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by Scott Eblin

Recently, while teaching at Georgetown’s leadership coaching program, I was reminded of something that shaped me as a kid and a leader. In a segment where the students share their favorite coaching tools, Graham Segroves, from the Leadership Education and Development department of the CIA, acknowledged a resource that was helping him with his newly adopted physical activity of cycling. Graham’s tool for learning about cycling? The Boy Scout requirements booklet for the Cycling merit badge.

Graham explained that as a kid he had been a Scout and that all of the merit badge booklets have the same format. They start out with teaching you the basics of the subject and require you to demonstrate proficiency around those basics. 

If you think about it, the whole process of starting with learning the basics of any discipline and methodically working your way up to some level of mastery makes sense for undertakings far beyond Scout merit badges.  It led me to consider, “If there were a merit badge for organizational leadership, what would the requirements be?”

Here’s a really rough cut at the first draft of the requirements for the Organizational Leadership merit badge: 

1. Spend three to five years working for different leaders. Categorize them into best bosses you’ve worked for and worst bosses you’ve worked for. Make a list of the characteristics of each group. Identify what you want to model from the best leaders and what you want to avoid from the worst leaders.

2. Demonstrate personal leadership by: (a) taking on and sticking with tough jobs; (b) organizing yourself to be a reliable and productive contributor to the team and larger organization; (c) sharing credit with others; (d) viewing setbacks as part of the process and learning from them; (e) responding thoughtfully to events instead of just reacting to them.

3. Lead a single team in achieving results in a specific area. Demonstrate competence in: establishing goals; evaluating the current situation; engaging the team in coming up with solutions; establishing and using measures to monitor progress and performance; directing and coaching the team members; sharing the results of the team in a context that matters to senior management.

4. Ask for feedback on your leadership effectiveness. Identify strengths that you can build on and leverage in new ways. From the following list, identify one or two opportunities for improvement that could make you a more effective leader: shaping your communication to the desired outcome and specific audience; building relationships within the team and across the organization; effective delegation and follow-up; listening skills; coaching skills.

5. Spend a day shadowing a senior leader of your organization. Pay attention to how he prepares for different meetings, how he participates in those meetings and how he engages others. Note any differences you see throughout the day. Ask the senior leader what his goals were for each meeting and how he adjusted to meet those goals. Write a one-page memo to yourself on what you learned and how you could apply it.

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