"When I was a mission president in northern Germany, Sister Dahlquist and I had a few minutes one day and took a short trip to the top of a little mount called, 'Hercules' right in the city Kassel. At the top of Hercules, I saw a shepherd with his staff, sheep dogs and sheep, and I thought I would ask him the age-old question, 'When you move your sheep from one place to another, do you go in front of the sheep or behind?' His answer surprised me: 'It depends,' he said. 'If they are going a route they are familiar with, they go ahead, with the dogs watching out to ensure that none go astray. But if they are going to a place where they have not been before, I go ahead and they follow.' What a wonderful principle of leadership.
"As leaders, we need to know where we are going, or we will go astray. We must be trained and directed; we must catch the vision. It is the same with the young men. When they are charting unknown waters, we must be close to them, often leading the way so they can follow and so they can be prepared to lead the next time. The moment I was called as a Scoutmaster, I felt an unusual sense of urgency, one I had not had before. I remember discussing that with the bishop and also with the boys in leadership. I told them, 'Boys, I have a feeling we do not have long to accomplish all we must in this quorum. For the next couple of weeks, I will be doing some things that, after you have seen how it's done, YOU will be doing, so watch carefully!' Within several weeks, they shouldered their proper share of the load, but only after they had seen it done and caught a vision of how things should be." (Charles Dahlquist, 2004 Young Men General Open House)
I love the story in the Book of Morning when the brother of Jared goes to the Lord and asks for his help lighting the boats that they would spend nearly a year shut up in, crossing the ocean. The Lord does not give him an answer. He tells the brother of Jared to let him know when he has a plan. Later, the brother of Jared comes back and asks the Lord for help lighting up the clear stones he has molten.
Someone pointed out to me recently that the Lord probably could have come up with a better plan. He might have had something great in mind. So they might have had better light on the boat, but what would the brother of Jared have learned from that? What was more important, the light, or doing something fro himself?
As a leader, it can be a lot easier sometimes to take the reigns ourselves. Someone in my "Scouting in the LDS Church" class a couple of weeks ago told a great story about being a Scoutmaster and allowing his scouts to plan and shop for a camp out. He said, "I have never eaten so much bacon in my life. When we were shopping, I kept trying to put bags of salad and things into the cart, but the boys would see them and say, 'Who put this in there?' and throw they out again." They may not have had a nutritionally balanced camp out, but it was definitely THEIR camp out.
What is more important? Perfect activities that flow the way we would like or learning opportunities for growing young men into leaders?
Some more from President Dahlquist: “Now that we have spoken about the priesthood leader and the adult Young Men leaders, let's focus for a minute on the quorum president and the individual Aaronic Priesthood quorum member. In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are instructed that it is the DUTY of the president of a quorum of deacons to PRESIDE over twelve deacons and “to sit in council with them, and to teach them their duty, edifying one another.” Since our call to the Young Men general presidency, I have pondered this direction given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph in Kirtland in 1835 and have wondered how long it will take us before we take this guidance seriously and begin treating Aaronic Priesthood presidents as priesthood leaders – as leaders of a priesthood that, in the Lord's own words, 'is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances.'
“In many cases, the extent of their leadership experience is to stand, in the case of a deacons quorum, unprepared each Sunday, welcome the quorum members, ask for a volunteer to pray, ask for volunteers to pass the sacrament, turn the lesson over to Brother Johansen, and then ask for another volunteer to pray at the end. Then we wonder why they leave their Aaronic Priesthood experience unchallenged, untrained, and sorely unprepared to meet the challenges that await them."
Both the church and the BSA have tools for training these young men. You can find a page here with training that is meant to be given in a Troop, Team or Crew after every election cycle. I love the powerpoint presentations for creating an annual program plan found here and here, because are broken into two segments: one for the leaders to watch ahead of time and one for the youth to watch to help guide them through the process.
There needs to be a balance between guiding them and standing back to let them take over. The leaders who I have seen struggle most with youth leadership do not seem to understand the principle of first training, then easing the boys into things. One thing that can help is to give the boys specific choices instead of leaving things wide open. For example: Instead of leaving an open, "What do you want to do for activities?" give them a selection of merit badges and say, "Which ones would you most like to work on as a group this year?" Then let them come up with a plan to help make that happen. Ask questions that will lead them in the right directions while still making the final ideas and decisions theirs. Provide opportunities for safe learning experiences (by "safe" I mean making mistakes in a situation that will not lead to epic failure and giving up). Deciding what is most appropriate for your particular group of boys may require a lot of prayer and listening to the Spirit.
It would be great to hear more suggestions and thought on this from more experienced Scouters. What has worked or has not worked for you in helping your boys lead? What are some of your favorite stories about boy-led activities or scouts learning from their mistakes?