The Scout-Led Troop Blog #5 – Part 2: Do You Trust Your Scouts Enough to Let Them Lead?

Bill Chapman

In the October 2016 general conference, Elder J. Devn Cornish shared an experience he had after graduating from medical school and was in a pediatric residency training in a high-powered, competitive program. He was faced with a challenging assignment and felt unqualified to meet it. In his despair, he alternated between sobbing and sleeping and had no idea how to proceed. Just at that moment, a senior resident in the program put his hand on Elder Cornish’s shoulder and asked how he was doing. After Elder Cornish poured out his frustrations, the senior resident responded in a way that Elder Cornish said changed his life. Elder Cornish described the senior resident’s response as follows: “He told me how proud he and all of the other senior residents were of me and how they felt like I was going to be an excellent doctor. In short, he believed in me at a time when I didn’t even believe in myself.” (“Am I Good Enough? Will I Make It?”)

Do we believe in our Scouts? Do we trust them enough to let go and let them lead? Do we believe in them when they do not believe in themselves? If the adults are dominating and controlling the meetings and activities of the troop, what does that tell our Scouts about our trust (or lack of trust) in them?

When Helaman was faced with a life-and-death situation for many of his people, he turned to a group of his young men and asked them for guidance. How old were they? The record does not tell us. But it does tell us that they were “very young.”

Helaman recounts the inspirational story to Captain Moroni as follows:

“And now, whether they were overtaken by Antipus we knew not, but I said unto my men: Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;

“Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?

“And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites.

“For as I had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus” (Alma 56: 43-46). (Emphasis added.)

Often, when telling this story, we rightly focus on the courage and bravery of these young men. However, there is another lesson to be learned if we focus on Helaman as a great young men’s leader, a great Scoutmaster we might say. Before this group of young men could exercise their great faith and courage, Helaman had to give them a chance to make a very difficult decision. He warned them of the dangers but he did not order them, he asked them what they should do. If he had ordered them into battle, he would have robbed them of the opportunity to grow. Helaman trusted these young men, his stripling warriors, and was richly rewarded. If we will trust our young men, we will be richly rewarded, as well.

Once, when I was in a priesthood leadership meeting, a great leader addressed the question of whether we should take a chance in giving so much responsibility to our young men. This great leader responded, “Why not? The Lord took a chance on you.


-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. James Walter Taylor says:

    I find it frustrating to present to our LDS Scouters, because generally they need more:
    – The trust to let their YM lead.
    – The diligence and study to learn their vocation.
    – The time and courage to go and do hard things with the youth.
    – The knowledge, patience, and bond to be able to mentor and guide when the plan goes astray.

    1. James Walter Taylor says:

      And I might add:
      – The faith to take this inspired program and the training it offers, and act on that training
      – The understanding to teach the how of leadership without taking the responsibility away from the youth.

    2. Bill Chapman says:

      James, thank you for reading, commenting and sharing your thoughts and experiences.

      I have experienced the frustrations you describe. I like your list and I am always looking for new and better ways to train adult leaders how to do this. Some take to it much more naturally than others.

      We all have the same goals and hope that we can teach and enlighten each other.

  2. Mac McIntire says:

    Another great blog message Bill. Thanks.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Mac, it was so great to finally meet you in person. Your contributions to LDS Scouting are legendary. Thanks for reading and posting.

  3. James Walter Taylor says:

    I think I need to expand my original reply, this is a great article, and a great start. But a Scouter needs so much more to be effective:

    – The trust to let their YM lead.
    – The diligence and study to learn their calling and their vocation.
    – The faith to act on their training in an inspired program.
    The understanding to teach how to plan, prepare and manage, rather than planning, preparing and managing
    – The humility allow the youth to have their credit, to grow in their confidence.
    – The time and courage to go and do hard things with the youth.
    – The patience and relationship to be able to mentor and guide when the plan goes astray.

    And most of all to be a clear example of these qualities to the youth
    Rare skills that take “The 4 T’s of Scout Leadership”: Time, Training, Tenure, Testimony

  4. Marjanna Hulet says:

    One thing I was not prepared for when I first tried to truly let my youth leaders LEAD, was how much extra time and effort it took on MY part. It would have been SO…MUCH…EASIER to just do all the organizing on my own. The youth have had so few opportunities to truly lead activities that they are not very good at it (surprise!) and have to be coached much more. The payoff is much greater, however. Now I have youth leaders to whom I can say, “You’re in charge” and they know exactly what to do. These are youth who are now prepared to lead anywhere they go. And they are confident enough to step forward and assume that mantle.

    If I would have stopped the first time I ran into youth leadership problems, I wouldn’t have seen this growth. Yet I know other adult leaders who have told me, “We tried that, but the youth didn’t follow through” or “the youth didn’t seem to know how to take charge.” Well, of course they don’t–this is the first time anyone has let them be in charge. How will they ever learn if they don’t practice? How will they truly understand responsibility if they aren’t given any?

    Scouting done the right way takes care of that. It provides a safe place for learning true leadership skills.

    1. Bill Chapman says:

      Marjanna, thank you for contributing your thoughts and experiences to this blog. I guess I was lucky. When we switched from adult lead to Scout-led, we had a very mature 13 year-old SPL. He learned quickly and although he was quiet, had the respect of the Scouts. Like your experience, after the groundwork was laid, those who followed had an example to follow and it became much easier. I’m glad you caught the vision and stuck with it.

      I would love to hear where you are from and details about your troop, if you care to share them.

  5. Michael Gordon says:

    My daughter, then about 9 years old, once proudly asserted she knew the way home. Okay, says I, you give instruction and I will obey. She declared the turnings as I drove the car. About the time we arrived at the little municipal. airport north of town she realized that she didn’t actually know the way home and she authorized me to navigate.

    The idea I present by that story is that the leader is ultimately *responsible* and cannot abrogate that responsibility even though you create a sort of safe space in which youth can lead within their ability to actually do so. They cannot lead into realms they do not know exist and they must also be allowed to discover natural boundaries imposed by their own lack of knowledge, or by law, or geography, or even gravity.

    The mind boundary can be expanded with knowledge, geographic boundaries can be expanded with training and equipment.

    When I was 16, my explorer post was trying to think up a great adventure. Nothing my peers contemplated seemed all that interesting or challenging. The advisor then suggested hiking across the High Sierra. The boys said, “yeah! Let’s do that!” but I knew that it was in the High Sierras that many of the Donner Party met their doom; this was a serious undertaking and I expected to have no part of it. Yet in the end, I and my best friend did indeed hike from Giant Forest over to (almost) Lone Pine on the other side and we were well prepared and did not fear. The other 14 young men played basketball for all I know.

    I was troop committee chairman of a boy-led troop complete with genuine democratic elections. It wasn’t authorized but we did it that way and the young men followed their patrol leaders and senior patrol leader for they were *chosen* and having been chosen by their peers, these boy-leaders accepted more responsibility than had they simply obtained these roles by birthright and appointment.

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