Top 12 (Plus 1) Leadership Skills I Learned from Boy Scouts

Robert Fulgrum reminded us that “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” when he published his book of the same name. We’re told that if we:

  1. Share Everything
  2. Play Fair
  3. Don’t Hit People…

…along with 13 more basic principles we will surely have a successful life. Well, he didn’t exactly say that, but certainly he asserts our lives would be more peaceful and our society less caustic.

For me, all I needed to know about leadership I learned when I was eleven, and joined The Boy Scouts of America and learned the 12 words of the Scout Law. For a moment, these single word truths were simply something to memorize. But I also recall reading about their importance in my Scout Handbook, and taking them quite seriously. After all, the bigger kids that were running the show – the Patrol Leaders and Jr. Assistant Scout Masters – seemed to take this stuff seriously. And I wanted to be like them. Here’s what I memorized then, and started to internalize:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Plus, the Scout’s motto: Be prepared.

Is anything missing from this list? Maybe. “Humility” is the word and key trait for Level 5 Leadership as defined by Jim Collin’s Good to Great research. But I think that’s embedded in the essence of several of the above. As an executive, and now a business co-owner – especially one who’s worked to help employers and clients to define the critical values they ascribe to – I see the Scout Law list as a brilliant formula for personal and professional success.

Trustworthy & Loyal – Being worthy of trust means I need to demonstrate integrity in all I do. Doing what I say I’ll do, delivering on commitments, so people can trust me going forward. Then there’s loyalty, the flip side of trust. Am I true to my company? To my wife and family? To the causes that I’m called to serve? Real loyalty also contributes to trust which can show up in effective teamwork and realizing team goals.

Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Cheerful – Who doesn’t want to be around people who are considerate and willing to help? In our firm, we screen for CMO consultants who truly want to help others. They want to help their clients’ grow and win, and they want to help other CMOs in our Tribe to succeed. They are people who other people want to be around: respectful, kind and cheerful listeners who don’t think too much of themselves.

Obedient, Brave & Clean – These three might seem a little strange as leadership principles, but with a second look we see they reflect both respect and discipline. At any station in life, isn’t obedience a necessary trait? Even as the CEO of a business, don’t I need to be obedient to my Board of Directors? Or to the laws my company works within? At the same time, I need to have the courage to tackle the toughest challenges, taking appropriate risks. My personal hygiene, dress and perhaps even my language also reflect a disciplined and prepared mind and body that’s ready to lead boldly.

Thrifty & Reverent – Being conservative with funds, seeking the best returns on investments, and avoiding lavishness are common CEO traits in the mid-sized companies our firms work with. (As executive marketing consultants, one of our fractional CMOs’ key roles is helping budgets go father in driving company growth.) Clearly, a CEO wants to model thoughtful spending that yields returns and expects everyone in the company to follow. But where does reverence fit in? Being reverent means leaders are going to acknowledge – with the way they live their lives – that there is a larger purpose to their company, their products and services. Whether this is an active consciousness of God Almighty, or simply recognizing a connectedness of all things, the leader who submits to a greater power is the one who will lead with humility and freedom.

Plus One: Be Prepared – The Boy Scout Motto is simple and powerful. When I was a young executive at IBM, I remember hearing our CEO Lou Gerstner say, “We’re going to plan for success, but prepare for failure.” Yep. That’s it. Build the plans to implement your vision for growth. Use every means and resource available to achieve your goals. Be thoughtful in your strategy, and tenacious in your tactical execution. But, be prepared if things don’t go as planned. In Scouting, this meant also anticipating setbacks along the way. Carrying a snakebite kit. Keeping your knife sharp. Packing emergency staples. Aren’t there parallels in business?

So, will striving to internalize and exhibit all of these traits really build our leadership potential? If our teams trust us, see that we’re loyal to them, take the effort to help them be successful, are genuinely friendly, courteous and kind, are respectful, disciplined, taking care of company resources, and don’t personally think we have all the answers? Will they be inclined to follow? I believe so. But this is a journey. And I don’t think what I learned in kindergarten was enough, or even the beginning of leadership. That was simply learning how to get along. For me, leadership training started at 11 (yes, I eventually earned my Eagle) and I’m still working on it.