that’s why I was disappointed at the evening fireside event one night. It was late in the week. The boys were past the hyper-active stage, but not yet to the “I’m tired and want to go home” stage. Two hundred of them gathered at the ampitheater for the evening ceremony. 

  
It turned out to be really boring. 

Not for the adults, of course. Just for the boys. 

The Silver Beaver award is the highest honor that can be bestowed on an adult scouter. It is not an award that can be earned in the sense that a man sets out to complete a series of requirements. It can only be awarded, as an acknowledgment of a lifetime of service. 

Let’s, for the moment, set aside the concept of adult awards in an organization for boys. (Actually, let’s not even get into that topic in this post, because I’m trying to stay positive.) The boys at camp are concerned with merit badges, and the winner of the campwide games, and “Please don’t ask me to call the flag ceremony because I’m not sure if I say ‘two’ before or after the salute.” They boys are not at all interested in ths Silver Beaver. Even I, as an adult scouter am only somewhat interested. But, we sat through an explanation of the history of the award, the prestigiousness of it and the worthiness of the recipeint. 

Okay. Glad that’s over. Let’s get to some of the boy stuff. These kids are getting restless.

Woodbadge, is the BSA adult leadership training. It’s a week of “camping for grownups.” Once completed, you get a special neckerchief and a set of wooden beads that you can wear for the rest of your life. It has nothing to do with the boys and everything to do with the adults.

   

The ceremony of presenting someone with their beads is the adult equivalent of a Court of Honor. I received my beads about 3 years ago. The training is worthwhile and the ceremony is memorable. It’s also all about the adults. We watched the beads be awarded and listened to people talk about the benefits of Woodbadge.

By the time we ended, the boys were beyond bored. They were busy throwing rocks at the scouts sitting in the seats in front of us. (We sat in the back specifically so we wouldn’t be the targets of other bored rock throwers.) Meetings, and ceremonies are important. But, if you don’t tailor the meeting content to the audience, meetings are a little slice of slow death that you will never get back. 

The following night, the camp leaders had a chance to make up for the boring meeting. We spent Friday afternoon playing campwide games; knife throwing, knot tying, archery. Games designed to test their knowledge and encourage them to work together. We had twelve patrols and the games took all afternoon. At the closing ceremony, the boys were anticipating seeing who won. 

   
    
 

Did our record time in the multi-person-ski event hold up, or did one of the later patrols beat us? 
Who managed to get the knife closest to the bullseye? 

Which patrol and troop did the best overall?

Scouting recognizes that boys are motivated by competition. Do it right, and even those who didn’t finish first walk away a winner. 

I know we told you we’d give out the awards tonight. And we started compiling the results. When we got to 18 individual awards we decided that was enough, too much, in fact. We’ve decided that we have so many awards that we can’t really give out any awards. Just consider yourself all winners.

Huh? 

It’s like the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra was in charge: “That restaurant has become so crowded that no one goes there anymore.” 

What’s important to you, as a manager is often not important or interesting to your employees. They don’t want to know how many meetings you had to go through to come up with the final promotions list. They simply want to know who got the promotion. They don’t care about the three hour meeting you had with legal to finalize the contract wording around the new product launch. They just want to know when the project starts. And they really don’t care about the details of the manager’s retreat and how you had to spend all day travelling to get to the resort where it was held. They just don’t. If you really want to share, put in an email.

Meeting time is precious. A staff meeting is the single most expensive meeting you will ever have. Everyone stops working and comes together. Do not waste this time. Make sure your content is valuable and most importantly, applicable to all, or at least a majority of your staff. 

If it’s not, don’t be surprised if they start throwing rocks at each other. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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2 Comments
  1. Understanding purpose and mission is critical. I was scoutmaster of a troop of just a few boys with few willing adults to help out. After days of searching for a second adult leader to take two of our boys for a weekend where they would earn their Order of the Arrow, I was feeling successful.

    While checking in, however, we were asked if we had earned our Order of the Arrow while boys. I said I did, but the other leader had not. The person checking us in put his pin down, looked up at us, and said with all seriousness, you cannot be here, then? I was flabbergasted at first, and then angry. The other leader was in medical school and quickly said with a bit sarcasm, “I’ll just sit in my tent and study.” After some heated words from me, fueled by all of the frustration I had experienced getting the boys to the event, better minds relented and we had a successful weekend for the boys.

    This person had forgotten that Boys Scouts is an organization for the boys, not the adults. Redirecting focus from the organization’s purpose can very easily cause missed opportunities for achieving the organization’s mission. What a tragic missed opportunity if two boys had been denied the Order of the Arrow experience because the focus was on the adults.

    • I agree. I’ve received my share of adult awards and they always make me slightly uncomfortable.

      Our scoutmaster was an eagle scout, but didn’t do much as an adult until he was asked to be the SM. As an assistant, I figure I get the best deal. I can do all the fun stuff with the boys without the paperwork headaches.

      We try to never forget it’s really not even about merit badges and rank advancements. It’s really about giving boys an opportunity to stretch and grow. Sometimes that means we eat dinner at 9:30 PM because the boys in charge of cooking it decided they wanted to play instead.

      Interesting that even if the other leader had joined the OA as an adult, they might have had a problem with it.

      Glad it worked out.

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