What Can Corporations Learn About Leadership Development from the Boy Scouts?

I am proud to say that my son recently achieved the rank of Eagle in the Boy Scouts. Referred to in an August Wall Street Journal article as the “Ph.D. of boyhood”, only about 4% of all scouts attain this rank Those who do are rightly recognized for their accomplishment and take away life-long leadership lessons. The process of achieving the Eagle rank encompasses a number of key elements of effective developmental learning design. Three are noted below. How well does your organization incorporate these characteristics in your talent development experience?

Project Focus

In pursuing the rank of Eagle, the scout must hold one or more leadership roles within his troop and identify, propose, design, develop and execute an approved service project. While troop leadership roles offer sound developmental opportunities, the Eagle Scout project typically creates scope and scale challenges to stretch the scout’s leadership skills to new levels. With an interest in architecture and engineering, my son proposed building a flagstone patio at a local nature/history preserve. With no prior experience in a design and build project, the experience afforded him a unique developmental experience beyond the troop leadership positions he held. How does your organization use projects to develop talent in ways which line or staff roles often do not?

Individual Is in Position to Make a Difference/Outcome at Risk

The outcome of the Eagle project is fully dependent on the scout’s continuing work and commitment to successfully complete the project. While the scout is supported by an adult project coach, it is the scout who must drive the process. Even with a well-designed project and detailed plan on paper, the scout will encounter a number of challenges along the way, any one of which could derail its successful completion. My son experienced unexpected delays in the project concept approval process due to extended travel by the coordinator of the project-sponsoring organization as well as some unexpected conditions at the site which were not apparent until the work began. These situations required persistence in follow-up and on-the-worksite problem-solving. There was no doubt throughout the process that it was up to him to address the challenges and push through to completion. How does your organization develop talent by placing individuals in a position to make a clear difference in the outcome of an assignment?

After Action Review

Following completion of the Eagle project, the scout must finalize his project write-up, noting and explaining any changes made to the plan during its implementation. The scout must also participate in a Scoutmaster Conference and an Eagle Board of Review. The Eagle Board, composed of several adult scout leaders from several different troops, discusses the project with the scout, querying him on the challenges he encountered, plan adjustments and lessons learned. For my son, a key learning involved managing volunteers at the worksite- as many 25 scouts and 10 adults at one time-setting up smaller work teams and scheduling several teams for work breaks at the same time so as not to overwhelm the build site. The post project write-up and Eagle Board discussion drive home the importance of lessons learned. How does your organization conduct after- action reviews with leaders and high potential talent to reinforce learning and development?