My First Book on Management

One's experience at managing other people can begin at an early age.

My thoughts this month veer into an element of personal disclosure. Over the years, I've occasionally been asked which book I've read has had the greatest impact on my personal management style or philosophy.

I've never admitted it, but the one that probably best fits that description was a used copy of a Boy Scout publication, the Handbook for Patrol Leaders that I read between 7th and 8th grades when I began to lead my first Patrol. I still have my original copy, and I will quote a few passages from the first chapter here:

“Get all the fun you can out of being a patrol leader! But remember, there's much more to it than fun. Your greatest thrill as a leader will be to turn an ordinary gang of boys into a real Patrol, to help five or six or seven fellows become good Scouts.

“Every one of your boys will have a part to play in making the Patrol whatever it turns out to be, but the biggest responsibility is yours. Your leadership, your friendliness, your example will count the most…

“You're the locomotive in your Patrol ‘train.’ If you forge ahead, so will your boys. If you slow down, so will they. If you slip off the track, you may have a Patrol ‘bust up…’

“There's another thing that about a train that fits a Patrol: A train moving along with no destination is a pretty useless thing. The same holds true for a Patrol…To amount to anything a Patrol must be active, with lots to do, with a definite goal and with plans for getting there…

Pretty folksy, wouldn't you say? Yet it remains timeless advice that is right on target. In the Boy Scout model, the largest part of a Scout's initial training has to do first with impressing on a young person ideals related to character traits and skills related to self-reliance. When a Scout moves on into a role of leadership, the emphasis shifts to how these values can help one engage others and to how a group of individuals can be directed to accomplish results.

Here's a bit more of the Handbook's advice:

“Try to be a real friend to each Scout in your Patrol…You'll need to know more about them than what you see during Troop and Patrol meetings. What are their interests, hobbies and ambitions? …All this takes time and effort, but it's worth it… Only a leader who understands can truly lead.

“This of course doesn't mean that you should be the ‘Big Boss’ of the Patrol, planning everything yourself, ordering everybody around… Be the leader, the fellow who points the way — but share your leadership. That's the way to get every single boy in the gang eager to do his part in anything the Patrol undertakes…

“You should aim to be a step ahead of your fellows. It is easier for a leader to say, ‘Come on!’ than ‘Go on!’ But unless you are out in front, showing your boys the way to go, even your ‘Come on!’ won't mean very much…”

That first chapter ended with a quick, memorable summary of its advice:

  • Be a Leader

  • Be a Friend

  • Be Ahead

Later chapters focused on functions that concern every department or business leader: developing a group's sense of morale; organizing meetings; managing projects; instruction and training; handling interpersonal relationships and conflicts.

Looking back, this was a brief period in my early life but a formative one in which I had my share of challenges and accomplishments. I had the satisfaction of organizing successful camping trips, hikes and other events. I also dealt with problems.

One was a patrol member, the younger brother of a good friend to whom I entrusted the role of treasurer. He eventually “embezzled” our modest funds cache, an unhappy experience that taught me the value of giving careful scrutiny to those in whom I put trust. Another member was always willing to volunteer, but never proved to be reliable. I learned to think hard about how and to whom I assigned tasks, and how I followed up on those assignments. These were valuable, early leadership experiences.

Think about all of the management books on the market today and ask yourself if their ultimate advice is that much different than the ideas the Handbook espoused. When developing those under your direction who may assume leadership roles themselves, one could do much worse than to teach its simple and practical distillation of leadership principles.