5 Common Mistakes You’re Probably Making as a Scout Leader

Are you aware of these five deadly leadership mistakes? If not, you’ve likely been unknowingly pushing other scouts away and undermining your own authority! Today, I’m going to be covering five common mistakes that scout leaders, myself included, have often made when just starting out in a leadership role. 

If your first taste of responsibility was from Scouting, either in the role of an Assistant Patrol Leader or Patrol Leader, you’ve likely based your leadership style off of the examples that you’ve seen from others. The problem is, it’s unlikely that all of the leadership examples you’ve seen so far have been good!

Destructive habits are often the least likely to be noticed and easiest to continue. However, by learning from the mistakes of others, you’ll be able to identify these five common leadership pitfalls even in yourself. Avoid them at all costs, and you’ll become a leader that your troop respects and your fellow scouts will happily follow.

Even if you don’t see yourself making these mistakes, you can still help your fellow scout leaders by letting them know if they’re doing these things. If you are doing them, don’t worry! I’ve also included some quick fixes that you can start doing right away in this article.

For the sake of this article, let’s pretend you’re a patrol leader. Really though, all five of these mistakes are relevant to any position of leadership you might hold.

Without further ado, let’s dive into these 5 leadership mistakes that you might be making, as well as what you can do to prevent them from continuing to occur in the future.

You Often Assign Work For The Sake of Keeping Your Patrol Busy

For some reason, many leaders feel the need to constantly have their followers be working on something. Whether it’s done by a patrol leader, senior patrol leader, or scoutmaster, I’ve noticed that sometimes, as a patrol leader, it can feel uncomfortable to leave your troop with nothing to do.

However, by always creating more work to pass the time, you worsen the experience of your patrol. Ideally, you should be telling them to do the exact right amount of work within a single span of time. Let go of the need to keep your patrol busy, and instead, create structured, fun activities that they’ll actually enjoy.

Steps For a Quick Fix: 

  1. Create a list of exactly what needs to be done by your patrol.
  2. Assign your members to tasks so that the work can be finished as quickly as possible. 
  3. Once you’ve finished, let everyone take a break, during which you can reassess to see if anything else absolutely needs to be done.
  4. Quickly finish any remaining work after the break, or, if there is no work, allow your patrol to vote on what they want to do next.
  5. If they want to relax, let them!

By using free time as a reward, your patrol will be more motivated to work hard and will be in better spirits later on. Whether its setting up camp, doing a community service project or carrying out a meeting, avoid the trap of assigning unnecessary, additional work. Instead, communicate with your patrol to see what they want to do after the work is finished.

You Act More Seriously Than Anyone Else in Your Patrol

You might need to take a chill pill. Well, not you specifically, but a lot of leaders occasionally let the responsibility go to their heads and end up taking their jobs waaay too seriously. Don’t make the mistake of getting too bossy and serious, or people will begin to lose their respect for you.

Always remember, as a leader, it’s your job to bring your patrol up — Not to boss them around. Not even to correct them. You should try to be getting along with your patrol, and this means not getting overly serious about issues that may come up.

We’ve probably all seen instances of leaders getting overly riled-up when things weren’t going that way. Maybe some scouts weren’t listening, or some work hadn’t been done. Still, that’s no reason to get frustrated. People can sense a try-hard, and trying too hard will get you nowhere when you’re a leader.

Steps For a Quick Fix: 

  1. Smile often and compliment others.
  2. Don’t be afraid to crack jokes and hang out.
  3. If something unexpected comes up, don’t fight it.
  4. Figure out your next steps, and you’ll get through whatever challenge you’re facing.
  5. Remember that everyone’s there to learn and have fun.

In life, a good lesson to learn is to go with the flow. You can’t change every outcome, and sometimes fighting against things can make them worse. Don’t get too serious or you risk pushing away those that you’re leading. The stakes are low, so enjoy the process.

You Focus Only on Fairness

Fairness is great to aim for, as long as everyone is happy. However, as a leader, making things fair should not be your main concern. What this means is that if you’re focusing more on every scout doing an equal amount of work, rather than recognizing that some scouts are capable of easily doing more than others, your entire patrol will be unhappy. 

I’ve often noticed leaders trying to divide work equally among scouts. However, problems occur when one scout is able to finish everything much more quickly than another. While it may seem fair for the scout who finished first to relax earlier, this will not leave the patrol better off.

