The Indispensable Scouter


Here in Louisville this week, news outlets have been full of stories about John Schnatter, founder and namesake of Papa John’s Pizza. The impetus was a Forbes magazine story (which Schantter has since corroborated) that the pizza magnate used racially charged language on a conference call this spring. In the wake of that revelation, Schnatter resigned from the University of Louisville’s board and stepped down as chairman of the company he founded. At the same time all sorts of organizations that have received charitable donations from him are reassessing their relationship with him. Ditto for organizations that have marketing arrangements with Papa John’s Pizza. (Such are the pitfalls of naming a company after a living person; far better, perhaps, to use Washington or Lincoln!)

So what’s the Scouting connection? As far as I know, Schnatter doesn’t have a connection with Scouting, although his company has been very supportive of our local council over the years.

But I think there is a connection. When any organization is tied too closely to a single individual, the organization will suffer if that individual royally screws up. And moral failings aren’t the only risk. What happens, for example, when a business owner dies without having a succession plan in place? Or what happens to a Scout troop when its Scoutmaster, the linchpin of the whole organization, is suddenly transferred to the other end of the country?

These days, troops around the country are celebrating their 50th, 75th, and even 100th anniversaries. While I don’t know their individual stories, I’m sure one thing unites them: None of them has had an “indispensable” man or woman as Scoutmaster. Instead, they’ve been led by Scoutmasters who now how important it is to build a strong leadership team that can survive the loss of any one person.

If your troop has an “indispensable” person as Scoutmaster (or really in any position), now’s the time to start making plans for his or her eventual departure. Volume 2 of the Troop Leader Guidebook will help you get started. And if you are your troop’s “indispensable” leader, I encourage you to read and reflect on the old poem “Indispensable Man.” You may discover that you aren’t that “indispensable” after all.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at


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