Sunday, March 11, 2012

Effective Youth Leadership

Eighth in a series of ward trainings.

Presidents Preside; Advisers Advise.

In very general terms, the objective of the Aaronic Priesthood is to produce worthy Melchizedek Priesthood bearers who are able and willing to care for themselves and others; the objective of Scouting is to produce good citizens who are able and willing to care for themselves and others. Right arm, meet left arm.

One of the distinguishing aspects of the Scouting program is that of youth leadership - the youth are in charge of their program, and the adults facilitate their decisions. How do we teach leadership to kids who are used to adults always running the show?

Elder N. Eldon Tanner
An Apostle once wrote: "A leader should never try to do the work of one to whom he has made an assignment. As President Harold B. Lee said, 'Let them do everything within their power, and you stand in the background and teach them how to do it. I think therein is the secret of growth, to fix responsibility and then teach our people how to carry [out] that responsibility.'"1

This concept is also known as Shadow Leadership. In Trails to Testimony, shadow leadership is described as opposed to puppet leadership, where the adults are always pulling the strings.2 Think of it like teaching someone to drive. You demonstrate proper procedures and good techniques, and discuss applicable rules and consequences, but at some point, you have to give the kid the keys, however reluctantly, and let him drive. (Here's a great video about teaching youngsters to live in the real world.)

Here’s what the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Presiding Bishopric say about the youth leading themselves:
Let them do it.3,4

Presiding Bishop H. David Burton:
"The adviser needs to develop the ability to be the 'shadow leader' and somehow prompt the young men to perform their duties without the adviser becoming the effectual president of the quorum. Too often the quorum is a direct reflection of the current adviser."3
Elder M. Russel Ballard said,
"As youth grow and mature through their teenage years and move toward adulthood, the Church picks up an important role in this process of giving youth an opportunity to lead…"4
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder Ballard offer ten points for teaching youth how to lead, in Tending the Flock: Teaching Leadership Skills to Youth (Ensign, June 2008):4
  1. Start at Home 
  2. Teach in a Council Setting 
  3. Provide Teaching Opportunities at Home and at Church 
  4. Help them Overcome Fear 
  5. Let them Learn their Duty 
  6. Give them the Big Picture 
  7. Establish Accountability 
  8. Know that You’re Entitled to Inspiration 
  9. Take it Back to the Home 
  10. Realize the Eternal Potential of the Youth 
They teach us to use the tools we’ve been given (this requires knowing how those tools work). Use the council model, both in priesthood and in Scouting.* (In fact, Troop leadership mirrors Ward leadership and councils.)

President Uchtdorf states that adult leaders “should be ‘shadow leaders,’ overseeing the youth...
"This can be a challenge for parents and leaders because they know that they can probably do it faster or better. It takes patience to let the youth do it. Sometimes that involves letting them stumble. The scripture says, ‘That my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands’ (D&C 105:10; emphasis added).’”
Elder Ballard concludes by saying that "we have raised the bar," and that includes raising it for youth, parents, leaders and teachers.  "We've all got to take a step up in a world that is unravelling as fast as this one is."4

The real challenge is to prepare and guide young men (and women!) to live in the real world that we already inhabit.  Scouting plays a significant role in this for LDS young men*.  It is not just leadership training, it's a service organization, a brotherhood, and an educational program. It's a holistic, ten-year youth development model. In those terms, it sounds remarkably like an Aaronic Priesthood quorum, and in fact, it perfectly dovetails with the development of primary- and Aaronic Priesthood-aged boys as we assist in helping them realize their potential.

Sources and further reading:

1) N. Eldon Tanner, Leading as the Savior Led, The New Era, June 1977 (see the seven principles of delegating authority)
2) Trails to Testimony, Brad Harris, Chapters 4/5
3) Presiding Bishopric, The Deacons Quorum, Ensign/Liahona, January 2005
4) President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder M. Russell Ballard, Tending the Flock: Teaching Leadership Skills to Youth, Ensign/Liahona, June 2008 pp16-21 (pdf of same)
Youth Leadership Handout
Shadow Leadership, Brenda Emmet
A mission president defers to a panicked missionary
Youth leadership, and other resources in LDS Scouting
Scoutmaster CG podcast #107 on youth leadership and the role of parents in Scouting

*That Scouting is not mentioned in this Ensign/Liahona article is not an indication that our work with Scouting shouldn’t follow these same guidelines, but rather an acknowledgement that the Ensign/Liahona is a worldwide publication, while LDS involvement with the Scouting movement is not universal.

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