Lessons for the Workplace Learned From Summer Camp

Gearing up for Summer Camp 2014 in a few weeks. Wondering what new lessons I’ll pick up this year? 

Each of us has a number of roles – and titles that go with them – beyond the one listed for us in the global address book / outside our offices / in our signature blocks. One of my alter egos is that of the Scouter, a term which means that I am an active and enthusiastically involved leader to Cub Scouts and to Boy Scouts.


I get to be a Scouter one or two evenings per week and on at least one weekend per month. Additionally, each year, I’m also a Scouter at summer camp. During these activities, I feel a keen sense of honor as I invest in the lives of more than 100 boys – really, they are men-in-the-making – including my two sons, 13 and 10.

Reflecting on our most recent camping excursion, I certainly remember the heat of the 108-degree days and the ever-present stink of the bug repellent. I also recall the lessons that I gleaned from observing our boys growing up a little bit, right before our eyes. There are three in particular worth sharing, as they are just as applicable in our offices as they are in the woods:

1) Rely on the patrol method. The patrol method is designed such that the Boy Scout Troop is adult-guided but boy-led. Each Troop has a Senior Patrol Leader, along with a small number of subordinate Patrol Leaders who have a discrete span of control within the camp. If adults are running things, then they are working too hard; worse yet, the boys are not able to get from the experience what they need to get from it to develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Organizations that operate well employ a similar model; in the military, it’s referred to as “centralized command, decentralized execution.” In an organization like mine, it means that I receive my mission, vision and top-level direction from my senior leadership, but I am empowered at a lower functional (or geographic) leadership level to carry out the mission day-to-day. Assuming that I and the people that I work with are well trained and qualified in our roles – and in most organizations, we are – then the organization runs extremely efficiently and effectively. Maximizing the patrol method model at all levels of your organization will enhance performance, morale and staff development.

2) Be Prepared. Abiding by these two words – the Boy Scouts Motto – is like having a Swiss Army Knife in your pocket. It’s helpful to anticipate what you might need in advance, and then do what you can to prepare for that – be it via having the necessary information, coordination, resources, tools or training for the task.

A Scout won’t hit set out on a hike without a buddy, a plan, a trail map, appropriate clothing, light nourishments and a first-aid kit. Don’t enter a business situation – be it a client meeting, a presentation, a conversation with your boss or any other daily work responsibility – without being similarly prepared.

3) Follow your Compass. By this I don’t mean a literal compass – for the most part, today’s Scouts navigate by GPS anyway. But rather, ensure your daily practices align with your values.

Every quality organization has a set of waypoints that highlight the values that show its members the way through all situations. Similarly, any military Veteran that you encounter will surely remember – and will still follow – the credo and values of his or her service (Air Force Core Values: “Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do”).

The Scouts have a number of guideposts, including the Boy Scouts Motto, but also the Cub Scouts motto (“Do Your Best,”) and the Boy Scouts Slogan (“Do a Good Turn Daily”). In addition to those noted above, the Boy Scouts also have twelve points, called the Scout Law, which exist to guide boys through their Scouting careers and beyond:

A Scout is
• Trustworthy
• Loyal
• Helpful
• Friendly
• Courteous
• Kind
• Obedient
• Cheerful
• Thrifty
• Brave
• Clean and
• Reverent


Regardless the source, be they from Scouts, the military, your own organization or from one’s faith – the concept of values – a compass to show the way – is not too deep a concept for young boys to learn and to follow. And just as they are for young Scouts, they are timeless to provide a waypoint throughout one’s career, be it in Scouting or in the broader world of work.

What other lessons for the workplace can be gleaned from the Scouting experience? In what way would your organization improve if the principles and values of the Cub Scouts / Boy Scouts were at work, well, at work?

Copyright 2012


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

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