Serving as your troop’s Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) is one of the most demanding leadership roles a young person can take on. Trust me, at one time, I was my troop’s SPL! As Senior Patrol Leader, you’ll be responsible for leading your troop to success, and will be exposed to countless unexpected challenges over the course of your term.
Scouts who are above the rank of First-Class are eligible to be voted into the SPL position based on their scout spirit, leadership experiences, and connection with their fellow scouts. However, this doesn’t mean that every newly-elected SPL is ready right from the get-go. In fact, the best Senior Patrol Leaders are constantly learning while in the position!
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A, and Cole 🙂
So, you might be wondering, “How does one go about becoming a great SPL?” Honestly, success as an SPL really comes down to your dedication and people skills. Can you keep everyone in the loop and lead by example? If so, you’re most of the way there!
To be a great SPL, you’ll also need to know the duties and responsibilities of the position. That way, you won’t be blindsided by missed tasks a month into your term.
If you’re a new Senior Patrol Leader, I’d highly recommend checking out my article on What An SPL Actually Does. In it, you’ll learn the duties and responsibilities of an SPL to their troop. Plus, I’ll even provide you with some helpful tips to make your job even easier!
It’s completely understandable that you might be a bit nervous if you’ve just been elected as your troop’s SPL. Not to worry though! In this article, we’ll be going over some simple tips that you can keep in mind so that you can have a great SPL leadership term. These tips formed the foundations of my leadership as a Senior Patrol Leader and, hopefully, they’ll do the same for you too!
1. Be Prepared to Make Mistakes and Learn From Them
Almost every SPL (myself included) had made a number of mistakes during their term. It happens to the best of us, and that’s okay! This could be anything from not communicating clearly, to forgetting to follow up, to mishandling a conflict between two scouts. Whatever your situation, be prepared to make plenty of mistakes! 🙂
So why is it important to know? It’s because, usually, it’s not the mistake that causes an issue, it’s how you react to it. By being prepared for the mistakes you’ll inevitably make, you’ll be able to react more quickly and not have them become a problem! Also, you can relax a little knowing that once something unexpected happens, you will be able to handle it.
To get a great understanding of how you could benefit from making mistakes and learning from them, I’d highly recommend watching the following video (2:52):
Got it? As a leader, the mistakes you make can actually be used to help those who follow you! Everyone makes mistakes, but what’ll make you a great SPL is the way you respond to your mistakes and the measures you’ll take to prevent them from happening again in the future.
Here are a few questions to consider, when reviewing a mistake, that will help you to critically think about how to prevent it from happening again:
Questions to Ask Yourself After Making a Mistake
- What objectively happened?
- For help with this, imagine that you’re explaining the situation to an adult who isn’t a part of Scouting.
- Who was involved? How was each party affected?
- Why did the mistake occur?
- Did it stem from your miscommunication, their misunderstanding, or something else?
- What do you think you could’ve done to lessen or avoid the mistake entirely? What can you do to prevent it from happening again?
- Explain the situation to other people and get their opinions on what happened and what could’ve been done better.
2. Lead with Confidence
Many newly-elected Senior Patrol Leaders experience a bit of imposter syndrome when just starting out. This means that they may feel unqualified to be in the position, and unsure of whether they’ll be good enough to lead their troop. These feelings are normal. Remember though, your fellow scouts elected you into this position. Trust me when I tell you that you’re the best person for the job! 😉
You need to overcome this feeling and be confident in your decisions. After all, what you say is often less important than how you say it! Your fellow scouts will be looking up to you for help and guidance; if you aren’t even confident in your own leadership, how can they be confident in you?
When just starting out as a leader, I struggled with confidence for quite a while. However, one small saying changed my perspective completely: “Fake it ’til you make it.” Even when I was uncertain, I always went all-in and stuck by my decisions 100%. Can you guess what happened? Most times I made the right choice!
Even if you need to feign your confidence at first, over time you’ll build a track record of success and become more and more sure of yourself. Remember, fake it ’til you make it!
Once you’ve come to a decision as SPL, stand by it and don’t second-guess yourself, especially in front of your followers. However, don’t be afraid to change your views if you come across some new information. Even if you make the wrong decision at first, have confidence in the fact that you’ll adapt and learn from it!
3. Have Patience and Understanding
Being Senior Patrol Leader means you’re responsible for every scout in your troop, including the ones that might be hard to work with. While it might be a challenge to Lead Difficult Scouts Without Acting Like a Jerk, it can be done (and you’ll learn how in the linked article)! However, regardless of who you’re leading, you’ll need to practice patience and understanding in order to get things done.
