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Boy Scout Troop 485 Jax, FL -
"Delivering the Promise"

Follow the Leader
Tom Gray, 1st Thorsby Troop, Alta.
The Leader, May 1991

As I strolled past a city intersection, I stopped to watch five men. One was looking at a blueprint, three were leaning on shovels, and one was down in a hole digging. It turned out that the man with the blueprint was a district supervisor. Leaning on the shovels were an area supervisor, a site supervisor, and a job foreman. And the man in the hole? He was "just a laborer".

A school registration form asked the question: "Is your child a leader or a follower?" A few days after filling out the form, one mother received this note from the teacher:   

"Dear Mrs. Smith;

Congratulations on having the only follower in a class of 28 leaders!" These anecdotes reflect our bureaucratic society, where we have "too many chiefs and not enough Indians". We all know and understand sayings like this. A bureaucracy is top heavy; it has too many "leaders" and too few workers. Which way does Scouting run? Well, just look at our program objectives. Scouts "practice leadership skills". Cubs are to "experience being a leader". Venturers will "give leadership". We have a Scout badge-the Arrowhead-- for three levels of leadership.

But what is the point of a movement full of leaders? Very few people are by temperament, training, or inclination suited to be effective leaders. We should be training young people to be good followers.

First, we have to get used to the idea that being a follower can be good. Too often, we think of a follower as a zombie with no will of his own; a copycat who lacks originality; a sheep easily duped or led astray. We may recall the Jonestown massacre where people blindly followed fanatical beliefs. We may think of Dachau and Treblinka and men who were "just following orders". But, just as there may be "bad" leaders, there may also be "bad" followers. Automatism or blind submission is not what I have in mind.

Qualities of Followship

What are the qualities of a good follower? Think of the people in your unit who get the job done. You'll likely find they have some characteristics in common.

The list below is far from complete, but it provides something to think about.

Accepts direction and instruction: Good followers can handle training, directions, and criticism. They are open to new ideas and suggestions and do not become defensive. They are flexible. A new policy from regional office, for example, requires Scouters to adapt their program or procedures.
Is active rather than passive: Followers need the ability to acquire, evaluate, and integrate information necessary to complete an assignment. They will ask questions to clarify goals or values. They contribute to discussions and participate in decision making. A Scouter takes this role as a member of a group committee; a youth member takes it as a member of his six, patrol, or company.

Is responsible: Good followers accept responsibility for their own actions and for the decisions of the group. This may require questioning or even opposing leadership that is against the good of the group or against greater values. A young person who tries to talk his friends out of an act of vandalism is one example. Another is the Scouter who points out possible negative consequences of a program activity.

Is creative and resourceful: Good followers do not need to be told everything. (Given a task, they will find ways and means to accomplish it without further direction. "Orion Patrol, you're on fire - detail!" should set off a process of selecting and clearing a site, getting wood and maintaining the fire.

Is loyal and dependable: Good followers accept being a part of a whole and recognize that they cannot always have their own way. They feel good about themselves by contributing to the group and its goals and helping achieve those goals. Once a patrol has decided Bill will arrange transport to the lake, for instance, they must be confident that Bill will arrange that transport, even though he wanted to camp somewhere else.

Coming Full Circle

I expect you've noticed it already. It is no coincidence that the qualities of a good follower overlap those of a good leader. From the description, it becomes clear that a good follower is able to assume leadership when necessary.

Followship, like leadership, is a role each of us must assume from time to time. There is an ebb and flow. We ale sometimes section or group leaders, but we must still follow the bylaw, policies and procedures of Scouts Canada and the limits set by our conscience or religious beliefs.

By training young people to be effective followers, we are training them to be effective leaders. By training them to accept God's love, to be self-reliant, to cooperate and trust, to care for themselves, each other, and their world, we are training them to be good followers.

In the final analysis, the only person one can truly lead is oneself. Let us train our young people to follow well.