Training Patrol Leaders




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The following discussion of Training Patrol Leaders is from the first BSA Scout Master's Handbook.  At that in the BSA, Patrol Leaders functioned as the "Scout Master's" teaching assistants, and did not run the Troop as in Baden-Powell's Patrol System.  For a discussion of the BSA's "Eight Methods" of the time, see The Six Principles of Boy Work.

For a better discussion of training Patrol Leaders, see Green Bar Patrol.

The Problem of Securing Good Patrol Leaders

The problem of securing and developing competent patrol leaders is the most difficult, yet the most vital one to which a Scout Master can direct his attention. Furthermore it is peculiarly his problem,— his, because he must discover for himself the controlling motives that actuate his boys, especially the leaders; his, because he of all others must correct damaging influences, divert misapplied energy and develop leadership; his, because the community, expecting much, though helping little, looks to him as the intimate adviser, sponsor and guide. The popular reception accorded the entire Movement shows the strength of the public belief that by means of it, boys', interests are wholesomely directed into channels of true leadership,— such leadership as can be relied upon for honest, unselfish service.

The Scout Master, however, is left to find in the program of the Scout Movement, his opportunity for supplying through play what the boys and the public will generally most value as a means of developing this quality. By the effect of his work just here, the Scout Master's rating is settled. Just here, the permanency of his influence is determined. Success in meeting this problem requires, besides capacity and genuineness in his own make-up, a clear understanding of his task and the ability to deal with. it. That his chief aim is to develop character and personality, every-one knows. To further this purpose, he must foster resourcefulness, unselfishness, initiative, acceptance of responsibility and the like. But practically, how ,is this to be done ? What are to be the steps of procedure? Unfortunately no prescribed methods are to be had; for no set rules can be found to apply to any one individual boy, or any number of boys of his group. To discover a means all his own is the Scout Master's peculiar and engaging undertaking.

The Approach to the Problem

As offering a possible, general starting-point, the instructions given in the Organization Bulletin are useful. There one is told to select six boys (from a group of twenty-four that have been brought together at the first meeting) as leaders and assistants, and with them form a special Patrol. "Begin at once to train these boys in the Tenderfoot requirements; when they have passed the examinations call your first regular meeting for organization. Your twenty-four boys may be formed into three patrols of eight boys each, with a trained Patrol Leader and an Assistant Patrol Leader in charge of each. The fact that these leaders have a knowledge of Scouting and have passed the Tenderfoot requirements will give them prestige among the other boys. Give your leaders real responsibility. Let them feel that their special task is to teach, influence and lead the boys of their Patrol and that unless they do it no one else will."

"In grouping boys in patrols it is advisable to form patrols of boys as near the same age as possible, taking into consideration the natural instincts of the boys and their desire for association with one another. This is often a more important factor than age."

"While the patrol leaders are preparing the boys in their patrols for the Tenderfoot degree, continue your instructions of the Leaders and Assistants in the Second Class requirements, so that they will be able as Second Class Scouts to instruct the boys in their patrols. In like manner have them qualify as First Class Scouts."

Selection of a Patrol Leader

Assuming that a patrol consisting of eight prospective Scouts has been brought together and the preliminary steps of organization taken, that is, that they have been instructed in the activities and duties incumbent upon Scouts and grouped according to their ages, instincts, interests, etc., we find the Scout Master confronted with one of the most important and telling phases of Scout work,— the selection and development of his several leaders.

Whether or not the Scout Master shall appoint a Patrol Leader, or have the members of the patrol select him, or let the entire troop participate in the election, is for him to decide. For obvious reasons different methods should be followed 'under different conditions. A Scout Master who has no previous experience, either with boys or with the Scout program, might follow one course, while a Scout Master who has had several years' experience with boys, who is, himself, a natural Scout, or who is working with a group that has been previously organized, for some other purpose and because of his experience or view-point might follow a different course. As this is written for those seeking help, it is not out of the way to assume that they have had no large experience with a group of boys and are only slightly familiar with Scout work. A man finding himself in this class should first of all make it his duty to become thoroughly acquainted, individually and collectively, with all prospective Scouts, and spend much time in seeking to learn and understand their peculiar temperaments and interests. All of such time thus studiously spent will in its results become of extreme value to the Scout Master in his later relations with the boys, with their development individually, and with the progress of the troop.

