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Development of Leadership in Boy Leaders of Boys

By Maurice Tripp, Monterey Bay Area Council, Salinas, California
Excerpted from a talk given before the 53rd Annual Meeting of the National Council, Boy Scouts Of America, New York, N.Y., May 23-24, 1963.

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There is actually a great deal already known about the functions of leadership and also about how humans learn— knowledge that we are not taking maximum advantage of in our training. We know that leaders are not born. Leaders are persons who have developed competence in certain skills and these skills can be learned and cultivated by normal young men. It is true that all men are born with differing capacities to learn; in the case of the moron it is small and in the case of the genius it is large.

The candidate for leadership development will benefit in proportion to his learning capacity. Can you fly by flapping your arms like wings? Could you learn to fly with some training? The questions are foolish, of course, but the point is that if a person lacks the natural endowment, no amount of training is going to yield success. In other words concentrate one's efforts on those most able to learn and the over-all effectiveness will be the greatest. Kettering once observed that we could send a message around the world in a fraction of a second, but it sometimes took months or years to send it through a 1/4 inch of human skull.

What are the functions of leadership? A leader must be able to:
  • Get Information — obtain facts, sort pertinent from window dressing, recognize when more data is needed, and be able to figure out where to get it.
  • Give Information — communicate clearly to others so they understand the same thing the communicator intended they understand.
  • Plan and Organize — look ahead, anticipate, weigh consequences of action, reflect, and evaluate.
  • Teach — develop understanding of series of related ideas or techniques or skills, guide the learning process in another.
  • Supervise — delegate authority and responsibility, one source of instructions, systematic follow through on instructions and judicious guidance.
  • Motivate — without motivation, the most polished use of the most sophisticated techniques won't rescue teacher from frustrated futility. With adequate motivation, the clumsiest efforts with crudest methods will succeed.
  • Counsel — sensitivity toward needs of others, willingness to be helpful, coupled with ability as problem solver.

These are abilities or functions which can be learned; and, since learning means changing one's behavior, it is best accomplished when the candidate is younger and has fewer deeply entrenched habits to be changed. Although the principles apply to men as well as to boys, the latter are more desirable candidates for leadership development.

Leadership is not something that is taught on two or three Thursday evenings. It is not achieved on a weekend or during a whole week in camp. Leadership is a quality of conduct, attitude, and way of thinking and conducting one's self in relation to others that must be developed — it is true, to differing degrees in different boys — over a period of months and years.

But to succeed we must motivate the boy to want to acquire greater competence in leadership skills and then, during an intensive instruction period, acquaint him with the leadership functions, show him how one can develop excellence in these skills, and give him practical opportunities (that are fun) to display these skills with his peers through a series of problems and hurdles. (Problems are situations presented to the boy that require his learning or practicing a skill. Hurdles are problems presented to a group for their decision and action. A hurdle requires democratic action by the group members, assessment of the ability and knowledge of the group and the individuals plus cooperative effort to complete. Surmounting hurdles utilizes skills and abilities in Scoutcraft or campcraft that have already been acquired.) A vitally important step in the learning and development requires continuous self- and group-evaluation. From this critiquing comes motivation and direction for further improvement plus a more canny idea as to how people work together.

The program does not cease at this point but has only prepared the boy with an understanding of what characterizes the actions of a leader, how to go about cultivating these characteristics in himself, and has given him some concentrated opportunities to practice both the skills and the learning process of the skills and then has returned him to his Scoutmaster and troop to grow.

This is junior leader development. It is not training in Scoutcraft skills nor is it training in how to teach Scoutcraft skills to others. It is true that a high degree of competence in both is acquired as a consequence of the one week in camp because they are both essential to leadership and to the Scout program offering things to do that boys fundamentally like to do. So we do them. The boy has concluded he wants to be a better leader, he has been shown what the skills of leadership entail and has been shown how to acquire these skills; he has been given opportunities to practice them until they are a tangible part of his complement of knowledge before being returned to his own unit. We are not taking a hopeful chance that he will learn leadership, we have ensured its development.

To summarize: Man has needed leadership ever since he came out of the cave and met another man, in fact ever since he met Eve. Who among us can say what the consequences would be for America if the quality of leadership being exercised by the head of every family was strengthened by even a small amount in the home?

The Boy Scouts generally receive recognition from the public for developing leadership in boys. We know what characterizes a leader's actions and we know that they are abilities that a normal boy can learn. We know how to teach these sorts of things; therefore, we need not depend hopefully on chance any longer.

Are you satisfied with just producing better trained skills technicians or do you share with me a belief in our future, the future of America, sufficiently to concern yourselves with systematically developing leadership in the young men in your district, in your council?


Dr. R. Maurice Tripp was a long-time Scouter in the Monterey Bay Area Council. In 1962, Dr. Tripp chaired an advisory board of educators, psychologists, management specialists, and members of the Scout professional staff who were formed to study the White Stag program. Dr. Tripp was a research scientist and member of the National Council, BSA. This article was excerpted from a talk given by him at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the National Council, Boy Scouts Of America, New York, N.Y., May 23-24,1963.