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Why Do You Do What You Do?

November 6, 2015

Lessons about leadership from the boy scouts.

The scoutmaster entered the chapel with his family and filed into one of the middle pews. I got a knot in the pit of my stomach as I saw him. He was newly clean shaven. 

I’m screwed. 

To understand my dread you need to understand a little bit about Boy Scouts and a little bit about the LDS Church, which sponsors our troop. The adult leadership within a boy scout troop is:

  1. Scoutmaster – Guy who does all the hard stuff like planning the yearly calendar, filling out trip permits, getting parent volunteers, owning a truck
  2. Assistant Scoutmasters – Guys who show up on campouts and get to relive being 12 and not 50 (Doesn’t have to have a truck) 

Okay, the truck requirement is a “nice to have” for the scoutmaster, but the rest is true. I love being an Assistant Scoutmaster. I’ve been involved with boy scouts nearly continuously since I was 11 years old. I hate the paperwork, I love the scout craft. The Scoutmaster came recently to scouting. He did the paper work, I showed up and helped the kids tie knots. 

Now, let me explain a little about the LDS Church and why I was pretty sure I was screwed last Sunday. The LDS Church local congregation is called a ward. It’s defined by a geographic boundaries. In Utah that means that the people you go to church with are your immediate neighbors. All local leadership at the ward level is volunteers. The ward is led by a bishop and he has two counslors. Typically a bishop would serve for five years and then he and his counslors were released and someone new was called as bishop with new counslors. Again, the new bishop and his counslors (collectively called the bishipric) were guys from the neighborhood. 

Today the bishopic was being released and a new one would be called. 

Members of the bishopric are not allowed to have beards.

Why do you do what you do? Maybe you are a youth soccer coach for your kid’s team. Maybe you volunteer at the food kitchen. Maybe you go in and read to patients at the nursing home. 

I have a friend who is a local comedian in Salt Lake City. He looks like a hard core biker with tattoos down one entire arm. And yet, he’s one of the nicest guys I know. Every Christmas he collects donations and puts on two charity comedy shows. The proceeds go to local charities. It pretty much takes up his entire November and December. 

Why do you do what you do? 

I’ve thought about that as I’ve watched my boys progress through scouting. Being the assistant scoutmaster is a volunteer position, but the invitation to serve has to come from the ward leadership. I spent a few years in our ward as the dad would attend the campouts with my boys. My youngest boys turn 13 this month. They have another year in this scout troop and then they go with the older boys who still do activities, but not necessarily scouting ones. 

Will I still be interested in scouting when I no longer have sons involved? I think so, but it does make me think about why I do what I do. I like the outdoors aspect of boy scouts, but I think mostly I enjoy the teaching aspect. 

Last Saturday I was with 5 boys exploring Goblin Valley. The sun was bright but, not too hot. 

Who can tell me how to tell direction without a compass? 

You can look at the sun.

Good, but if it’s the middle of the day how do you know direction? 

I don’t know.

Well, if you have a watch with an hour hand, you point the hour hand at the sun and halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock is South. What else?


Good. You can put a stick in the sand so that it has no shadow. Then, wait wait for an hour. The shadow will move point east. What about in the winter? Suppose it’s cloudy. What could you do? 

Something with snow?

Yes. There are two ways. You look for a snowbank that has started to melt away. The melted side will have sharp points on the South side. Or, if you can see a mountain with snow, one side of the ridge is going to be snow covered, the other will be free of snow. The snow covered side points North.

What if the mountains are running East and West instead of North and South? 

All mountains in North America run North and South.

The hike wasn’t supposed to be about direction finding specifically, but the opportunity presented itself. And that’s the part of scouting I enjoy – the chance to teach something new. And many of the skills are useful later in life. We teach the boys cooking, personal management, pioneering, orienteering, swimming, mountain biking and a whole host of other skills. 

And we get to see boys who are sometimes spending a night away from home for the first time. Or, we get to watch them attempt hard things. We’ve been on hikes where we are miles from the cars and home. The boys in that situation don’t have the option of giving up. They got themselves up the mountain, they need to get themselves down.

So, there I sat in church last Sunday waiting to hear if our Scoutmaster was going to be part of the new bishopric. Finally, they announced the new bishop and sure enough his second counsler was the Scoutmaster. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The 2nd counslor was responsible for overseeing the scouting program. He would still be in my meetings, but would not be in charge of planning. 

They would be looking for a new scoutmaster. As the meeting let out, I approached the scoutmaster,

You know I don’t have a truck, right?

You can borrow mine whenever you want. 

As the congregation made its way into the foyer, I saw the second assistant scoutmaster. 

Did you notice the scoutmaster when he came in? 

Yeah, was your first thought the same as mine?

We’re screwed?


Neither one of us wantes to be scoutmaster, but both of us love working with the boys. The change in leadership helped us think about why we do what we do. 

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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