"Giving responsibility is the key to success with boys, especially with the rowdiest and most difficult boys"

-Robert Baden-Powell

Scout Led

Every Troop says their Scout or Boy Led.... What does that really mean?

One of the major differences between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts is the very important method, leadership development. In order to teach leadership, you have to let the boys lead. In fact, one of the more vigorous debates you can have in Scouting is over the feasibility of a scout-led troop. Some adult leaders will argue that while a scout-led troop is the BSA ideal, itʼs not possible in their particular troop for any or all of the following reasons:

            • the boys are too young,
            • too lazy,
            • too irresponsible,
            • or just not interested.

A scout-led troop is more work for the adult leadership, and therein is the problem, and our need for your cooperation and help. It is so much easier for the adults to just take charge themselves than to teach the necessary leadership skills to the boys.

All Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters are taught the basics of a scout-led troop and patrol in Scoutmaster Specifics. However putting that training into practice is often difficult without a mentor in the troop. The importance of a scout-led troop and patrol is emphasized in two chapters of the Scoutmasterʼs Handbook; chapter 3 “The Boy-Led Troop” starts with this strong statement:

“Empowering boys to be leaders is the core of Scouting. Scouts learn by doing, and what they do is lead their patrols and their troop. The boys themselves develop a troop program, then take responsibility for figuring out how they will achieve the goals. One of our most important challenges is to train youth leaders to run the troop by providing direction, coaching and support. The boys will make mistakes now and then and will rely upon the adult leaders to guide them. But only through real hands-on experience as leaders can boys learn to lead.”

As mentioned before, perhaps the most common reason for the existence of adult-led troops is that it is easier for the experienced adult leaders to run things; teaching leadership to scouts is not easy. A second common reason is that the adult leaders may be afraid of failure; they want a smooth running troop. A scout-led project will occasionally falter, and adults may feel it necessary to take over to ensure success. A third is that the troop may have adult leaders that do not delegate well, and do not wish to give up control. In fact, many consider that the main barriers to a scout-led troop come from the attitudes within the adult leadership.

What is Scout led not?

  • It's not an abdication of adult supervision
  • It's not allowing youth to self govern without coordination
  • it's not making scouting a social organization or teen "hang out"

A Scout led unit has a structure & a process

  • Each position has a responsibility and authority
    • Senior Patrol Leader is in charge.
  • Each youth position has an Adult corollary/mentor
    • Not always a good idea for it to be the scout’s parent (my opinion is that it is a bad idea to have the mentor be the scout’s parent)
    • Adult Roles and positions are there for safety and to mentor the youth. Not to do it all for them.
  • The Patrol Leader Council (PLC), Patrol Meetings, etc. are the process to which Scouting happens.

Signs of a Scout Led Troop

  • Mistakes happen (that mean’s learning is occurring)
  • Sometimes there is controlled chaos (controlled being the key word – scout-led is not an abdication of adult leadership, but it is supporting the youth leaders and helping them work things out)
  • Uniforms are not pristine
  • Mistakes happen (yes, I repeated that on purpose)
  • There will be some unhappy adults (every troop has “control freaks” who want to jump in and solve problems. It is the job of the SM and Committee Chair to make them stand back and let learning occur.)

What are the results?

  • Scouts learn critical planning skills
  • Scouts learn to lead in a safe environment.
  • Scouts learn from mistakes
  • Scouts learn to lead others and work in teams.
  • Scouts learn respect when treated with respect

Warning signs adults are taking over

Signs of an adult-led troop

  • Adults loudly asserting authority during meetings and outings
  • Adults set or announce times for wake up or lights out, or when the outing will begin or end
  • Adults control the troop trailer. This includes inventory in addition to items for a specific outing
  • Adults decide program activities
  • Adults do the final head count on outings, Adults should only observe.
  • Adults decide on tenting and eating locations on outings
  • Many scouts have leadership positions, but only the SPL and ASPLs do anything at meetings and outings
  • Adults are leading the instructing of boys below First Class
  • The scoutmaster chooses the scout leadership positions (except for boy Instructor and Troop Guide which are reasonably chosen by the SM)
  • Scoutmaster uses the Scoutmaster Conference to test the scout on their training

If you see these signs at your troop, ask yourself why the adult, and not the scout leaders are doing these things. If you are a scoutmaster, consult with your SPL outside of the meeting/outing times about how things can change to make it scout-led. And when the meetings and outings occur, except for Safety Monitoring and Discipline beyond that the SPL can handle, just watch, listen, and use that for feedback for the SPL after the event ends.


"The more responsibility the Scoutmaster gives his patrol leaders, the more they will respond."

-Robert Baden-Powell