Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 2: Bringing the Vision to Life

I’ve been involved in Scouting for more than 20 years, and I love trivia.

At Wood Badge, those two forces collided, resulting in one giant, flaming ball of disappointment and public shame.

I don’t want to say too much and spoil a Wood Badge surprise, but let’s just say that my Scouting knowledge was put to the test at the weeklong course last month. In fact, it was our whole patrol’s BSA proficiency on the line, but I spoke up more than I should’ve.

“I work for the BSA,” I thought to myself. “I got this.”

Turns out I was wrong. Three times in a row. Each time I pressed my luck, all I got was another whammy.

From that I learned I have a lot to learn — about the BSA, about myself, and about the right way to receive negative feedback.

In that failure, I realized what the staff meant when they had explained the day before that “feedback is a gift.” The feedback wasn’t positive this time, but I learned that responding with defensiveness — my fallback approach — would only cloud my ability to accept the gift of constructive criticism.

Chalk it up as another way Wood Badge changed me for the better.

Today’s topic: Bringing the Vision to Life. I’ll discuss the importance of listening and of giving and receiving feedback. Then I’ll share a couple of examples of times when communication worked — and didn’t work — in my Wood Badge patrol.

It’s the second installment of my Wood Badge Wednesdays series, which, as Chad correctly guessed last week, is one of my ticket items. (I’ll share the other four in a my final Wood Badge Wednesdays post.) 

Listening to Learn

Have you ever had a boss who needed leadership training just as much as you? In college, I had a supervisor who really could’ve used a week at Wood Badge.

For this guy, even just attending one session — the one on “Listening to Learn” — would’ve done wonders.

I worked at Target, and whenever I approached my boss with a problem, he would just stare at me. Now this wasn’t the quiet, understanding gaze of someone actively engaged in what you’re saying.

It was more like my face was a 90’s Magic Eye painting, and he was trying look right through me to get the hidden message.

No nodding, no encouraging “uh-huh,” nothing but a blank stare. It grated on me.

If you’ve ever had a fellow Scouter, a coworker, or a family member who is listening-challenged, you know how frustrating this can be.

And you know the power of active, engaged, empathetic listening can’t be understated.

That’s why the Wood Badge session on Listening to Learn resonated with me. Ever since I quit Target, I’ve been fortunate to have bosses who understand that listening is our primary means of communicating, solving problems, and making decisions.

By emulating those great communicators, I’ve tried to enhance my own ability to listen.

Effective communication, as our troop guide Jacquelyn explained, is broken down into two parts: Active and Empathetic.

  • Active listening reflects what a person is saying to confirm comprehension. By rephrasing the message and bouncing it back to the speaker, the listener confirms that the information has been properly received.
  • Empathetic listening goes one step further, requiring listeners to:
    • Put themselves in the speaker’s shoes.
    • Imagine things from the speaker’s viewpoint.
    • Understand how the speaker feels.

The next time someone approaches you to talk, don’t be my boss from Target.

Instead, take a quick second to assess your listening situation. If you’re tired, cold, late for another appointment, or just downright uninterested, acknowledge that to yourself and ensure your disconnectedness doesn’t show through.

By being aware of those communication restraints, you can suppress the less-than-ideal situation and begin listening actively and empathetically. Give it a try!

Giving and receiving feedback

Anyone can give positive, superficial feedback.

Comments like “good job today” are nice to say, but they’re the cotton candy of the feedback world. They aren’t very filling, and too much of them will rot your teeth.

Instead, here’s a few things Wood Badge-trained feedback-givers do:

  • Deal only with behavior that can be changed. Otherwise, what’s the point?
    • “The way you’re washing those dishes isn’t the way we learned at the troop meeting.”
  • Describe the behavior — don’t evaluate it.
    • “You’re not using hot water in any of the wash buckets” instead of “This is wrong, all wrong!”
  • Let the other person know the impact the behavior has on you.
    • “I’m really concerned that this approach will get you and your patrolmates sick.”
  • Use an “I” statement to accept responsibility for your own perceptions and emotions.
    • “The way I’ve washed pots and pans in the past is like this …”
  • Ask the other person to rephrase what they heard you say. That’ll ensure they understood your message.
    • “Can you repeat back to me what I said before taking it to your patrol?”
  • Show you care. A slick delivery won’t hide the fact that you don’t.

OK, so you can dish it out, but how do you handle feedback delivered in your direction?

For me, learning I had given the wrong answers to BSA questions three times in a row was a pretty clear message: Think before you speak.

