A Tale of Two Leaders

Key Question: “Do you clean the campsite on behalf of your team to win the honorific pennant for your unit flag, or let them fail inspection and then coach them to clean up after themselves?” Each tactic produces a different outcome – each with gains and losses for you as leader.  Please bear with me while I explain…

imgp6808My family has a history of involvement in scouting and outdoor adventure programs. These programs are built to be planned and actively led by the youth participants with minimal direction from the adults (who are there in case of genuine emergency).

There’s likely no surprise that giving the controls of planning and executing a camping trip to a group of 11 year old boys can lead to a certain degree of risk and resultant chaos.

Obviously, it would be much “neater” if the adults planned and executed the program so the boys could simply show up and have fun.  Certainly, it could produce more quantifiable results that parents would love, too – more skills mastered in less time, clean(er) uniforms at the end of trips, balanced meals that were filling and thrifty, and a minimum of unplanned hiccups like someone forgetting to pack a tent on a rainy night.

So the central question is that of goals and outcomes – is the point of the camping program to successfully and efficiently conclude a series of trips planned by adults with a minimum of fuss, OR is the point for the boys to take responsibility, share leadership, own accountability for their decisions and make sure everyone has the right equipment and enough to eat at meal time?

The first scenario makes a picture perfect scouting outfit, but the second, by allowing the team members to commit mistakes and own the comeback/correction, builds a stronger team that can function independently of the adults and yield stronger individual leaders, capable of processing change, and cranking out innovative ideas because they “own the experience.”

Of course, it’s risky letting the team make mistakes and having them own the responsibility of self-correcting along the way.

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During my son’s first camp out with their scouting unit, a group of boys actually forgot to pack their patrol (team) tent.  Upon arrival at the campground, the boys were initially panicked and unsure what to do.  The adults reminded them of their emergency survival training, and then produced a pair of tarps.  The boys created an improvised shelter and survived the trip only a little worse for wear.  Oh, they never forgot to pack their tent after that trip, either.  It was a valuable learning lesson for them – they realized that they could improvise if needed, but proper planning assures a better outcome.  Had the adults simply packed the tent for them (and the adults had, indeed, recognized the error prior to leaving on the trip!), the boys wouldn’t have learned as much, wouldn’t have grown as much.

As business leaders coaching and mentoring our teams, are we willing to let them make mistakes in order for them to grow stronger through the corrective actions needed to overcome the mistake?  Or do we cover for them out of sheer expediency of getting the project done with fewer hiccups?

IMGP5238.JPGDuring a week-long expedition to summer camp, the boys are responsible to keep the campsite clean.  This includes picking up trash, cleaning and sanitizing the latrine properly and assuring that flags are properly displayed.  Duty rosters are created to assign responsibilities and training is conducted to show younger boys what to do and how to do it.  This is all led by scouts who’ve been through the process on prior summer camp outings. Passing the daily site inspection earns the unit a special honorific – a pennant to display on their troop flag.

Inevitably, on the first morning of the week, the campsite is a mess. Routines have not been established and the boys are distracted by the novelty of a week away from home.

Some scoutmasters will take time to clean the camp properly after breakfast while the boys are attending classroom exercises in order to be sure that the site inspection goes smoothly and the unit is eligible for special awards.

Some scoutmasters will let the site inspection fail miserably, and then take time to get the boys focused on setting priorities more emphatically and mastering the details of both training the younger boys and assuring that the site is prepped prior to leaving for classes each morning.

Both scoutmasters have the best of intentions, and one assures a smooth week (including winning the pennant for their troop flag for perfect site inspections), but the other sees failure as a mechanism for personal growth and is willing to sacrifice the bragging rights in order to see his team grow.

Which sort of leader do you want to be? One known for his/her team’s winning streak of consistent success (assured by your ever-present orchestration), or one who is willing to let the team fail, own their mistakes and grow stronger through the process of re-grouping and making a coordinated “comeback”?  Are these two outcomes mutually exclusive, or can both be achieved simultaneously?

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