For several meetings, let the members of the patrol or troop work together without installing a Patrol Leader. During this period of, perhaps, three or four weeks, the Scout Master should follow a general program with which he is familiar and which he knows to be. useful. At the end of this time, let him adopt one of the two following methods of obtaining a Patrol Leader:

(1) Appoint a Scout who appears to be the natural and most promising leader, as a temporary Patrol Leader, permitting him to take charge of a patrol (letting it be understood, of course, that he is only on trial).

(2) Have an election in which every member of the patrol participates.

Where Scouts have had an opportunity to work for higher Scout ranking and those who have done the best are likely to be chosen leaders, this latter method is preferable.  If a Scout Master follows the first course, he should allow the temporary leader to serve only for a short time, giving others of the patrol opportunities to qualify under the same conditions until such time as an election can profitably be held or until the Scout Master has satisfied himself that a leader, can be appointed for a definite term. As a further development of the second method, it has been found practicable to use a competitive examination on all the Scout work covered up to the time of the election. In the final reckoning, this examination would count for two-thirds. The other third would be counted on the boy's popularity, determined by the votes of the other boys.

The percent of popularity would be credited to each boy on the ratio of the votes he receives to the total number of votes cast. For instance, suppose twenty votes are cast, altogether. If a boy received two of these twenty votes, he would be credited with two twentieths of thirty-three and a third per cent, or three and one-third per cent; and a boy who received thirteen votes would be credited with thirteen twentieths of thirty-three and a third per cent, or twenty-one and two-thirds per cent.

Term of Office

The term of office for a Patrol Leader should be one year, at the end of which time, he may be reelected or dismissed as the patrol or Scout Master see fit. In most instances, however, it is better to have him continue in office. In deciding this point, though, a Scout Master, who from his vantage ground can best consider the interests of all the group, should have much influence.

If conditions arise which necessitate a change in Patrol Leaders before the end of the year, such as would occur in the case of resignation, transfer or dishonorable removal, the office should be filled at once, either by the appointment or election of a substitute, or by the advancement of the Assistant Patrol Leader. The term of office of the substitute should expire at the time previously set for the former incumbent.

Development of Patrol Leaders

The Patrol Leader should be expected to furnish the raw material for his own development. He need not be the best boy of the group, considered purely from moral standards, since it is a Scout Master's duty to develop the best side of every boy's nature; but he must be energetic, alert, and responsible. It may happen that the boy chosen as Leader has the worst reputation of any in the bunch. That in itself is not alarming, for the boy who by others is rated as bad may be of better caliber than one who is popularly recommended as a good boy. He may be more reliable, better principled in essentials, more observant, more agreeable and willing, more unaffected, and on the whole a better fellow among the others of the group than the boy with a less spotted reputation.

Occasionally boys will be found who take upon themselves the role of leader without being so respected by their companions. Such cases are frequently the result of selfishness or an exaggerated sense of individual importance. They are, however, none the less worthy of consideration, and Scout Masters should be careful not to neglect or misuse boys in whom evidence of these faults appear. Such tendencies as theirs are immensely human and can be trained to valuable account. A wise curbing here and there to rightly shape the general course is the Scout Master's function. He will obtain his best results by giving encouragement and making an appeal to the boy's better self.

As soon as a Leader has been selected he should be recognized as special agent of instruction under the Scout Master, helping to teach to the other patrol members what the Scout Master desires to impart. Responsibility, which often makes good material out of what has hitherto been unpromising, is laid upon him now. If the position is new to the boy, and his duties unfamiliar, responsibility should be given lightly and with much sympathetic help at first. As time goes on, he ought to become the Scout Master's right-hand man in relation to his own patrol, helping the Scout Master to provide suitable tasks and to stimulate a desire for progress to the highest Scout ranks, Through-out, the Patrol Leader should be the actual leader of the patrol.

Age and Duties of the Patrol Leader

For a patrol the members of which average between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, the leader need not be the oldest. He should be elected purely on his merits. When there is a great difference between the ages of the oldest and youngest members,— a condition to be avoided,— one of the older boys should be the Patrol Leader, but not necessarily the eldest. Ability rather than age is the basis upon which ultimate decision should rest. Frequently the two go together.