Scenario time. Let’s say a parent comes up to you after a troop meeting, furious that her son wasn’t selected as the next Senior Patrol Leader. Before you immediately go on the defensive, consider these tips for receiving feedback:

  • Listen carefully. Be willing to accept what’s coming with open ears and without prejudging the person.
  • Listen actively. This is where you restate in your own words what the parent said. (Try not to do it sarcastically, OK?)
  • Listen empathetically. Consider the speaker’s reasons for offering the feedback, and assess her body language to see the hidden message.
  • Notice how you’re feeling. If you’re angry or defensive, that’s natural. Just try not to let it show.

Communication in my Wood Badge patrol

Most of the time spent with my fellow Owls was a hoot! (I know, I know.)

But there was one time when the Owls didn’t all see eye to eye. Again, without spoiling anything, I’ll just say we were given a problem that had multiple solutions. When it dawned on us to bend the rules and take a shortcut to solving that problem, the tension level rose.

Not everyone in the group agreed with the rule-bending approach, and these individuals shared their displeasure with the group.

With time constraints looming (“Two minutes!”), we weren’t in the best environment for communication.

In the end, though, it worked out fine. I give credit to Dave, Jeff, and Jim especially. The three weren’t on the same side of the issue, but they succeeded in casting the conversation in a positive light. I encourage you add the same positive spin by monitoring your body language, showing empathy, and even cracking a joke to lighten the mood.

I’ll talk more about team development on a future Wednesday, but without listening and feedback skills, our team wouldn’t have made it past the “Forming” stage.

For the Owls, even with multiple Type-A personalities in our group, each of us managed to “shut up” long enough to listen.

Once that happened, we really soared.

Feedback welcome

What do you like about these Wood Badge Wednesday posts? What isn’t working? I haven’t written the other three posts, so there’s time to make them better with your help. Your feedback is welcome — both positive and negative. Don’t worry; I can take it.

Wood Badge Wednesdays

This is Part 2 of a five-part series called Wood Badge Wednesdays. Here’s the schedule for the entire series; each week I’ll explore one of the five central themes of Wood Badge for the 21st Century:

  1. Living the Values (Sept. 12)
  2. Bringing the Vision to Life (This post)
  3. Models for Success (Sept. 26)
  4. Tools of the Trade
  5. Leading to Make a Difference (Oct. 24)

It’s Your Move

Ready to take Wood Badge for yourself? Start by contacting your local council to learn how.

You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two nonconsecutive weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!

Anyone from any council also has the opportunity to sign up for Circle Ten Council’s Wood Badge course at Philmont. The next course is held in August 2013 at Scouting’s paradise in New Mexico. The course Web site isn’t up yet, but here’s the placeholder link to keep on your radar.

29 thoughts on “Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 2: Bringing the Vision to Life

  1. Thank you for this. As a participant and 3 time staffer on the 21st Century Course and a participant in the legacy course. I learn more every trip I make back to Gilwell. Next for me is the daunting task of Course Director, my hope is that my participants have the same great time you had and that they implement the lesson learned in their home units and personal life. Keep up the good work.

  2. Wow. I did the exact same thing. Well, maybe not three in a row, but it seemed like we missed more than we got. heh

    Very valid points that may be the most widely applicable part of the course.

    Eagle, PL – S9-1-12-1

  3. You “gave away” just enough! This was a great post. I am sharing this with the women I work with. It’s difficult to put into words what taking wood Badge does to a person. Blessed to be receiving my beads this coming weekend. Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

  4. “I don’t want to say too much and spoil a Wood Badge surprise, but let’s just say that my Scouting knowledge was put to the test at the weeklong course last month”

    Do you have some resources (books, websites, etc) where people can learn some of this trivia? I never plan on taking Wood Badge but am intrigued by your vague trivia references.

    • Brian,

      I’ll just say that these weren’t obscure facts but rather essential bits of information about the BSA that one would acquire over time spent as a Scouter. Clearly, I just haven’t spent enough time as a Scouter yet!


  5. Bryan,
    These are great observations and reflections on your experience. Many of mine were similar, either personally within our patrol or having observed them in others. It’s also made me nostalgic for the fun, fellowship and great experiences we had. By giving just a taste of the course beyond the way it’s usually promoted, hopefully you will inspire others to experience it for themselves. I’ve been an evangelist for the course ever since I took it and encourage all Scouters to carve out the time to take it too.
    (Bobwhite, course C-23-04)

  6. Hi Bryan,
    I have just been ‘elected’ as Group Leader of my Scout Group, your insights and suggestions for active listening will stand me in good stead as a Leader of Adults, and at work, thank you.
    I look forward to your next post

  7. I’m curiously about what trivia questions you missed.
    I remember my Woodbadge course, we had a great Antelope patrol and the staff were fantastic and I see many of these people at Council events even though my Woodbadge course was back in the spring of 1997.

