How to be a Great Assistant Patrol Leader (3 Tips From an Eagle Scout)


As a new assistant patrol leader (APL), it’s easy to coast by and let your Patrol Leader (PL) do all the work. Too bad real scouts and real leaders don’t take the easy way out. Neither will you! In this article, I’m going to be teaching you how to become a great APL and build the skills needed to succeed in your future leadership positions.

How can you be a great assistant patrol leader (APL)? The main goal of every assistant patrol leader should be to support and amplify their Patrol Leader. By ensuring that every patrol member is on the same page and that the PL is up-to-date with each member’s concerns, a great APL helps to simplify communication and ensures that every patrol member is taken care of on an individual level.

APL’s hold, in my opinion, the most important role within any patrol. After 6 years in Scouting, I’ve noticed that all mediocre patrols tend to have one overextended leader, whereas strong patrols actually have 2 leaders! The PL and APL. With the support of a great APL, a PL is able to focus on larger leadership objectives and prepare plans to handle tasks more effectively.

If you’re hoping to find the keys to becoming a successful APL, look no further! I’ve held the position of APL and know what it takes to do a great job in the role. First, we’ll be covering some of your key duties as an APL. Then, I’ll be sharing with you 3 essential tips that you can use to become the best APL possible and build the strongest patrol in your troop. Keep reading!

Your Duties as an Assistant Patrol Leader

As an assistant patrol leader, you’re responsible for supporting your patrol leader and taking charge of your patrol, in the case of the PL’s absence. Here is a broad overview of some of your main duties:

  • Relay the messages of your Patrol Leader to the rest of your patrol
  • Lead patrol in the absence of your PL
  • Inform your PL of any concerns or issues your patrol might have
  • Attend Patrol Leaders’ Council (PLC) meetings if the PL is absent
  • Support individual patrol members that the PL cannot focus on
  • Set a good example for patrol members

Typically, APLs are appointed by PLs, so know that if you’re selected to be an APL that means that your Patrol Leader is counting on you. As a leader in your patrol, you should always be guiding others through your own example. By keeping your duties in mind and acting as a positive role model to the rest of your patrol, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful APL.

In addition to remembering your duties, there are 3 main keys you should keep in mind, as an APL, to ensure you’re on the right track. How many of them are you already doing?

1) Support Your Patrol Leader

I shouldn’t need to say this, but sometimes assistant patrol leaders can focus too much on their own jobs and forget to support their patrol leader. Avoid doing this at all costs. To be a great APL, you’ll need to balance any tasks you might have with the responsibility of working together with your PL.

You can think of it like this: the PL is in charge of the overall direction and vision of the patrol. They’re not able to work with every patrol member at once, nor should they have to. As an APL, it’s your job to connect with each individual patrol member and make sure their concerns are heard by the patrol leader. Likewise, you should make each patrol member clearly understands any directions your PL may give.

Here are some of the main things you can do to better support your PL:

  • Make sure that every patrol member is clear on the directions given by the PL
  • Prepare for any issues you could see arising within your patrol, and bring those concerns to your PL
  • Help any patrol members who are struggling by continually checking in with, and supporting them
  • Be available to have tasks delegated to you by your PL

Remember that your main responsibility is to make your PL’s job as easy as possible. By acting as constant support, you’ll be presented with many opportunities to practice your own leadership and learn what does and doesn’t work when trying to guide your patrol. Use the APL position as an opportunity to train to become the best possible Patrol Leader you can be, later on!

2) Communicate Up and Down The Chain of Command

Communication between an entire patrol and its patrol leader can prove difficult in large groups. Your goal should be to make communication easy and effective within your patrol. You’re in charge of making sure that every Scout is heard. Likewise, you want to ensure that every scout understands the directions given by the PL. 

The difference between your role and a PL is that, as an APL, it’s your job to focus on each patrol member, individually. A single Patrol Leader would never be able to handle every unhappy scout. However, as an APL, you’ll have the time and ability to reach out to each patrol member for your PL.

This is another reason why I think being APL can help you to build great leadership skills for future positions. By directly working with scouts who are having trouble, you learn to communicate with people who are unhappy. That’s a skill you’ll continue to be using as an SPL, or even once you land your first job!

3) Prepare For The Unexpected

I always like to say that as an APL, you’re the eyes and ears of your patrol. Like we talked about earlier, your patrol leader has too many responsibilities to also focus on every patrol member individually. This means that it’s up to you to watch out for any problems that might be looming on the horizon. You need to be prepared for the unexpected.

We’re searching for potential issues, I’ve found a few effective indicators of things to watch out for:

  • Scouts being absent or late for activities
  • Excessive complaining or signs of distress
  • Possible homesickness and overuse of electronics
  • Not speaking with other patrol members
  • Scouts lagging behind in patrol activities
  • Disrespect/backtalk towards troop leadership
  • Bullying of other troop members

As an assistant patrol leader, be on the lookout for any of these behaviors, as they’re likely indicators of future problems. 

Once you know about these issues, as an APL it’s your job to fix them. What I’ve found most effective is, first, trying to build trust with the scout having issues. Then later, casually bringing up the issue and asking if anything is making them upset. By showing concern in a non-accusatory way, the scout will be much more likely to work with you.

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask your patrol leader for help. As an APL, you’re training for future leadership positions which means that you should also practice learning from more experienced leaders. Once you see how a situation is handled, you can apply the same lesson to other issues that might arise and become a more confident APL as a result!

Conclusion

For most scouts, becoming an assistant patrol leader is the first step to taking on greater leadership responsibilities. By using the APL position as an opportunity to lead the scouts in your patrol on an individual level, you can better prepare to make the leap to more difficult leadership positions later on in your Scouting career.

Remember that the 3 keys to succeeding as an APL are very simple:

  1. Support Your Patrol Leader: Always be ready to assist your PL at a moment’s notice. Be on the lookout to help individual scouts in your patrol.
  2. Communicate Up and Down The Chain of Command: Make sure everyone is on the same page by clearly explaining directions given by your PL. Get patrol feedback for your PL as well.
  3. Prepare For The Unexpected: Stay alert for signs of trouble. Talk to your patrol members to see if there are any complaints or unhappy scouts.

If you’re able to keep these three tips in mind as an APL, you’re bound to succeed. You’ll be using these skills in many of your later leadership positions as well, so really make an effort to hone them while you’re an APL. Once you’re a PL, you’ll still have a few additional skills to learn which you can review in my article here.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you’re now the best APL in your troop. If it doesn’t happen right away though, don’t worry! Leadership is built over years, not days. Commit to learning constantly, and I guarantee you’ll get there! 🙂

Whether you’re just becoming an APL or are currently your troop’s SPL, if you are hoping to become a better leader, I’d recommend you check out some of my other articles on Scouting leadership. I take some deep dives into actionable leadership tactics you can use to quickly and easily become respected within your troop. You can check those articles out in the leadership section of ScoutSmarts!

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this 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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