(From the November-December 2014 issue of Scouting magazine.)
It’s a common sight at join-Scouting nights: Parents of new Cub Scouts sit around a table waiting for someone to blink. Perhaps it’s the dad who acknowledges being an Eagle Scout. Perhaps it’s the mom who starts filling out the den roster she finds on the table. Whoever blinks first ends up as den leader, while the rest of the parents breathe a sigh of relief.
The pack committee chairman and Cubmaster might breathe a sigh of relief, as well, glad to be done with an unpleasant task that comes around only once a year. Getting parents to feel welcomed and comfortable is the first step to a successful Pack program, and to identifying and recruiting parents to help out and to take on leadership positions.
Recruiting leaders is a year-round process, and effective recruiting will ensure the pack’s health — not only for the current program year, but also for many years to come. Late fall and early winter — right now, in other words — is a great time to start identifying the leadership needs of the Pack and to identify parents who have the skillsets to serve as leaders.
Define Your Needs
The first step in recruiting leaders is to determine your pack’s needs. Assuming you have all your positions filled for this program year, start thinking about what will happen next spring after your fifth-grade Scouts join a Scouts BSA troop.
That’s just what Katie Dettmann did. She became committee chair of Pack 111 in Lakeville, Minn., at the end of her older son’s Tiger year and quickly saw a problem.
“The leadership was primarily made up of the older Scouts’ parents, and they were all on their way out,” she says.
She began developing a succession plan to ease the transition to a new generation of leaders.
Evaluate the Parents
A major advantage of late-fall recruiting is that you have time to evaluate potential leaders before you recruit them. That Eagle Scout dad at the join-Scouting night? His travel schedule might prevent him from being an effective den leader. That proactive mom with her pen at the ready? Perhaps she’d be a better fit behind the scenes as pack secretary or treasurer.
Those are the sorts of questions Jean Lundsteen likes to think about. As a den leader with Pack 302 in North Aurora, Ill., Lundsteen started as a Cub Scout leader in the late 1970s and has rarely been turned down by a prospective leader.
One key to her success is letting prospects know how well their skills align with the potential position.
“By the time you get through telling them why they’d be perfect for it, they’re kind of hard-pressed to say ‘no,’ because it convinces them that they’re appropriate for it,” she says. “This isn’t just saying, ‘We need a den leader. Can you do it?’”
Dettmann believes the best way to evaluate parents is to get to know them.
“Once you get to know their strengths, you can easily say, ‘You seem very organized; committee chair is something you could do’ or ‘You have a wood shop; I think you would be great at helping us run our Pinewood Derby.’”
Another clue, she says, is watching which parents stay engaged at meetings — and which sit in a corner glued to their cellphones.
“The parents who are joining in the group when the kids are playing kickball to kill time are the parents who have the potential for being leaders,” she says.
It also helps to get input from other leaders in the pack. Den leaders tend to know the parents in their dens best, but they might not be thinking about what those parents could do beyond the den. Challenge them to be on the lookout for potential leaders they encounter.
Get New Leaders Trained
If you identify next year’s leaders now, don’t wait to get them trained. Many councils hold University of Scouting programs in the winter or spring, which gives leaders the luxury of getting trained before they take over; others, like Dettmann’s, offer basic leader training in conjunction with spring roundtables. And, of course, online training is always available at my.scouting.org.
While formal training is important, don’t overlook on-the-job training. If you recruit next year’s Cubmaster now, have her spend the rest of this year shadowing the current Cubmaster and learning from his example. If the next Cubmaster was a trained den leader, all they need to do is complete one 12-minute online training module in the Cubmaster Position Specific Training section to become a fully trained Cubmaster.
“I have someone who’s going to replace me in a year, and I can’t even begin to explain to her what my responsibilities are,” she says. By shadowing Dettmann for a year, the new chair will have a better idea of what she’s getting herself into.
So what happens if that year of preparation scares her off? Dettmann argues that it’s better to discover now rather than later that the position isn’t right for her.
“You don’t want someone in the position who can’t handle it, anyway,” she says.
Expand Your Recruiting Calendar
The better you get at early recruiting, the earlier you can get started. Dettmann likes to recruit parents before their sons even join the pack. She identified a parent who had the right skills to be a great den leader even before their family joined Cub Scouts.
“I approached this one guy at a school field trip and said, ‘Put your son in Scouts, and you can be the leader,’” she recalls. “He said, ‘OK.’”
Lundsteen, meanwhile, took this idea to the extreme. She recruited her daughters and daughters-in-law as leaders while they were still pregnant.
“I extracted a promise that they’d be den leaders,” she says.
You don’t have to visit the maternity ward to recruit new leaders, but you also don’t have to wait until next fall’s join-Scouting night. By recruiting early and often, you can ensure your pack’s continued health and perhaps even work yourself out of a job in a year or two.
One More Thing
A great new tool to help fill leadership positions in your pack is the “Selecting New Cub Scout Leadership” guide. This resource walks you through the process of filling leadership positions.