Monday, January 20, 2014

A Leadership Problem

It's a cold night in November, outside of Bastrop Texas, and I find myself standing next to a campfire, leading a version of the "Boom-Chicka-Boom" song with a bunch of children younger than 12 and their parents. I realize I have a problem. I cannot stop myself. When I see a leadership void, I step in without thinking, and I fill the void. At least I can acknowledge I have a problem... does anyone have the number for Leaders Anonymous?

Let me explain. My oldest son just joined Cub Scouts, and this was the first Pack camping trip. Many of the families are camping for the first time, and everyone is having a good time, but there is a lack of organization. The sun has set, the campfire started, and the experienced pack leaders are back at the mess tent, cooking desserts in dutch ovens (usually, these go either ridiculously good, or ridiculously bad). This left almost 30 parents and kids sitting around a campfire, and the children are starting to get bored. The parents are talking amongst themselves and all I can see is trouble coming.

Before any "bright" ideas can occur to the scouts I stand up and, in a booming command voice from my time in the military, say "This is a repeat after me song." I get a bunch of blank stares. Louder: "THIS IS A REPEAT AFTER ME SONG!" I get a response of "REPEAT AFTER ME SONG" from the kids, while the adults look confused. I break into "Boom - Chicka - Boom" and it isn't until the second verse that I realize what I have done.

I saw a situation that had the opportunity to turn bad, or at least difficult to control, and I had stepped in to provide activity to distract the natives before they became restless. But what I had really done was signal to the other parents in the pack that I was capable of doing that. I just identified myself as a potential pack leader, who would wrangle the natives and make things easier for the parents. Even the dutch oven cooks were thanking me for stepping in and providing entertainment.

After I started the entertainment, others stepped in and told campfire stories, sang songs, and performed skit. The natives were settled and the cooks could finish dessert. The rest of the evening went smoothly, and according to my wife, at the pack leader meeting the next morning, my absence was noticed.

Now, I am an Eagle Scout and think highly of the Boy Scouts of America. I want both of my boys to learn from the scouting program, and hope that they make it to Eagle Scout, because it helped me immensely when applying for colleges and getting scholarships. So why is this a problem?

This is a problem because I cannot commit to the organization. My profession requires frequent travel, sometimes for extended periods of time. I cannot commit to running an organization for children's growth when I cannot guarantee that I will be able to attend. I don't mind filling leadership roles, when I am capable of making the commitment. If I am not able to make the commitment, then I don't want people to even think I can do something, because it isn't fair to them or me.

So why am I sharing this experience? It isn't for ego.  So often capable leaders find themselves in COMMAND without realizing what they did to get there. Leaders will step in because they see a void, rather than let others grow or fail. They then become expected leaders, and that isn't fair to the people who they should be leading, or themselves. The expected leader cannot commit, but because he or she can work on the fly, it becomes anticipated that the leader will find a way to make the group succeed. This helps no one, and worse, could prevent real growth from others in the organization (whether it's Scouts, a Team sport, Volunteer activity, or anything else).

When an expected leader finds himself (or herself) in this situation, what should they do? Honesty is the best policy. Tell the group that your commitments don't allow you to participate. You are willing to advise, but others will need to step-up. Most leaders won't say this, whether it's ego, or a thought of "but they need my help" (which is also ego). The result is that all the commitments suffer. Don't fall into the trap.

Now, I am NOT saying don't volunteer, and don't be a leader. Instead, look at what you are capable of. If you have the capacity, then by all means step-up and help the organization grow to the strongest it can be, but only if you have the capacity. Otherwise, COMMUNICATE the issue so that you manage expectations, and advise the leadership where possible. It will be better for everyone.

Oh, and in case you read this far and still want to know here is a version of the "Boom - Chicka - Boom" Song. Enjoy!

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