Profiles in leadership: Robert Baden-Powell

Profiles in leadership: Robert Baden-Powell

The real way to gain happiness is to give it to others. 
-Lord Robert Baden-Powell 

Robert Baden-Powell is the father of the scouting movement that eventually grew to be the largest and most significant youth movement of the 20th century. Millions of scouts owe at least some of their success to principles and lessons that they learned in the scouting program as a youth. 

While he turned out to be an inspiring leader, he started out just as many of us do, trying to find his place in leadership and the world. 

He chased his Calling only to find it somewhere else

Baden-Powell seemed to always be chasing his Calling as a young adult. He was a serviceman in the English Army, serving as a scout, spy, and several different leadership roles. He was also a prolific writer and wrote many books wrapped around hunting and military characters. Throughout most of Baden-Powell’s career he thought that if he had combat experience, he would be validated in his leadership. 

He got that experience in South Africa while his troops defended a small town of Mafeking from over 7000 Boers for 217 days and the age of 43. Baden-Powell finally got the acclimation and respect from his peers following the event, but it was the campaign itself that was the beginning of his true Calling. He found a passion for developing youth in Mafeking by creating the Mafeking Cadet Corps to take care of the smaller tasks around town. 

As you chase your own Calling (Ep 161) Be willing aware of the changing environment around you. What’s changed around you? How have you changed over the years? Do you have new passions or talents that you didn’t have several years ago?  Callings can change…and maybe you aren’t following your lasting Calling, but your Calling for now. Be willing to let go of or use the old to help move towards future growth and impact. 

He was a leader who thought about the future

During his last military assignment, Baden-Powell attended the annual Boys Bridge drill ceremony in Glasglow. Here William Smith, founder of the youth group, asked Baden-Powell to rewrite his book Aides for Scouting for a younger audience. This spurred him to publish articles and magazines about the topic and he hosted the first scouting campout. He was truly inspired to help future generations develop their character and skill to become great citizens and leaders. 

Time has a way of tempting us to focus on the here and now and not worry about the future. Let the future worry about itself! That train of thought and behavior costs people relationships, careers, and happiness among other things. As a society, we are currently dealing with the impact of climate change, inflation, and debt loads in part because of past generations.  Clean up the past and pave a way for the future. 

  • Understand what’s important to those around you and help support them in turning their dreams and goals into a reality. Leverage your network, resources, and time to build up others to greatness. 
  • Always take care of your future self. Do something today that helps you when you wake up in the morning. I thank my past self all the time for taking care of me. I’ve also got to continue paying it forward as well. 
  • Slow down to reflect on what’s truly important today and what is just a distraction at the moment. We waste a lot of time and energy on things that simply won’t matter in a few years from now. Focus that energy on things that will carry you forward instead. 

His communication started from where the other person was

“See things from the boy’s point of view.” 

Baden-Powell was often quoted in his teaching about leading from the perspective of the boy. The program would only be successful when it met the youth where they were and instilled leadership and citizenship principles on their terms.  As he expanded the scouting program over the years to younger and older children, he was mindful to adapt the material to the child’s changing needs and wants as they grew up. 

“Can we not interpret our adult wisdom into the language of boyhood?”

Sometimes we have a tendency to start our communication from our point of view, but Baden-Powell knew that it was essential to start from the other person’s position and life stage in order to connect a message. How often from the other person’s perspective and work to guide and inform them instead of starting from a distant point and trying to pull the people to you?

Your success rate in communicating vision and change will increase as you think about your audience first and work from there in crafting your strategy and message. I doubt scouting would have taken off it was a bunch of formal meetings and lessons as opposed to learning activities, camping, and other outdoor adventures.

A few interesting facts

  • In 2019 Boy Scouts of America controversially began allowing girls to participate in the program. Powell himself was supportive of girls in scouting. Over 8,000 had joined in 1910. He later convinced his sister Agnes to organize their own movement. It was called the Girl Guides. 
  • In some countries in Asia, Scouting is an official institution and is run with firm military discipline, as opposed to the laid-back, volunteer-parent atmosphere seen in the US. While there are general understandings and shared values, how the program administered varies by country. 
  • Earning your Eagle Scout badge has its privileges. You get an automatic promotion in the military when you enlist in the US military, as well as special discounts, scholarships, and other benefits that follow you for the rest of your life. 
  • 11 of the 12 people that have walked on the moon were Eagle Scouts.

Continue to chase your purpose while building yourself and others towards the future and communicate in a way that connects with your audience. 

Make a better tomorrow.