The Patrol Leader should be given full charge of developing and carrying out the activities assigned to the Scouts under him. It is his duty to arouse the spirit of unity and strength without which the patrol life is impossible. To this end the Scout Master must help the Leader by encouraging the use of patrol competitions and a system of merits, by which the advancement of the individual is put to the credit of the patrol rather than to the purely individual account, although individual competitions within the patrol and troop will also help to stimulate interest. (See the Record System Suggestions for Troops and Patrols as outlined in Chapter V; this record or merit system should be used consistently.)

It subsequently becomes the duty of the Patrol Leader to prod the lazy and indifferent and encourage the thrifty and ambitious of his group. If the members of a patrol wish to specialize in any one subject, say First Aid, they should be allowed to do so provided, of course, such extra work is not done to the detriment of their general progress. When the patrol specializes, the Patrol Leader should interest himself especially in the subject chosen, and see to it that the instruction necessary for each member is available. The Patrol Leader should make it his duty to get an expert to instruct the Scouts in the special subject, rather than depend upon the Scout Master; in the case of First Aid the average Scout Master would very likely know less concerning the subject than the average physician, so that instruction from the physician would be very helpful and undoubtedly more thorough and complete. This does not mean that the Patrol Leader is not to cooperate with the Scout Master in getting the physician, but rather that the necessary work of interesting and securing a physician friend for this purpose should devolve upon him as the Patrol Leader.

Patrol Leaders should regularly be given full charge of meetings of the patrols. When the troop is called together the advanced or senior Patrol Leader, or more correctly, the Leader of the patrol doing the best work, should occasionally be in full charge. This honor may occasionally be given other Patrol Leaders, but should not be given in successive rotation. When the Patrol Leader occupies this latter position he is usually designated as Troop Leader.

Duties of Patrol Leaders on Hikes

When on hikes, the case is somewhat different. Then Patrol Leaders should seldom be given complete charge.

The hike should not be undertaken until an Assistant Scout Master, at least, can be present. Great care should be taken on all such occasions to see that all property regulations, fire-laws, etc., are strictly complied with. For this reason alone, a competent adult person must accompany the patrol. In camp or at any destination, the leaders should be given much the same duties they would have at the regular indoor meetings. Greater discretion, however, in assigning tasks, is to be exercised; yet full and prompt compliance should be insisted upon.

Conference and Councils for Development

As a means of properly developing Patrol Leaders let the Scout Master have frequently special meetings for Patrol Leaders alone. At such times he should be freely confidential and painstaking in his outlining of problems peculiar to their patrols as well as the problems of general concern to their troop. In all matters pertaining to the welfare of the Troop Scout Masters should be guided to a very large extent by the combined opinions of the Patrol Leaders.

Conferences and councils need not be frequent but should be real. A Scout Master will find his energies better utilized if he can encourage Patrol Leaders to arrange these conferences rather than arrange them himself. The initiative of a Scout Master, if a positive factor at all, will stimulate that of the Patrol Leader. The stimulus should come in other ways, however, than through the direct suggestion of matters of business that are to be advanced for mutual consideration. Many topics presented for discussion at Patrol Leaders' conferences will naturally be reported at later meetings of the patrol and of the troop. In such cases it will generally be desirable to have the Patrol Leaders present the matter rather than to allow them to depend upon the Scout Master. The Scout Master will find it greatly to his advantage to share every problem of troop progress and activity with his Patrol Leaders. At all Scout gatherings the Patrol Leaders should not only be held responsible in carrying out the Scout Master's orders, but should be given a liberal range of authority in originating plans and giving orders of their own.

Use of Patrol Leaders in Teaching Requirements

Instructions in the simple requirements or in all the regular subjects in which the Patrol Leader is thoroughly proficient should be left to his charge. It should be made his duty to see that all candidates for examination belonging to his patrol are fully equipped to pass the requirements on which they will be examined before they present themselves to the Troop Committee or the Local Court of Honor. The Patrol Leader may call upon his assistants or on any other of his Scouts for help, and, in fact, he should be encouraged to do so in all situations that make it practicable.

