The Scout-Led Troop #2: Train ‘em, Trust ‘em, and Let ‘em Lead

by | Nov 21, 2016

Bill Chapman

Bill Chapman

Due to bad traffic and bad weather on the way up the mountain, we arrived at our campsite of about 7,000 feet elevation at around 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night. There were patches of snow on the ground and it was probably about 30° F. Shortly after arriving, I watched one of our Scouts tinkering with a Coleman stove. I was impressed to see the tenacity of this young Scout sticking to his task. Finally, he got the stove lit and cooked a few hamburgers, much to the delight of his hungry patrol members.

It is not always done this way. I have seen adults crowd in on a Scout who was trying to cook hash browns or eggs and tell him, “Let me show you how to do it,” then take over the job. A love of cooking in the outdoors seems to be in the DNA of many adult males and some of us fear that a 12- or 13-year-old Scout will certainly ruin a good meal. When this happens, it is a real temptation to jump in and take over the job under the guise of “teaching” the Scout “how to do it.” What is wrong with this approach?

First, Scouts camp and cook as patrols and adults are not a part of any patrol; therefore, adults should not be cooking and eating with Scouts. Adults should be watching from a safe distance. Furthermore, cooking skills are a requirement for each of the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, not to mention the Eagle-required Cooking merit badge. What a wonderful opportunity for a more experienced Scout to refine and hone his skills and to teach a younger Scout. Every time an adult teaches a skill that a Scout could teach, the adult is robbing the Scout of an opportunity to maximize his growth and development.

To understand this better, let’s review what a “patrol” is. “Each troop is made up of one or more patrols: groups of about eight Scouts who camp together, cook together, play together, and learn together. In patrols, Scouts learn citizenship and practice leadership at the most basic level, and strong patrols are essential building blocks of strong troops” (Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 1, 11). Sometimes, in LDS troops, a troop is so small that it really only consists of one patrol. That is fine, as long as we maintain the integrity of the patrol system.

Circumventing the patrol structure is one of the ways to make the patrol method fail (Troop Leader Guidebook, Volume 2, 48). Are we circumventing the patrol structure by taking over responsibilities that belong to our Scouts? If “ease and efficiency” in accomplishing the task was our highest goal, we would have an adult do every task. If building character is our primary objective, having the Scouts take on and learn new responsibilities is a better way.

“Does it take more time for four patrols to cook breakfast than for a couple of adults to do it? Yes. Is it hard for a patrol of three Scouts to handle a complex menu? Of course. But remember that ease and efficiency are not among the aims of Scouting.” Guidebook, Volume 2, page 48. Baden Powell turned an old adage on its head when he advised Scoutmasters, “‘When you want a thing done, don’t do it yourself’ is the right motto” (Aids to Scoutmastership, 49).

William “Green Bar Bill” Harcourt was a pioneer in teaching the patrol method in the Boy Scouts of America. Green Bar Bill drove home his message with the simple mandate:  “Train ‘em, Trust ‘em, and Let ‘em Lead.” This is a principle that is easy to espouse but hard to implement. If we are honest with ourselves, we have probably each crossed this line and done more for our Scouts than we should have. We do this with very good intentions but without having the bigger picture in mind.

Green Bar Bill was not unfamiliar with objections that we may have uttered or heard others utter. He wrote:

“At this point—if not before—some Scoutmaster will step forward and say, ‘That is all right, all you have been saying about the patrol method. But I have tried it in my troop, and it just doesn’t work!’ And he goes on, ‘Take last week, for instance. We had our program all outlined, but the boys fell down on it. The patrol leaders had forgotten to prepare their Scouts, equipment was missing, and our game leader didn’t show up. I simply had to take over the meeting myself in order to keep it from being a general mix-up!’”

“Which altogether proves nothing against the patrol method, but on the contrary that the Scoutmaster wasn’t using it. He proved it by making the mistake of taking over the meeting. And for two reasons: In the first place, the boy leaders will expect him to do the same thing next time they fail, and failure under those circumstances will mean nothing to them, will teach them nothing. And secondly, the Scoutmaster by his action showed all the members of the troop that he had no faith in the leaders they had chosen, breaking down completely the respect for them.”

“The failure was the Scoutmaster’s, not the boys’, nor the patrol method’s. He had failed to apply to himself the’test of the easy chair,’ and had not remembered the simple formula for success in using his patrol leaders: ‘Train ’em, trust ’em, and let ’em lead!’” (William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt Handbook for Scoutmasters, , 1936, 223.)

As can be seen from the example above, applying this principle takes discipline. It takes trust and confidence in young men or boys we may not yet trust. Maybe we need to plead to the Lord to help us develop trust. Interestingly, being “trustworthy” is the first point in the Scout Law. If we want them to become trustworthy, we must learn to trust them.

The phrase “Train ’em, trust ’em, and let ’em lead!” should not sound unfamiliar to LDS Scouters. In the priesthood session of the 183rd Annual General Conference, Elder Tad R. Callister taught that while he was a mission president he observed “a dramatic increase in the spirituality and leadership skills of young men during their mission years.” He identified the keys to this dramatic growth in such a short period of time as: “(1) we trust these young men as never before, (2) we have high but loving expectations of them, and (3) we train and retrain them so they can fulfill those expectations with excellence.”

Elder Callister continued by asking why we couldn’t apply these same principles to a deacons quorum president. He went on to tell us how we as adult advisers can help:  “We can raise the bar and vision for these young men, and they will respond. You leaders lift these deacons quorum presidents best when you let them lead out and you step back from the spotlight” (emphasis added). Can we see that Elder Callister and Green Bar Bill are teaching essentially the same principle? If this principle will accelerate the spiritual growth of a deacons quorum president, can the same principle be applied to our Scouts?

In my own experience, I was amazed that when we started letting the Scouts run their own troop, they were very capable of doing so. Watching them take on real responsibility and rising to the occasion made my calling a joy. There were definitely disappointments and failures but watching young men govern themselves in a way I never thought possible was a delight. I will be sharing more of my stories in future blog posts. But for now, I would like to hear from each of you.

What experiences have you had in your efforts to apply this principle in your troop? We have certainly all had our failures and successes. Please feel free to share your struggles and successes in the comments section below. As we candidly share our challenges and triumphs, we will accelerate the growth in spirituality and leadership skills of the young men throughout the Church.


-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, and loves to surf, trail run, backpack, camp, do anything in the outdoors, and watch young men achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood through the Scouting program. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.