Thursday, 28 August 2014

Towards a new generation of leaders – some reflections

On Saturday 24th May, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending a seminar titled "Towards a new generation of leaders" held as part of the 67th World Baden-Powell event (held jointly by the Olave Baden-Powell Society, link, and the World Baden-Powell Fellowship, link).

What could very well be described as the tag-line of the seminar was the claim that “Guiding and Scouting is the greatest (and most important) leadership development programme (for young people) in the world”. With parentheses indicating variations on the theme. 

Now, this is certainly true, and I would not dream of refuting this fact – why would I? This is a natural result of combining some of our core values such as respect, integrity, responsibility and active citizenship with the unique Method of Guiding and Scouting. However, before I talk more about the contents of the seminar and the reflections that it has given rise to for me, it might also be worth mentioning that Guiding and Scouting, of course, is also so much more than this – the greatest peace movement on the planet, the largest non-formal educational movement, etc.

At other preliminaries, I want to express my gratitude to his Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden (whose opening speech can be found here) and her Royal Highness Princess Benedikte of Denmark for their invaluable contribution to Scouting and Guiding world-wide, and to DI (the Confederation of Danish Industry) for hosting the seminar.
The seminar itself was moderated by Mr Lars Kolind and Dr Vibeke Reimer, who started by confusing the audience with some key statistics and mysteries of the vernacular. Being a physicist by education, I fortunately had no problems following the statistics, and being Danish the curious distinction in the English vernacular between Guiding and Scouting where we use only a single word in Danish, spejder, is no longer a matter of confusion. So , Lars and Vibeke, I'm sorry, but you didn't succeed entirely :-)

The key points that the two moderators were unsuccessfully trying to hide are these: first that roughly one tenth of the world's population above 15 years, and roughly a third of the world's leaders, have a past in Guiding and/or Scouting of some three years on average (that is a little higher than for our own association, where the average membership is 2½ years), and secondly simply that we are one movement of Guides and Scouts – it is, as they said, “all about the same.”

Video w. Rex Tillerson
Photo: Mathias L. Faaborg
 After the opening remarks by the moderators, the seminar got started for real with the keynote speech by James R. Turley, retired Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young Global. Jim Turley was followed by our own Chief Scout, David Hansen, speaking on “How Scouting and Guiding helps foster tomorrow’s leaders in Denmark” though, as he assured us, it's done in the same way all around the globe – it is just his own experiences that are specific for the Danish context.

After a coffee break, we watched a video interview with Rex Tillerson, Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation, who was interviewed by Lars Kolind on “How Scouting made me a global leader.” Next followed two sessions under the common headline of “How Scouting and Guiding made me a global leader, ” where two young leaders spoke on how their work as volunteers in the movement in Denmark led them to lead partnership project with Guides and Scouts in African countries . First Christina Plum talked about a partnership project in South Sudan, and next Vicki Nielsen spoke about a partnership program in Tunisia.

The video with the interview with Mr Rex Tillerson

The last talk was given by our Chief Guide, Annesofie Bjerre, who talked on “How does Danish Scouting and Guiding contribute to a better world outside Denmark?”

The theme of the seminar was clearly visible in all speeches: the connection between Scouting and Guiding and the development of leadership skills and attitudes, but the approaches were different, which made for the variation and value of the seminar, even from my own very Programme-centric perspective.

Jim Turley and Rex Tillerson both spoke from the perspective of being themselves very successful leaders of global companies, who could look back at their own time in Scouting and reflect on what they had taken from the non-formal education offered them in Scouting, and which had helped them as leaders. One of the things that might surprise was that they both emphasised the value of service – service to others. That which Baden-Powell defined as “the submission of self to the willing rendering of helpfulness to others, without thought of return or reward.”
James R Turley
Photo: Marcus Thusgaard Andersen
However, if you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense: good leadership is indeed a service to others, and a submission of self to the well-being and success of the team, or community or organisation, which you are called to lead. If you do it only, or mainly, for yourself, you will inevitably be a bad leader. Jim Turley listed four characteristics of a good leader, that Guiding and Scouting promote:
  • Integrity,
  • Respect (both ways),
  • ‘Teaming’ (thinking “it's all about the team”), and
  • Entrepreneurship
His definition of teaming seems to me sufficiently close to the idea of citizenship as we teach that in Scouting and Guiding, and so I see here three of the four core values that appeared in a recent publication from WAGGGS:
  • Respect,
  • Integrity,
  • Citizenship, and
  • Spirituality.
Leadership is, in other words, at least as much about personal values and attitudes than it is about concrete skills, but in Guiding and Scouting you can learn it all.

Another aspect that was emphasised by several of the speakers is learning to fail – or ‘frustration robustness’ as a good Scouting friend terms it. Scouting and Guiding provides a safe environment in which our young people can try and fail ... and try again, and fail again until, in the end, they succeed. They learn to be persistent, to not give up, but rather to pursue their ideas, they try to fail, but with the support of good Scouters and Guiders, they turn that experience into positive learning.

Jim Turley made another point that is well worth mentioning. We are experiencing a growing diversity in the world. Not just in ethnic terms (where we might blame this abstraction called ‘globalisation’), but also in terms of gender (with the moral value of gender equality being stretched out to include more than the two classic gender identities), educational backgrounds (it is not just engineers working in engineering companies, nor are just accountants working in accounting companies), etc. etc.

