Co-operation and Leadership are two sides of the same coin

I start writing this with some trepidation. I’ve been a group leader for about 8 years, but I know there are folk up and down the country who’ve been at it for far longer than me. So let me say that I’m going to write about my experience of being a Woodcraft Folk leader, and try and draw in some general points.
 
First of all, I’ve found being a leader of Elfins and then Pioneers deeply rewarding. I often come home on a Thursday night after Pioneers all fired up and enthusiastic. Our group (Forest Pioneers in Exeter) are a smashing bunch of children who love to run, to play and to shout, but also like making things, discussing, and are very musical. Last term they even stayed silent for well over an hour! And the leadership team of Martin, Carolyn, Gwen and myself is second to none.
I imagine that most Woodcraft Folk leaders would say something similar. Let’s face it, if you’re showing up week in, week out for years, in some damp and drafty hall, and you’re probably out-of-pocket in the process, you’re doing it because you love it. And if you’re not, it might be time to move on! There’s a commitment there. If we don’t show up, the Pioneers have to go home. And we know they love it.
 
So what is it we do as Woodcraft Folk leaders? What’s the role? And what makes a good leader? One thing is to be an example, a role model. Whenever I talk to young people, when I play a game, whenever I listen, I try and be the change I want to see – respectful of all, peaceful, having fun. Focused on the task. I try not to shout (I don’t always succeed), I try to empower people.
 
But also I teach. A central part of what we do is education. Not like in school, of course. For example,  a few months ago we showed the Pioneers a short film about the Battle of Cable Street. Chances are that most 11 or 12 year olds would never even hear about that historic occasion. When we’re on camp, our Pioneers whittle with sharp knives, cook and wash up and clean toilets, sing new songs and play new games, and make friends that will last a lifetime. That is all part of their education as rounded, active, empowered human beings, and none of that could happen without us, their leaders.
 
Now leadership’s a funny thing. Some people in Woodcraft Folk get a bit twitchy when you talk about being a “leader”. Some people even dislike the word itself, because it smacks of hierarchy, bossing people around (something I try to avoid, but don’t always manage!) I think leadership within Woodcraft Folk is about all the things I've mentioned (being a model, being aware of learning) but it’s sometimes also about saying “we’re going to do this now (put up this tent, sing this song, walk in that direction) - we’ve done the talking bit, let’s get on with it”. And sometimes somebody needs to be quite clear and strong about that. I’m that kind of leader sometimes, but we don’t ALL need to be like that. As long as you’ve got one or two who can be like that, others can take a different stance. 
 
One of the things I’ve learnt is the importance of the leadership team actually operating as a team. It’s no good having great individuals on your camp committee or your Pioneer team if they can’t operate together and communicate.
Which brings me to my last point: you’re probably doing OK. Most of us have doubts about our skills and our capacities, and worry that we’re not doing a good enough job.  I reckon if you’re sticking to the child protection policy, if you turn up regularly with enthusiasm, you’re doing OK. There may be room for improvement and development, sure.
 
But fundamentally you’re OK.