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Scouting for social care

Phil Orton, Chief People Officer, Making Space

What I’ve learned about social care leadership from seven years as a Scout leader

I’ve worked in social care for 30 years, from volunteer to care assistant to chief people officer with adult health and social care charity Making Space.

But despite my long career in social care management, you may be surprised to learn that some of my best leadership lessons have come from the Scout Association.

I’m a qualified Scout leader, with the badges to prove it. Like most of us, I began by volunteering when my children first joined the association. What started as a couple of
hours here and there turned into days of hiking, bushcraft, lighting fires, tying knots and, of course, camping trips.

To become an official leader, I had to earn my own badge. The Wood Badge teaches advanced leadership skills and covers equality and diversity, managing events and teams,
and many other things. Fundamentally, it’s learning how to organise scouting to make it a rich and interesting experience for its members.

Luckily, I already knew how to be prepared: the programme is not unlike one of the many advanced NVQ programmes or advanced leadership qualifications I’ve acquired in social
care, management and leadership. I knew what I was letting myself in for. But I was surprised to discover the similarities in the principles of leadership in a social care setting, and those when leading groups of Scouts.

I want to be very clear here: I’m not for a second suggesting that working in adult social care is like working with children. But there are some very valuable lessons that can be taken from the Scouting principles and applied to social care leadership.

 Everyone has something to contribute

Scouts are from a diverse range of backgrounds of varying ages and abilities who want new, meaningful and enriching experiences. The movement – Squirrel Scouts, Beaver Scouts, Cub Scouts, Scouts, and Explorer Scouts – range in age from four to 25.

A team of care professionals can range in age from 18 to some close to 80. They don’t get badges, but they are motivated by being encouraged and supported to gain qualifications that demonstrate their skills. Every voice is valid, every experience contributes to a solution, everyone deserves the same respect, belief and support, and we can all learn from each other.

 Let people play to their strengths

On a camping trip with a group of enthusiastic young people who have tasks to complete and goals to achieve, I see how they self-select based on their natural skills and passions.

As a leader, I have choices. I can support these natural abilities, encourage them in their work, and be on hand to help if I’m needed. Or I can force them to do tasks that they don’t
want to do, won’t lead to new badges, and will see them trudging home feeling demoralised and ready to quit.

While taking our care teams camping isn’t something that we’ve ever considered, we do see the same principles at play when we’re organising activities and schedules. We don’t force people into roles they’re not happy in: we encourage and support them to create strong teams where each person can shine.

Be prepared

In the Scout organisation, being smart, clean fingernails, shiny shoes and ironed uniforms are all seen as a proud badge of team membership. “Be prepared” is our motto, and that
starts before we step foot out of the door. Are we making a good impression? Are we ready to tackle whatever the day throws at us? Are we as keen to learn from others as we are to help them achieve their goals? Do we want to achieve positive outcomes and be rewarded with the happiness of other people? Are we leading by example?
If we can answer yes to all these questions, then we’re prepared.


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