Summer Camp Leadership Lessons

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jeffrey M. Bishop, APR
  • Chief, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"Summer camp" - the term of affection commonly applied to annual training at Air National Guard units across the nation, has come and gone for the 131st Bomb Wing here.  But in the coming weeks, a number of Citizen-Airmen will trade in their Air Force uniforms - and also their civilian business wear - for the tan shirts of the Scouter. 

A Scouter is an enthusiastically involved leader to Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts. And just as Guard members bring lessons from our civilian jobs to benefit our blue-suit roles - and vice versa - there are a number of lessons from Scouts summer camps that these young men-in-the-making can share with all of us.  What follows are just three that I gleaned from a recent excursion with my Scout troop:

1) Rely on the patrol method.  The "patrol method" is the core concept that holds that a Boy Scout troop is adult-guided but boy-led.  Each troop has a senior patrol leader, along with a small number of subordinate patrol leaders who have a discrete span of control within the camp - these compare to commander positions in the military.  In a troop, if the adults are running everything and not the up-and-coming boy leaders, then they are working too hard - because they are doing someone else's job for them.  Worse yet, the boys are not able to get from the experience what they need to get from it to develop into tomorrow's leaders.

Organizations that operate well employ a similar model; in the military, organizationally this is referred to as "centralized command, decentralized execution."  Subordinate leaders receive their mission, vision and top-level direction from senior leadership, and are empowered at a lower functional (or geographic) leadership level to carry out the mission day-to-day.  Assuming that all leaders and staff are well trained and qualified in our roles, then the organization runs extremely efficiently and effectively.  Maximizing the patrol method model at all levels of your organization will enhance performance, morale and staff development.

2) Be Prepared.  Abiding by these two words - the Boy Scout Motto - is like having a Swiss Army Knife in your pocket.  It's helpful to anticipate what you might need in advance, and then do what you can to prepare for that - be it via having the necessary information, coordination, resources, tools or training for any given task.

A Scout won't set out on a hike without a buddy, a plan, a trail map, appropriate clothing, light nourishments and a first-aid kit.  The Air Force and world-of-work parallel is clear: don't enter a business or operational situation - be it a staff meeting, a client presentation, a conversation with your boss, a mission or any other daily work responsibility - without being similarly prepared.

3) Follow your compass.  By this I don't mean a literal compass - for the most part, today's Scouts - and our combat weapons systems - navigate by GPS anyway.  But rather, ensure your daily practices align with your values.

The Scouts have a number of guideposts including the Scouts Motto ("Do Your Best,") and the Boy Scouts Slogan ("Do a Good Turn Daily").   In addition to those noted above, Scouts also has twelve points, called the Scout Law, which exist to guide boys through their Scouting careers and beyond:

A Scout is ...
· Trustworthy,
· Loyal,
· Helpful,
· Friendly,
· Courteous,
· Kind,
· Obedient,
· Cheerful,
· Thrifty,
· Brave,
· Clean and
· Reverent

Similarly, the Air Force Core Values - Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do - exist for this same purpose - to guide the head and the heart, no matter what the situation. 

Regardless the source, be they from Scouts, your service, your business, your upbringing, your religious faith or all of the above - the concept of values - a compass to show the way - is clearly not too deep a concept for young boys to learn and to follow.  Just as they are for young Scouts, they are equally timeless to provide necessary waypoints throughout one's career.

What other lessons for the workplace can be gleaned from the Scouting experience?  In what way would your organization improve if the principles and values of the Boy Scouts were at work ... at work?