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Leadership Development by Design—
A Report on an Experiment

By Béla H. Bánáthy[1]

For the last ten years an experiment in leadership development by design has been conducted in the Monterey Bay Area Council of the B.S.A. Over one thousand Scouts and Scouters have taken part in the program. Year by year the outcome of the experiment was evaluated and its results and findings were analyzed by the Research Service of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1968 a national Leadership Development Project was established with the goal of continuing experimentation on the national scale and to infuse leadership development by design into the program of the B.S.A.

My purpose here is to report on the main findings of the Monterey experiment and to give an account of the present status of the national project.

Leadership Development Should Begin During Youth

Leadership development should begin during the formative years of youth. Still, none of the programs of public and voluntary educational agencies of the day include any systematic long-term leadership development.

Scouting's Role

To provide for leadership development and for the exercise of leadership by design, therefore, can be looked upon as an all-important challenge. But how about Scouting? What is being done in Scouting to develop leadership in youth? Surely leadership capabilities do emerge in some boys who are in Scouting. But at a close examination we were not able to find evidence for a deliberately designed program for the acquisition of specific leadership competencies.

Using The Scout Patrol

Although Scouting has a well-structured and detailed program for the learning of skills of Scoutcraft and woodcraft what has been lacking, and the lack of which is increasingly in evidence, is a specific program by which competencies needed for effective leadership (and group membership) can be developed by design. This is the case even though Scouting lends itself ideally to the learning and applying of the methods and skills of leadership. It offers a unique--and perfect--framework for such learning: the Scout patrol.

Realizing this opportunity and recognizing the need, over ten years ago we initiated an experimental program from which some significant findings have emerged which may help to close the program gap described above.

A New Concept of Leadership

The FIRST of these findings is a new concept of leadership. As we understand it, leadership is a dynamic interaction process of the group, the leader, the task, and the situation in which the group moves toward its objectives. In this move the leader has specific functions which he often shares with others in order to facilitate goal achievement. As a result, leadership becomes the property of the group.

Depending on their potentials and on the needs of a particular task or situation, members may assume leadership functions to varying degrees. We have learned that the best solutions to group problems and task achievement are those which grow out of the combined resources of the group and which make use of the potentials of all its members.

This contemporary definition of leadership was intuitively understood by Baden-Powell, who said,

The sum of the whole thing amounts to this--every individual in the patrol is made responsible, both in den and in camp, for his definite share of the successful working of the whole.

It is the similarity between modern leadership theory and Scouting's specific method of operation which makes Scouting so uniquely conducive as a framework for leadership development for youth.

Leadership Can Be Defined

The SECOND concept is that, rather than being some nebulous characteristic which one has to be born with, leadership can be defined as a set of competencies which can be learned. Some eighty aspects of knowledge, skills, and attitudes have been taken into account in our research which have been clustered into competencies.

To sum it up, an understanding of the concepts described here has helped us to bring into focus that the acquisition of leadership competencies should occur by plan and design, rather than by accident. Although leaders may emerge--as they do today--as by-products of group processes, this is neither an economical nor an effective way of developing leadership.

Based on the concepts described above, in our experimental program:

  1. Specific competencies of leadership--relevant to Scouting--have been identified, and
  2. A program was developed toward the attainment of these competencies by design.
  3. In implementing the program, it was quickly recognized that leadership competencies cannot be acquired in a few training sessions or in a training course, but only as a result of a long-range developmental process. The understanding of this concept has led us to use the term "development" rather than "training." Thus, the program has been designed in a six-year sequence offering--in a spiral fashion--ever expanding new curricula for the learning of predetermined capabilities.

Implementing a Phased Program

Every program year cycle consists of three phases:

  1. The Preparatory Phase: Define the needs and input competencies of the learner and motivate toward learning.
  2. The Intensive Learning Phase: Learn the specific competence through intensive involvement.
  3. Application and Evaluation Phase: Apply what has been learned in the home troop and continuously evaluate application.

As the experiment went on, year by year, it has been ascertained that participants attained predetermined capabilities, and transferred the learned skills into their groups in and out of Scouting.

Identifying What the Learner Should Know

There are two more important findings which need to be mentioned here. The first is the systems approach which has been used in developing the program. Firstly, we identify in exact terms whatever we expect that the learner should be able to do at the end of the training; then we develop criteria by which we can measure whether he attained performance objectives.

Next we state whatever has to be learned so that the learner can behave in the way described. Thus we establish the learning task. Now we ask the question: What do we (the training program) have to do and to do by what means or by whom, and when and where, in order to ensure that the learner will hurdle the learning task? So we design our program. Then we pretest the design and, if it functions as planned, we install it. The continuous testing and evaluation of the learner and of the program will indicate if we have to introduce changes.

Shifting Our Attention From Instruction to Learning

The second finding is a dramatic understanding that we need to shift our attention from instruction to learning. (See above). The new strategy has been implemented in the experimental program in different ways. The most frequent use of the strategy has been--what we called--the project method. This method will be described next briefly:

  1. Confront the learning group with a situation in which the use of the competence to be learned is required in order to help to realize the need for increased competence and thus create a desire to learn.
  2. Introduce the learning program in a workshop type of setup where the competence is demonstrated and practiced.
  3. Apply the learned skill in situations similar to--or identical with--the original "confrontation" (See item "1." above) so that the group can readily recognize the "new way of doing things" and the acquisition of increased competence.
  4. Confront the group--unexpectedly--with novel situations in which the competence is to be used; group evaluates the application of the competence.
  5. Individuals formulate operational and measurable objectives for the application of the newly-acquired competence in the back-home situation in and out of Scouting.

The concepts and findings described above became the basis upon which specific programs have been--and are being--designed and experimented with.

Scouting's Plan for Leadership Development

The BSA has evolved a long-term plan for the "by design" introduction of leadership competencies into the overcall program of Scouting. The training of Scoutmasters was selected as the first area of national application.

During the Design Phase of the program, using the systems approach:

  • First, we described the tasks which comprise the performance of the Scoutmaster;
  • Second, we identified the competencies which he has to attain in order to perform in the expected way;
  • Third, we designed learning experiences which lead to the attainment of competence;
  • Finally, we designed evaluation and change-by-design criteria.

The program first was laboratory tested at the Schiff Scout Reservation in New Jersey and at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico in 1967. Following its revision it was field tested in five councils during 1968. It is now undergoing a major revision and further testing and will become operational in 1970.

In addition, pilot programs in leadership development by design have been conducted during some of the training events of the Inter-American Region and an experimental application is planned for a Training the Team Course next Fall.

What These Experiments Mean

In closing let me speculate about the significance which these experiments in leadership development might have for Scouting.

The skills of Scoutcraft and Woodcraft, being the skills of the hand, are of the kind which can be well--or even best--learned on an individual basis. One person can learn it from another who is competent in the skill.

On the other hand, competencies of leadership/membership are social skills and are of the nature which can be learned only in groups. In introducing these competencies in the Scout program by design, we provide a meaningful content for the operation of den, patrol, and committees, in that competencies of leadership and membership comprise a program area which cuts across the boundaries of Cub Scouting, Scouting, and Exploring, and may constitute training common to all branches of Scouting.

Throughout the years we have also learned to recognize and appreciate differences in the programs of Scouting around the world. These differences are inherent in variations in interest, customs, and in geography. These variations have greatly restricted the range of training content which can be considered universal and common to all. On the other hand, leadership competencies are required properties of all human groups and are not much influenced by geography, or even by customs. Thus, training and development in leadership may be regarded as universal in nature, one which may have world-wide applicability in the Movement.