Disciplining of Patrol Leaders

When Patrol Leaders are wisely chosen they seldom require severe disciplining. Nevertheless, whenever it is needed it is highly important that it be administered no less rigorously than the disciplining of ordinary Scouts. It must, of course, be distinctly different and the method of application as peculiar as is the nature of his office. For cases of mild insubordination, which may be frequent with the new Patrol Leader in whom consciousness of his official importance is undeveloped, the punishment should come in the form of kindly, but none the less positive advice. He should be made to realize at the outset that as Patrol Leader he must be a model for other members of his patrol. Failure to live up to the Scout principles must be treated with severity as being a serious offense. Scout Masters should, however, take unto themselves no small share of the punishment for this because it is in the Patrol Leader doubtless due to the same cause that induces it in any Scout, namely, "the lack of having these principles made sufficiently plain and attractive. When all Scouts are made to understand that they can retain their Scout name with its attendant positions only so long as they respect and obey the Scout Law and Scout Oath, the Scout Master will have little necessity of subjecting them to any sort of humiliation, because of failure to live as true Scouts.

Decisions on courses of punishment for wanton disrespect and insubordination on the part of the Patrol Leaders must never be placed in the hands of officers ranking below Patrol Leaders. The matter must be adjusted by the Scout Master and his immediate assistants or with the aid or advice of the Local Troop Committee. However, it is very much better to settle such a misunderstanding, if possible, between just the Scout Master, himself, and the offender.

Occasionally a Patrol Leader becomes indifferent. to the progress of his patrol; sometimes he, himself, fails to advance to higher Scout ranking as rapidly as he should. Such a Patrol Leader should be treated in one of the following three ways:— 

(1) his ambition should be aroused by stimulating inter-patrol non-athletic competitions; 

(2) by depriving him and his patrol of the most attractive Scout work; 

(3) or (this should be the last resort) by removing him from his office and reducing him to the rank of ordinary Scout. 

If the plan of using patrol competition is adopted, this competition should be used for instruction rather than for selfish display,— the various features of it being so arranged that his weakness as well as the weakness of his patrol is successfully demonstrated. If the second course is followed,— that of temporary ostracism,—it would be most effective to keep the patrol from participating in any event which they were eager to enjoy. Discretion must constantly be exercised so that the Patrol Leader will have no opportunity to feel that he is being unfairly discriminated against and that no animosity exists. .


A wise leader, recognizing the inherent desire of all boys for fair play and for taking a part in their particular Scout work, will encourage self-government, making it in so far as practical an actual and usable part of their association. Self-government is always good where it is not abused, but valuables only as an object tending toward leadership. So much latitude must be allowed in this for local conditions and previous experiences, both of the Scout Master and his boys, that it is difficult to give definite and clear instructions which can be generally followed. However, one point must be kept always in mind, and that is that the Scout Master must always be the guiding factor. When he ceases to become so, he loses his position of leadership. If his influence is felt rather than dominantly asserted, it is far more valuable. Several means might be suggested of letting the members of his patrol know his attitude on subjects. For example, to use two widely different situations; before the election of patrol officers or before the meeting at which they are to define their attitude toward the question of smoking, the Scout Master should meet the members of his patrol individually and give them a clear, intelligent conception of the importance of their decision, letting them realize how their action can shape the decision of other patrol members, and how it will affect their conduct in the future. The Scout Master can thus enable those who have had no experience in considering such matters to follow the course which would be mutually profitable and satisfactory. Ordinarily it would be unfair for the Scout Master to dictate what the decision should be or baldly emphasize his views, but his outlining and explaining of issues should be so clear that an intelligent solution or conclusion is easily made possible for the boys.

Where it is not feasible to consider such matters with individuals of the patrol the same general course should be followed before the group. Self-government means exactly what the term implies but, contrary to custom, as much emphasis should be placed on the word government as on the word self. Best leadership is that which governs indirectly or by suggestion so that the boys believe there has been a real self-governing decision. Members of the patrol in every instance must be made intelligently familiar with the subject under discussion and should be encouraged to discuss it to their mutual content. If the Scout Master's patience is taxed and he is subjected to the necessity of hearing what he may consider threadbare subjects discussed to unwarranted lengths, he should take it as an opportunity for studying boyish minds, and only end the discussion when it degenerates into childish quibbling. When groups of boys are brought to the point where they are able to express their own opinions and weigh the opinions of others, then self-government will be made not only possible but distinctly useful. The Scout Master who has brought to his service this valuable asset can also be sure that he is on the right road to the accomplishment of an end which is of large importance in Scouting,— that of handing over to the boy the knowledge he has gained through his longer experience.

