In two days time, Scouting Ireland returns to the polls a little earlier than perhaps anyone had expected, to vote in a new Chief Scout.
It is an important vote for a number of reasons. Firstly, it does not happen too often. Secondly, whilst the Chief Scout is not the ‘head’ of the organization per se, he (or she) is the titular leader and to a large number of members, the moral leader of our great association.
A Chief Scout can, over time, begin to wield considerable influence over policy but perhaps more importantly, the Chief Scout has tended to set the tone for how the association evolves during his or her term.
Scouting as an entity is little different in some ways to other groupings in society. The corporate entity, the political party, the football team. All these and more tend to be influenced by the attitude, personality and moral compass of their leaders.
It is not a coincidence that some banks in Ireland and the UK behaved the way they did in the lead up to the economic downturn. It is not an accident that some political parties have been wildly successful under one leader, and yet flounder under another. Happenstance alone does not make a winning team in sport – the leader of the team often makes the difference between winning and losing.
In each instance, the leader and in turn the ‘leadership’ tends to drive the success or failure, depending on the attitudes at the top.
This makes the election of a Chief Scout a very important election. If the association chooses the right leader, a lot of things begin to fall into place.
The National Management Committee of Scouting Ireland has, for most of its history, had a greater ratio of capable leaders to turner-uppers and seat warmers. The April election brought some new blood and placed some people into roles where their full potential is clearly being utlised. The scope is there and the people seem to be in place to gear Scouting Ireland up for some real performance, after half a decade or more of sliding into the doldrums.
An early indication of the very positive change of calibre and culture on the NMC was illustrated in the outputs of the committee who looked into the circumstances behind the election debacle in April. Not only was the document written honestly with an openness and inclination towards self critique that has simply not been seen for a long time in Scouting Ireland, it was published too.
A new Chief Scout can build on this desire for honesty, transparency and openness in how our national association conducts its business.
Inclusivity, an attribute that has not been a default setting in recent years is equally something that a new Chief Scout can adopt as his own.
This is not just about ensuring, rightly, that female members and members of the LGBT community are treated with equal respect and courtesy, it is about doing more to reach out to non-indigenous communities on the island, working harder to ensure that everyone of every religious belief (and none) feels welcome.
It is also about a new Chief Scout working to ensure that ALL members feel that he is THEIR Chief Scout too. It is very easy to play to one’s own constituency, whichever it may be, but Scouting is a very diverse organization and in recent years has become a divided one too, in no small part due to the parochial politics pursued by leadership figures.
A new Chief Scout has a unique opportunity to bring everyone together – and it will work too, if the intent is genuine, open and completely inclusive.
Scouting, like any large and complex entity is not without its problems and challenges. No Chief Scout will be able to solve all of these. However, Scouting has a vast bank of passionate, intelligent, committed people of all ages with a hugely diverse skillset. The right leader will know how to unlock this tidal wave of potential, much of it left fallow in recent years.
Solving some of the association’s challenges will require debate, some of it spirited and robust. The new Chief Scout will no doubt have watched in recent years some of the failures in areas like strategy, that have resulted in leadership attempting to thwart debate or listen only to their own electoral base – it didn’t work.
Part of being a leader, as no doubt all four candidates in this contest already know, is being prepared to accept that other ideas exist. The nature of debate is sometimes listening to (and hearing) arguments and viewpoints that are at significant variance with your own, yet still having the strength of character and intelligence to accept that these views have validity.
In recent years, Scouting Ireland at local level has thrived. The national entity by contrast has floundered, (notwithstanding many high points attributable to the large number of volunteers who deliver superb programme, events, infrastructural support and even policy, on a year round basis).
The opportunity is there to restore the credentials of National Scouting, whilst re-focusing on the need for groups to be once again the centre of what we do. It will be relatively easy to achieve this improvement in credibility too, admittedly in part because things are at such low ebb.
The energies expounded by different segments of and interest groups in the association, jealously defending their privileged positions or assertively demanding better representation in decision-making, can be diverted into far more efficient activities by a strong and fair-minded Chief Scout, provided some rebalancing occurs here too.
There are opportunities to engage with corporate entities, the chance to enhance the perception of Scouting in political life, in academia, in the minds of the general public. There are growth opportunities for new members, the chance to take on a major public service project (remember Scouting’s involvement in the Special Olympics?). There is the prospect of hosting a major World Scouting event in 2021 (and the huge number of high calibre people we are going to need to drive this).
It is often said that there are no legacies in Scouting. However it would appear that with relatively little effort, a new Chief Scout who truly wishes to do so, could unite our great association behind a common vision and in doing so, unlock all the latent potential and energy that will deliver great things for Scouting and society in the coming three years and beyond.
Members, even those who have been critical or skeptical in the past are likely to give a new Chief Scout the breathing space and opportunity to set out a stall and signal his intended direction of travel. It feels like some decisive early steps will make all the difference in uniting everyone behind one leader and unlocking that vast potential in the process.
Every delegate who comes to the RDS to vote on September 12th will undoubtedly have the future of Scouting Ireland on their mind and will be seeking to support the leader who they believe will be best able to and most disposed towards some positive steps forward for a truly united Scouting Ireland.
Theirishscouter regrets that pressure of work will preclude his presence in Dublin on the date concerned, but wishes each candidate for the role of Chief Scout (and each candidate for the role of International Commissioner) the best of luck.
Whatever the outcome, the association should unite behind the winner and give him time to set out his vision.