While the scout who’s having a harder time will still be working, the scout who was faster will be alone, relaxing. Ideally, as a leader, you want to frame all of your patrol’s activities as a team effort. The scout who’s better off should want to help the scout who has difficulties. By ensuring that every scout is happy instead of checking if everything seems fair, you’ll build a much more tight-knit patrol.

You might be wondering, what if the scout who finishes first doesn’t want to help? Good question. The way to get around this is to not divide up individual tasks in the first place. Instead, create teams within your patrol to handle large tasks. This way, your patrol will be teaching each other, relying on each other, and working together to succeed.

Steps For a Quick Fix: 

  1. Break patrol members up into groups to work on larger tasks.
  2. Notice which patrol members are struggling, and assign older patrol members to help them.
  3. Try to keep everyone’s level of enjoyment equal.
  4. Frame your patrol as a team trying to accomplish a goal.

You Aren’t Willing to Help Scouts Who Aren’t Able to Do What You Ask

Sometimes, as a leader, one of the scouts in your patrol may be unable to follow your instructions. What do you normally do? Many leaders would become frustrated in this situation, criticizing the scout and becoming upset by their inability. However, few leaders would be willing to step in and calmly help.

There are two ways you can think of the issue that emerges when a scout is unable to do what you ask. You can either consider the inability a failure on their part, or an opportunity for you to teach them how it’s done. Your goal should be for them to not have this issue again. Teach them the skill so well that they’ll be able to teach it to other scouts later on.

In my experience, I had a leader who would constantly make this mistake. He always had certain standards of quality that some of the new scouts weren’t able to meet. When the younger scouts would clean the cooking stove, this leader would often criticize the job those scouts had done, but would never help nor explain to them the proper way to clean it.

As a leader, it’s important to get your hands dirty. Never ask of another scout, something you wouldn’t be fully willing to do yourself. If a scout in your patrol is unable to do something you ask of them, figure out why. Use the experience as a teaching moment, and make sure they’re equipped to do it the next time around.

Steps For a Quick Fix: 

Before criticizing anyone, identify the problem. Ask yourself, “What is the issue they’re having that’s stopping them from doing what I’m asking of them?” Then consider:

  1. Am I willing to join in and help them?
  2. Could this be a teaching moment?

If you’ve answered yes to both of these, you have the perfect opportunity to help. If you’ve answered no, it’s time to ask why and reevaluate your leadership style.

Once you’ve understood the issue, are willing to join in, and know the best way to turn the situation into a learning opportunity — do it! As a leader, it’s your job to help your patrol. Look for opportunities to do so, and you’ll quickly build respect and friendship among your patrol members.

You Don’t Show Your Vulnerability

I’m not saying to get sappy, but expressing to your patrol when you’re uncertain will help you to build trust and understanding. When I say show your vulnerability, what I mean is to communicate your feelings. Don’t be afraid to admit to things you don’t know or ask for help from others.

It’s easy to always be putting on a confident face as a leader. However, it takes true courage to open up to your patrol. Once you do though, you’ll find that not only will your patrol more readily support you, they’ll also more readily support each other.

Each member of your patrol goes through the same feelings of uncertainty as you do. By being a leader who is willing to talk about these concerns, you’ll build stronger connections and more readily adapt to unexpected challenges.

When I was a scout, the best patrol I was ever a part of was one where we could all express our opinions freely. Even our patrol leader would hang out with us to share their feelings and concerns. By making this sort of transparency and vulnerability the norm in Scouting, you’ll be able to more easily learn from others and freely express yourself.

Steps For a Quick Fix: 

  1. The next time you have a concern, let your patrol know.
  2. Explain to them how you’re really feeling, and some of the worries you have.
  3. Fill them in on what you’re trying to do, and how they might help.
  4. The next time you can freely talk with your patrol, ask them their opinions and listen to their problems.
  5. Make them feel heard, empathize, and relate to them.


Becoming a great leader is as much about the things that you don’t do, as it is about the things that you do. By relaxing, supporting your patrol, and creating a positive atmosphere, you’ll become a much more respected and liked leader than if you simply tried to boss others around.

To recap, while not taking things too seriously, you should try to support your patrol by expressing your vulnerabilities, being hands-on in teaching them skills, and making sure each member is satisfied. In doing so, you’ll be able to build a more connected and supportive patrol atmosphere. Create a team and work towards a common goal. Don’t just instruct, lead.

The best way to quickly become a strong leader is to identify what works with your personal style of leadership, and what doesn’t. From there, you’ll be able to notice the best qualities of leaders all around you, and take those skills on as your own. For more advice on becoming a great patrol leader, be sure to check out my article here.


I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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