Growth of Patrol Leaders

The metal and the abilities of the Patrol Leader should constantly be tested. No more effective and valuable means of doing this can be found than the unselfish and definite provision of actual responsibility. A Patrol Leader should grow. Constant exercise and work, mental and physical, and giving the needed experience and training, is necessary. By intelligent guidance a Scout Master can turn the energies of his Patrol Leaders to immensely valuable account. Therefore every effort should be made by the Scout Master to give to his Patrol Leaders as much opportunity for individual responsibility and initiative as possible. Toward this end each Patrol Leader should be made to understand that he is responsible for the creation of a Scout spirit among the members of his patrol; that the degree of success each one gains in mastering the Scout requirements depends in a large measure upon him; and that he must constantly maintain both the dignity and enthusiasm which become a leader. If this point of view is well taken the Scout Master may be assured that the qualities he seeks for his Scouts' dependableness, efficiency, and strength of personality are being well fostered and developed.

Selection of Assistant Patrol Leaders

Assistant Patrol Leaders may be selected by the Patrol Leader, by the Scout Master, or by the members of the whole patrol. In most cases it is preferable to let the Patrol Leader select his assistants himself. The term of office should be for the same period of time as that of the Patrol Leader. This matter is usually regulated by the adoption of a Troop Constitution and By-Laws.

Development of Assistant Patrol Leaders

Assistant Patrol Leaders must be developed in much the same way as Patrol Leaders. As assistants they must work under the direction of their leader and cooperate with him in developing and maintaining a high standard of excellence in all branches of Scout activity. If the more menial or servile tasks fall to his lot, as they often will, he should see that they are completed with all the thoroughness and dignity becoming a Patrol Leader.

His duties should be as specific and binding as are those of his superiors. Wherever it is possible for the Patrol Leader to delegate tasks to his assistants he should be expected and encouraged to do so. The Assistant may rightly be considered the go-between for ordinary Scouts and the Scout officers; as such he should see that the point of view of each group is shared by the other; that criticisms of conditions are either definitely rejected or as definitely sustained; and that rules and courses of action are clearly understood and intelligently accepted before, or at all events, as soon as, they are promulgated. He must represent both Scouts and Scout officers, seeing that the obligations of each are appreciated and accepted.

Cultivating Leadership

Leadership is contagious. If the Scout Master is a real leader the Patrol Leader will follow the good example, and leadership and growth, being in order and expected, will inevitably result. This is the law of development and the fundamental law of education. It, therefore, devolves upon a Scout Master to employ, quicken, and tax the interests and talents of his boys.

Some Scout Masters fail in this greatest essential because they cannot or do not grasp the understanding of leadership, its relationships or its personal responsibilities. The ability they have to make or mar, to achieve results by real leadership or fail because of the lack of understanding either self or boys and their relationships one to the other, is often very simple of action or occasion, but may be very. final in its results. Sometimes the results are what they are because of a well mapped out and studied plan of action, either wisely or wrongly chosen; sometimes they are what they are because of the totally unconscious or intuitive action on the part of the Scout Master.

For example, consider a condition with which many are already familiar. One man can take a group of boys hiking and return with the group feeling they have honored him by taking part in "his hike," while another man can assemble the same group for a similar hike and bring them home feeling they have been greatly favored. The first man undoubtedly meant well and was as interested in the welfare of the group as the second, but he failed to respect certain essential principles of leadership. It is highly probable that when the first man set out he had no definite aim or end in view; the activities they followed were unconsciously made to seem mechanical or perfunctory; his relationship toward them were too familiar and undignified; he lacked that supreme good humor which gave their program a captivating life and zest; and he failed to call out the real abilities of any of them. The necessary elements of leadership in him were sadly wanting. The second man, appreciating the necessity of an attractive purpose, saw that it was provided and that the hikers themselves felt the burden of responsibility in carrying it out. Furthermore, without being austere or supercilious, but by maintaining a natural dignity which invited deference and a certain restrained respect, he called forth an expression of their best natures and made them feel they were really worth while to themselves and others. The one lacked imagination and perception; the second was an educator and a source of inspiration.

To carry out Scout work a man must possess infinite. patience, a controlling sense of optimism and a sufficient mastery of every situation. He must be both firm and lenient, secure in purpose, and at the same time resourceful, ingenious, and blessed with a good supply of common, sense.

It is the possession of such qualities as these that helps a man discern and develop latent leadership.






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