Preparing Boys for Leadership
By Mark Ray
A three-level training continuum provides progressively sophisticated tools for developing youth leaders in your troop.
According to the Scoutmaster Handbook, training youth leaders should be Job No. 1. So why did Mike Abrahamson, Scoutmaster of Troop 68 in Trumbull, Conn., quit running Troop Leader Training (TLT) several years ago?
“The senior patrol leader I had at the time, a really talented young man, came to me and said, ‘I think I can do this,’” Abrahamson recalled. “He did a fantastic job. From then on, that became the expectation.”
That’s not the only expectation Abrahamson’s Scouts have established. A few years back, Troop 68’s patrol leader council decided to make completion of National Youth Leader Training (NYLT) a requirement for every senior patrol leader and assistant senior patrol leader. “That was the boys’ choice because they saw value in the guys coming back,” Abrahamson says.
These days, Troop 68 sends about 15 Scouts a year to NYLT—Scouts who come home ready to serve as
How can your troop get there? By implementing the BSA’s youth leadership training continuum, which includes TLT, NYLT, and National Advanced Youth Leader Experience (NAYLE).
Troop Leader Training is a troop-level program for all new troop leaders, including those who have changed leadership positions. Offered shortly after troop elections, it focuses on what youth leaders should know, be, and do.
Module 1: Know—focuses on the troop organization and introduces each youth leader to his role.
Module 2: Be—covers the Scoutmaster’s vision of success and introduces two key tools: EDGE, a model for teaching, and Start-Stop-Continue, a tool for evaluating progress.
Module 3: Do—teaches Scouts the expectations of their individual positions and how to define success.
Abrahamson calls TLT essential for developing effective leaders. “It would be hamstringing a young man to say, ‘Go lead 50 people, but we’re not going to give you any tools, and we’re not going to tell you how to do it,’” he says.
Some troops conduct TLT in three, one-hour sessions, while others combine the modules into a half-day course or a weekend leadership retreat.
Dave Becker, Scoutmaster of Troop 615 in Oshkosh, Wis., typically runs TLT on a long Saturday afternoon. “It depends on the boys in training,” he says. “If most of them have gone through it before, it’s a much quicker session because you can concentrate on those who haven’t gone through it.”
Next comes National Youth Leader Training, a weeklong council-level program that covers skills taught in professional leadership courses—and in Wood Badge for the 21st Century. NYLT participants learn to establish visions, goals, and plans; make ethical choices; value people; communicate and teach effectively; resolve conflict; and assess progress using the “Start-Stop-Continue” model.
The third phase of the training continuum is National Advanced Youth Leadership Experience. This weeklong, national-level program, held at Philmont Scout Ranch, puts NYLT skills into practice in a wilderness setting. Using elements of Philmont’s ranger training, it also emphasizes the concept of servant leadership.
So what role does the Scoutmaster play in the training continuum? Beyond leading TLT (or supporting those Scouts who are leading it), he or she plays a major role in promoting NYLT and NAYLE, programs most Scouts first hear about from their Scoutmasters. Many troops, including Abrahamson’s, provide scholarships for NYLT and NAYLE.
“It’s a substantial cost, and the troop pays most of it,” Abrahamson says. “We don’t pay all of it; we want them to have some skin in it.”
Becker says it’s also essential to put a Scout to work as soon as he returns from NYLT or NAYLE.
“When he comes out of the program, he’s sort of like a fresh battery. He’s supercharged. He’s on this euphoric high about all the stuff that he’s learned.
“You need to have a role for that young man that fits his ability. If you burden him too much, he might be confused with what he’s learned. If you don’t give him enough to do, he’s going to feel frustrated and held back.”
You also need to be ready to catch him if he falls, according to Becker. “That’s when you stress things like the patrol method, so that these young men realize that there’s an avenue for them to take when they have a problem or they have questions,” he says.
At a recent camporee, another Scoutmaster was impressed with the leadership ability of Troop 68’s SPL and complimented Abrahamson.
Abrahamson’s reply was simple: “He’s no better than yours. You’ve just got to let him do it, and you’ve got to be there to catch him if he stumbles. You have to give him every bit of training and coaching and support that there can possibly be.”
After all, that’s the Scoutmaster’s most important job.
Mark Ray lives in Louisville, Ky., and is the author of The Scoutmaster's Other Handbook.