To begin with, thank you for taking on the important role of Group Scout Leader.
There are over 8,000 scout groups across the UK and while no two groups are the same, they are an essential part of the Association's administrative and managerial structure. Scout groups are the first line of support to the beaver, cub and scout section.
Scouting is most effectively delivered through scout groups and every week more than 30,000 section meetings take place, involving more than half a million people. Scouting is one of the great 'brands' of our age - familiar and trusted in households throughout the country.
This is an incredible achievement for an organisation run by volunteers in their spare time. Scouting has been able to adapt and change throughout its history so that it retains a relevance to the needs and aspirations of young people. It does this without losing sight of its core values, enshrined in the Scout Law and Scout Promise. Scouting's appeal also has a very real resonance with more than 100,000 adults who actively support us on a regular basis. The new role you have taken on in your Scout Group is essential to Scouting's continued success.
While you may not work directly with young people, you will be in a position to ensure that those that do have the training and support they need to enjoy their role and achieve in it.
Leading the group
Your role as Group Scout Leader (known as GSL), can be especially rewarding. It is great fun and carries with it considerable influence and responsibility. For example, it falls to you to ensure that the policy, organisation and rules of the Association are reflected and implemented within the Scout Group. You are also responsible for ensuring that the aims and methods of the Association are observed in your Scout Group and that the balanced youth programme is delivered appropriately and safely your members.
You will have the opportunity to create the atmosphere that you want within the group. How you act and respond to situations will have an impact on the group and district. It may well affect who decides to move on and who wants to become more involved. You must recognise that if your style is different from your predecessor, it will take people time to adapt and change. If you are enthusiastic about scouting and are seen to want to get things done, people will respond positively.
Creating the right atmosphere
Your influence can have an important impact on the atmosphere within the group. Is your group very ordered with things running in a disciplined fashion or is it more informal? Do you delegate duties appropriately, or take everything on yourself?
Managing the group
How will you manage the group and its leaders? Remember that your support can be crucial, but delivered in a variety of ways. For example, will you have monthly meetings around a table or discuss things informally with leaders after section meetings? Whatever you decide needs to be the best approach for you and your team.
Where do you want it to go?
As GSL you need to have a plan for the future of the group. Your vision may be very simple. Offering all young people the chance to camp every year or aiming to recruit suitable adults for all your vacancies within six months are both positive and achievable objectives.
What do you want your group to look like in three years’ time? Will you need to create new sections and appoint new leaders? What about your meeting place? Will it need to be rebuilt? Talk to your leaders and find out what they want. Consider the district too. What are the plans in the wider area and how will you put them into action?
Also look at what’s happening in the local area. Could something impact on scouting that will require your group to respond? For example, are new houses being built close to your meeting place, creating a need for another section?
Further information on group development can be found later in this toolkit and our County Development Service can also help you with running a development planning evening.
As GSL you can support your leaders by anticipating upcoming events. Plan your time accordingly by looking at the group and district calendars. Check that plans for camp and other events are underway in good time and link with local events and other scouting activities where possible. Inform parents of your plans through regular communication (e.g. a monthly group newsletter or a group website).
Look for the quick wins
Although planning a long-term vision is Important, you should also identify the ‘quick wins’ – the things you can do quickly (and easily), to benefit the group. For example, rebuilding the meeting place might be your long term vision, but a quick win could be tidying the existing building and brightening it up with a bit of redecoration or even just with some new posters. Small things can boost everyone’s spirits and make them feel part of something exciting and fresh.
Getting the balance right
The role of GSL is one that will make demands on your time and so with this in mind it is very important to remember to have a normal life as well.
We have all seen adults whose lives have been taken over by scouting, but remember that your family and your work should come first. Decide on some strategies that will allow you to balance your time. For example, you could put blue sticky dots in your diary for evenings and weekends for your family. Do this at the start of the year and stick to it – you will be the better for it.
Support for you
The role of the GSL is one that involves providing leadership to your scout group. However, you don’t need to do this alone. There are many sources of support for the Group Scout Leader. Your District Commissioner, other GSLs within your district and the county and the County Development Service can all provide you with much-needed support and advice.