A consequence of this is that the teams in which we will find ourselves will become more and more diverse. With this increasing diversity of talent in the teams we work with, the performance of our teams will polarise – the mid-level, ‘good enough’ or ‘so-so’ performing teams will become rarer, and teams will either fail horribly or succeed hugely. The patrol system in Guiding and Scouting comes to mind here – here we learn precisely how to work in diverse groups of mixed talents and how to get each member to do their best for the team – we learn how to get every member of the patrol to exhibit leadership and to take responsibility for the success of the patrol as a whole. If they don't learn that, the patrol goes to bed hungry and gets wet when it starts to rain in the middle of the night.

David Hansen
Photo: Frederik Fredslund-Andersen
David Hansen, in my opinion, took on the most ambitious topic with his attempt to explain how Guiding and Scouting actually develops leadership. For anyone involved with Youth / Educational Programme, the word ‘How’ immediately invokes the Scout and Guide Method.

While our purpose (contributing to young people developing to reach their fullest potential) and our principles / core values are perhaps not particularly unique, the Scout & Guide Method is unique to the movement that Lord Baden-Powell started – while purpose and principles are important to our identity, it is, in my opinion, our method that defines us as Guides and Scouts. The method is the combination of a number of interrelated
elements, which can be described as,

  • The Promise and Law – the voluntary commitment to the Law through the Promise.
  • The Patrol System – working and taking leadership in teams of peers.
  • Nature – using the infinite possibilities for learning experiences that nature, as a setting, provides.
  • Symbolism – strengthening a shared identity and hence commitment to shared values through the use of symbols.
  • Learning by Doing – learning through the interplay of action and reflection.
  • Partnership with adults – adults acting in a manner reminiscent of elder siblings.
  • Service in community – learning citizenship and helpfulness by doing it.
  • Individual self-progression – the whole point of it: the individual developing at their own pace, learning to take responsibility for their own development.
In some ways the Method is kaleidoscopic – if you turn it a bit, a different set of facets may stand out and you may come to choose another set of words to describe it, but it is still all about the same Method.

David, however, insisted that it was much simpler, claiming that the methodological key to our leadership development is Youth Empowerment. To me, however, this is, in and by itself, not much more helpful than saying that we do it by using the Scout Method, since also youth empowerment needs explication. 

It is, however, more interesting to me to ask whether any kind of youth empowerment will do the trick, and also if there is nothing more of the Guide/Scout Method that are key elements in making Guiding a Scouting the greatest leadership development programme on earth.

Listening to Jim Turley and Rex Tillerson speak of service and humility as essential attitudes for good leadership, I feel that there is more to the story than youth empowerment – Christina Plum had a great point when she said that she, as a leader, would not want followers, but she would want to have more leaders, empowered people capable of taking the leadership role, under herself. The point here seems to me to be that being empowered may make you a reasonable leader, but if you want to exhibit great leadership, you need to be able to empower others rather than yourself. While the latter, learning how to empower others, can easily be seen as an essential aspect of our work with youth empowerment, my understanding is that the attitudes of humility and service to others are not normally seen as a part of the youth empowerment (albeit these attitudes are, to me, essential aspects of the life attitudes young people learn in Guiding and Scouting).

To be fair, I know that David Hansen agrees with this, but he wanted to emphasise the empowerment aspect of our educational programme in contrast to mere activities. I would have to agree to that, but for someone who, like myself, likes to look behind things and who needs to understand the complexity first, this kind of simple messages usually seem to not fully satisfy the desire for understanding.

The two young leaders who spoke on leadership in international Scouting & Guiding partnerships each in their own ways emphasised yet another strength of the Guiding and Scouting experience – the ability to work with cultural diversity. As pointed out above, working with diversity is a key element of the patrol system, and, indeed, few, if any, patrols can succeed in Scouting if they do not possess a diversity of talent. At the same time Guiding and Scouting offer young people opportunities for international and inter-cultural experiences in an environment of friendliness and on the basis of shared, inclusive values.
Christina Plum
Photo: Kasper Pedersen

These experiences make it much easier to meet the challenges in a positive manner – even, as Vicki Nielsen pointed out, the challenge of being a young, blonde woman trying to be accepted in Tunisia as the main project coordinator on the Danish side.

Vicki Nielsen and Christina Plum also both emphasise another strength of our movement – our strong dedication to involving our young people in decisions and even putting them in position of managing large, international projects. Obviously even in Guiding and Scouting the number of large international projects is not such that everybody gets that chance, but everybody does get to be involved in the decision-making of whatever they do. From the discussion with our youngest members of what activities they would like to do, to the young people serving at the world level of our movement, we empower young people by listening to them in earnest – by following our Founder's advice to “Ask the boy!”

In the months since this event, the 40th World Scout Conference in Slovenia has adopted the concept paper, 21st Century Leadership in Scouting as the official position of WOSM on leadership. I find this position to be very much in agreement both with the results of the seminar, and also with my own thoughts on the topic. I am particularly pleased with the use of the word “leadership” rather than referring on the formal role of the “leader”. Leadership is understood as a collaborative process in which all the participants can contribute and exert leadership by influencing the team. In most circumstances some of the participants will exert more influence than others, though these are not necessarily the ones with the formal leader's role, but it is important to recognise that also those who only influence the process a little are also exhibiting leadership, and thus are learning leadership by doing it.

Photos published with permission. 

No comments:

Post a Comment