  8. Through my second weekend and working 4of my 5 items at the same time. So how’d you get something you already do accepted as a ticket item?

    • I don’t seem to recall Bryan blogging about Wood Badge or the leadership lessons he drew from his experience in the course here before. Thus, this would be something new.

      • Thanks, Steve. You’re exactly right. The blog is something I already do, but blogging about Wood Badge was a concept conceived during the course.

  9. Wood Badge was a great experience for me. I was a scout growing up, then I joined as a volunteer when my son entered Tigers. Wood Badge opened my eyes to the “big picture,” viewing scouting as a interconnected family, rather than just seeing my little corner. I was the only one in my district (pre-merging with another district) to take Wood Badge for the 21st Century.

    I used to be an Owl, and a good old Owl too!…

    Still working my ticket, and almost finished…

  10. “You’ll either take a weeklong course, like I did, or a course that spans two nonconsecutive weekends. Either way, you’re in for the time of your life!”

    Our council offers 10 courses each year (Mar-Nov). 1 or 2 week-long (Mon-Sat), and the rest weekend (Thurs-Sat). The July week-long course is done family style (Woodbadge for Adults, 3 versions of NYLT for youth (Scout/Varsity/Venture), family camp activities for kids, participants camp and eat w/ their families.). 1-2 of the weekend courses are usually ‘bilingual’ (some teaching is done in Spanish, with translation headsets available, and some patrols are mostly-Spanish. All printed materials are available in both English and Spanish). Most weekend courses are 2 consecutive weekends.

  11. I went to Woodbadge in 1998, then back on staff in 1999 and 2001. It changed my life. I came back from Woodbadge and made our District an offer. I told them, “If anyone here goes to Woodbadge and comes back regretting it, I will personally refund their money!” Several went in the next few years, but no one ever asked for their money back. What a wonderful experience. Someday I hope to take the new course, work a new ticket, and get more beads.

  12. I’m enjoying your posts tremendously and look forward to reading the series. I’m off to the 2nd half of Woodbadge training this weekend and am enjoying it the whole experience throughly – I can totally relate to the Scout knowledge portion and not knowing enough – the other exercise that you mentioned where your group didn’t see eye to eye – I know which one that was and we had many a camper not happy with the results – it was eye opening for sure! Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us – it’s appreciated from Maui, Hawaii.

  13. I like the posts because you share your experiences and feelings, good or bad. It reminds me of my feelings/experiences, which were similar and this brings back great memories.



  14. Like reading your posts. As a fellow owl I too felt humbled in the trivia portion of our course. WB was great experience. Looking forward to the next 3 parts

    Owl Patrol Scribe C4-440-12

  15. I too was humbled (as were many folks in the room) during the trivia portion of the first weekend. The experience was great (and exhausting!) and I’m looking forward to the second half and then putting what I’ve learned into practice.

    Bobwhite Patrol S9-1-12-2

  16. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 3: Models for Success « Bryan on Scouting

  17. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 1: Living the Values « Bryan on Scouting

  18. Looping Antelope! You have done a great job. One thing that most parents and some leaders don’t know or tend to forget is the training in Scouting and how it helps to form all the adults. Many take on the idea “that it’s all for the Scouts”, which IS true; but, training instills the Methods and Skills needed to deliver the Program, Activities, Positive Feedback, and Recruiting (of youth and adults). That’s why adult recognition is integral to the overall development of a Unit. Additional training isn’t always a priority. I know I am probably talking to the choir; but, Woodbadge is sometimes considered something that isn’t REALLY necessary. Woodbadge’s value as Scouting/Adult/Life Skills needs to be stressed more to attract Parents and Leaders to their own enhancement. What Woodbadge does is to develop the understanding and value of Leadership Skills and at the same time comes from the perspective of the youth. This is the best Adult Training (and is also good) for Scouting and to build personal adult leadership skills. I can’t compliment you enough on your Woodbadge Wednesdays. Keep up the good work. Go Scouting!

  19. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 4: Tools of the Trade « Bryan on Scouting

  20. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 5: Leading to Make a Difference « Bryan on Scouting

  21. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 5: Leading to Make a Difference « Bryan on Scouting

  22. Pingback: Wood Badge Wednesdays, Vol. 3: Models for Success

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