Solving the Puzzle of Youth Leadership


My toddler grandson loves working puzzles–not 500-piece jigsaw puzzles, of course, but the kind that have six or eight pieces that fit neatly into recesses in a wooden board. Many of these puzzles have an animal theme, but his favorite (shown here) features six colored shapes and three more complex pieces that together make of pictures of a couple of frogs with paintbrushes. (Because why not!)

If you study the picture closely, you’ll see that the colored shapes are same colors as the recesses they fit into, while the recesses the other pieces fit into show the exact same pictures as the pieces themselves. Simple, huh? Not really, if you’re a toddler, because a toddler doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination, analytical ability, or puzzle-solving experience of an adult. And so it takes a lot of trial and error and gentle guidance to get the puzzle completed.

It’s much the same with your youth leaders. Tasks that seem simple to you–planning a troop meeting, for example–are as difficult for them as that puzzle is for my grandson. It’s only when you can see the problem through their eyes that you can help them be successful.

Here are four tips that can help you help your youth leaders be successful:

  • Be patient. A good rule of thumb is to silently sing “Happy BIrthday to You” before you step into any non-emergency situation.
  • Ask questions that will help them find the answer. I like to say that the true mark of a great leader is a question mark.
  • Know when to offer help. Don’t let a youth leader cross the border from frustration and dysfunction. Instead, provide the guidance he or she needs to be successful.
  • Be okay with imperfection. Your youth leaders may never do a job as well as you would, but if they’ve learned something from the process and are ready to take on the next task, then they–and you–have been successful.

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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