No one expects you to be an expert straight away and you should receive a proper induction and lots of support to help you learn whilst in the role. You will also receive lots of opportunities to attend training on a range of subjects to help you in your role.
Assistant Group Scout Leader (AGSL)
You may have an Assistant Group Scout Leader who assists you in carrying out your role and may well be a suitable future Group Scout Leader. You could delegate some of your volunteer management responsibility to your Assistant; for example your AGSL could manage the leaders within the scout section while you look after the beaver and cub sections.
The Scout District
In the same way that you lead your Scout Group, the District Commissioner leads the Scout District. They, and the members of the District Team (of which you are a part), are a useful source of help for event planning and other organisational activities, but also as advice and guidance for updates, training, appointments and recruitment. If every things go wrong you will also need the support of your District and particularly your District Commissioner.
Do the right things first
As GSL it is likely there will be more things to do than can practically be done. It is therefore necessary to prioritise your ‘to do’ list. For example, your list might include ‘opening up the meeting place every Thursday night for Scouts’. However, getting keys cut for the new Scout Leader on Saturday should be the priority for you as it will save a lot of time in the long run (and make it a lot easier for the Scout Leader).
That is a simple and obvious example and things are often not that straightforward.
Use other people
As a GSL, there are some parts of your role that can be delegated. All leaders will have tasks they can delegate and one way of involving people in your group is asking them to do something. Try listing all the tasks that need to be done and approach people (especially parents), in an informal way to sign up for a task. These days, people spend more time working than ever before and it is important that they do not take on too much.
Tips for success
As GSL it is important to be realistic about what you set out to achieve. By setting yourself smaller and more focussed objectives, you increase the chances of achieving them and maintaining motivation.
Remember that it is not realistic for you to do everything on your own. You have a team to support you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate, where possible.
Keep the ball rolling
A key aspect of the role of GSL is taking responsibility for your projects. Once you have decided what you are going to do, make sure you follow your plans through to completion. While it is perfectly acceptable to delegate tasks, it is your responsibility to pick the right people to delegate to.
Encourage those you choose to actively take part in the project – there is no point in delegating responsibilities and then keeping tight control over what everyone is doing.
Remember to thank people for what they have done for the group. It is important to remember that all contributions are valuable and should be recognised. A person may volunteer to do something for the group once a year, which is an important contribution that should be welcomed.
Saying ‘thank you’ sounds a simple action but it means a lot when people have their efforts recognised.
Should things go wrong
Accept that sometimes things will not go as planned. In scouting, as in life, things do go wrong. Be prepared to rethink your objectives or re-plan your milestones to accommodate any mishaps. Remember to let your team know of any problems and changes to your plan.
Listen and be receptive
Part of being an effective leader is listening to those around you. It is important to remember that you are not simply there to instruct and delegate, but to allow people to talk freely and openly about any issues (good or bad) that they might have. By listening carefully and not immediately telling them what to do, you will make them feel valued and supported.
Remember that the people in your Group will have lots of useful knowledge and experience that you, as Group Scout Leader, might not. By listening to your section leaders you may discover new information that could help you to be more effective in your role.
Try to understand that everyone is different – some people will talk openly in meetings while others prefer an informal chat on a one-to-one basis.
You should create opportunities for people to talk to you in their preferred way (by arriving early for meetings for example). Remember to let people know you are doing this though – if no one knows, no-one will turn up.
Finally, try not to avoid talking to people because you think they might bear bad news. As Group Scout Leader you should encourage people to raise issues and concerns. Often, the sooner problems are out in the open, the easier they are solved. If ignored, however, they tend to grow and become more serious.
Take the time to regularly review how things are going with each adult. It’s an opportunity to take stock of the situation, address concerns and to help plan the adult’s personal development.
There is no standard correct way to carry out the role of Group Scout Leader. Everyone is different and different methods will work for different people. If you use this handbook as a guide, however, and pick out the bits that work for you, we hope that you will be equipped with some advice to help you be effective and successful in the Role.