Before becoming involved as a Girl Scout Leader, I would have minimized the amount of leadership necessary for the position. Rather than being a true leader, I envisioned that a Girl Scout Leader would simply be the person organizing Scouting activities. What I did not realize is that leading a Girl Scout troop is a true exercise of one's leadership skills. After all, a Girl Scout troop leader must lead not only girls, but also the other parents in the group. Moreover, while troops are generally organized by age, they generally contain girls with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, so that the skills necessary for leading in one scenario are not the same ones required for leading in another scenario. Therefore, while I had hoped to be a transformational leader when I began my role as troop leader, inspiring each of the girls to become their best and brightest through my shining example, I found that transformational leadership was not the approach to take when working with younger Girl Scouts. Instead, I found myself taking a situational leadership approach.
Like most Girl Scout troop leaders, I became a troop leader because my daughter wanted to be a Girl Scout and her troop needed a leader. I had some childhood experience in the Girl Scouts, but it was limited experience, and, had my daughter not expressed an interest in the organization, it is unlikely that I would have encouraged her to pursue scouting. We began the troop when my daughter was in Kindergarten, which means that the troop began as a Daisy troop. We have continued participation with the troop through Daisy and Brownie levels and are currently regular Girl Scouts. The troop size has varied from six girls to fourteen girls, though the average troop size has been about ten girls. Moreover, we have covered a number of different activities in our troop during that time period. Girl Scouts are involved in camping activities, community service, fundraising, and a variety of other troop activities. Each of these activities requires a different approach, and they cannot all be described in one paper. Therefore, this paper will focus on Girl Scout troop cookie sales during my first year as a Daisy Scout leader.
Almost everyone is familiar with Girl Scout cookies, but most people see little difference between Girl Scout cookies sales and other fundraising activities. While cookie sales are the cornerstone of fundraising for the Girl Scouts on both the troop and council level, cookie sales provide greater opportunities to the girls than simply making money for their troop:
Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. is the premier leadership organization for girls. The $700 million Girl Scout Cookie Program is the largest girl-led business in the country and generates immeasurable benefits for girls, their councils and communities nationwide. Girls set cookie goals to support their chosen activities for the year, to fund community service and leadership projects, to attend summer camp, to travel to destinations near and far and to provide events for girls in their community (Girl Scouts, 2011).
Moreover, cookie sales are aimed at teaching girls five essential skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics (Girl Scouts, 2011). Trying to teach those skills to a group of five and six-year-old girls was a daunting task, which challenged my leadership capabilities.
As the troop leader, I was not the adult in charge of the cookie management on behalf of our troop. That person is the troop cookie manager. However, I attended cookie training with the cookie manager, so that I could help her with the process. We both began the process with misconceptions about cookie sales. When we were children, Girl Scouts cookies were sold door-to-door, with Scouts encouraged, not just permitted, to go to stranger's doors to market their items. Furthermore, we were both aware of the idea of cookie booths and believed that our troop could simply arrange with a local business to set up a cookie booth outside of the business. We were wrong about a lot of the information. For example, the Girl Scouts had safety guidelines that encouraged adult involvement in sales to strangers (Girl Scouts, 2010). Moreover, not only did cookie booths have to be organized through the council, but Daisies were ineligible to participate in those booths. Some of the greatest challenges in the cookie sales were the challenged presented by the other parents' misconceptions about the cookie sales.
The troop cookie manager attempted to take a transformational approach in our troop's initial cookie meeting. We had been instructed to let the girls set their troop and individual goals, determine how the cookie money would be spent, and come up with ways to market the cookies. After soliciting information from the girls about how they wanted their troop money to be spent and what type of rewards they wanted to earn for the sales, the troop cookie manager attempted to take "control of the situation by conveying a clear vision of the group's goals, a marked passion for the work, and an ability to make the rest of the group feel recharged and energized" (Cherry, 2011). She was able to do so, and the girls and the parents left that initial meeting excited about the upcoming cookie sales. There were also clear-cut goals for the sales. The girls wanted to make enough money to be able to take a troop daytrip to a nearby amusement park, with enough money to pay for the girls' tickets for the park. I challenged the girls to go beyond ticket price, and they increased the goal to include refreshments as well, so that the ultimate goal was for the girls to make an average of $50 each for the troop. Troop profits from the cookie sales are just $.50 per box, so each girl hoped to sell at least 100 boxes.
However, that excitement was relatively short lived. Because it was my first year as a troop leader and her first year as a cookie manager, some of the other parents in the troop began to question our knowledge about certain facets of the cookie sales. We had been told that Daisies could not participate in cookie booths, that we could not market outside of our council area, and that girls had to participate in each sale of the cookies. Many of the troop parents wanted to circumvent these rules, which would have resulted in not teaching the girls some of the skills of the cookie hunt. I realized I had to approach these parents as a situational manager. In fact, I took a telling/directing approach to those parents, telling them when cookie sales would commence, exactly how they could market the cookies, and how to manage the cookie money. When they repeatedly asked about cookie sales, I actually went up the management chain to get a regional cookie manager to send a message to the troop explaining the no-booth policy for Daisies.
However, with the Girls, I took a Participating/Supporting approach. I did not emphasize the importance of the cookie sales, but focused on those skills the cookie sales are supposed to encourage. I facilitated and took part in the individual girl decisions, but gave them control over the process (Godin, 2009). The Daisies were nervous about the cookie sales, but they had the necessary skills (being cute) to sell cookies. What they needed was confidence and motivation. We organized a day to engage in door-to-door cookie sales as a troop, partnering a shy girl and an outgoing girl for the sales and having them take turns at each door. We also involved others in the community. Cold calling sales can be difficult even for adults, so the troop parents who accompanied the girls on the sales day arranged to first visit six houses; two where the people were going to decline to buy, giving the girls experience with handling rejection, and four where the people were going to purchase. This gave each girl the opportunity to handle two sales and one decline before approaching strangers. While I was with my group of girls at the door, I did not answer questions, but left it to the girls to do the marketing.
Many of the reward systems in the cookie sales were built in to the process, so that, as troop leader, I did not have to put extra consideration into them. The girls received badges and little recognitions based on the number of cookies that they sold. This gave them individual recognition, so that we could use troop money evenly. We celebrated success with our trip to the amusement park, where the girls not only paid for their tickets and refreshments with cookie sale receipts, but also had enough money for each girl to spend up to $10 in the gift shop when we left.
The whole cookie sale experience provided me with valuable information about leadership. I learned that when working as a mid-level…