But, how can we be patient in annoying situations? I can tell you firsthand that it’s very easy to get frustrated and discouraged when you lead scouts that don’t listen. However, difficult situations are where you’ll develop your leadership skills the most! 🙂
While there’s no quick method of improving your patience, over time you’ll become more used to challenging situations — and even learn to thrive in them! As you gain experience, here are a few do’s and don’ts you’ll want to practice to become a more patient and understanding SPL:
The Do’s and Don’ts of Being an Understanding SPL
- Do: Be very clear and specific about what you want the scouts to do.
- This is the best way to prevent misunderstandings and confusion.
- To be more clear, you could repeat your instructions several times and even quiz them on what you said.
- Do: Be open to hearing and trying out new ideas that you might not have thought of.
- Because they’re the ones doing the work, the scouts you’re leading may have a few ideas of how to get a task done more effectively. A great leader is a good listener.
- It’s important to be flexible and realize that there are plenty of good ideas that you haven’t yet found. Be open to identifying good ideas voiced by your followers, and putting those into practice.
- Don’t: Rush through your instructions. Speak slowly and allow your scouts to voice any of their questions or concerns.
- If you talk too quickly, you won’t get your point across effectively.
- Make sure that your instructions are perfectly tailored to suit your audience.
- Don’t: Get angry or take anything too personally.
- It’s okay to feel annoyed or frustrated, but try to keep things in perspective. After all, you’re all part of the same team.
- If a scout is acting out on your watch, don’t take their behavior personally. You should try to help them, but, if it isn’t working, it’s okay to take a step back to breathe. Avoid getting angry at them or yourself.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask For Help
As Senior Patrol Leader, you are the main liaison between your Scoutmasters and the rest of your troop. This means that your authority is similar to that of an adult leader, which puts you in a great position to ask for help from your Scoutmasters, when necessary!
Remember, your Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters are ready and willing to help advise you on making better decisions and improving your leadership. You’re not on your own! Don’t think that going to an adult leader is a sign of weakness. Instead, it shows that you’re willing to find help in uncertain situations, which is the sign of a great leader!
Your adult leaders want you to succeed, so don’t feel like just because you’re SPL it means you shouldn’t ask for help. Whether you’re learning from your Scoutmasters, your parents, or the leadership articles here at ScoutSmarts, true leaders are always looking to improve, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. 🙂
5. Build a Culture of Mutual Respect
This is probably one of the most important tips I could possibly give you, so remember it well. At all times, make sure you’re encouraging mutual respect amongst your fellow scouts. This not only means respecting them and having them respect you back. You should also urge them to respect each other!
If you make the mistake of treating your fellow scouts poorly, they’ll start to dislike you and it’ll be difficult to get anything done. Moreover, everyone will be unhappy. Instead, you should be understanding of your followers, and urge them to be the best version of themselves. When correcting their actions, try to talk to them as a friend who wants the best for them.
Building a culture of mutual respect really comes down to mindset. If you put the task first, you’ll often forget about the people in the process. However, if you put team cooperation and trust first, you’ll have a strong unit that will be effective in finishing any task!
Now that you know the importance of building mutual respect within your troop, here are a few tips to keep in mind so that you’re always headed down the right path as a leader:
Tips For Building a Troop Culture of Mutual Respect
- You should lead by example and respect every one of your fellow scouts, regardless of their age or rank. However, if this doesn’t work, just try speaking to them as a friend and leveling with them.
- Try to be friendly and likable. If you offer up information about your own life, you’ll become closer to the other scouts and gain their support.
- Don’t lead with an iron fist. It’s hard to respect a strict leader who acts like they’re above everyone else.
- Be vulnerable and be willing to accept critical feedback. When scouts feel comfortable speaking their minds, they’ll provide you with valuable information that can help you to improve as a leader.
By following these simple tips, I’m sure you’ll become a dependable Senior Patrol Leader who’s well-liked within your troop. Remember though, that no one becomes a great leader overnight. Expect setbacks and be willing to learn from them! 🙂
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably an older scout who’s planning to either get into college or land a great job. I know you’ve got this! To help you out on that journey, I want to humbly recommend a few articles I’ve written for scouts exactly in your shoes:
—A Full Guide To Planning Your Eagle Scout Project
—How To Write A Killer Eagle Scout College Essay
—How to List Eagle Scout on Your Resume.
I truly hope these resources will help you to achieve your goals!
Great work reaching the end of this article, SPL! I hope you learned a lot of new and useful information that you’ll use to become an incredible leader within your troop. I’m looking forward to seeing you here at ScoutSmarts again soon and, until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey!