Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Celebrating a Century of Service

He who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows greatest….

This week has been one where I have “servant leadership” on the brain. Its a tricky topic in this day and age. Striking many as more than a little bit old fashioned. As I sit here in Manchester England (I am here on a two day business trip, I’ll head back to London later today...) On the other side of the world at Michigan State University, over 15,000 members of the Boy Scouts of America, who are members of an honor society known as the Order of the Arrow have gathered to celebrate the organization’s centennial at their National Conference (NOAC).

Back in 1915  two men,  Dr. E. Urner Goodman, and Col. Carrol A. Edson  were running a Summer Camp for Boy Scouts at Treasure Island, just   outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania .  As the Summer progressed,  they wanted to come up with a way to recognize  young men who  exemplified the idea of  “cheerful service”, of going above and beyond the norm of what was expected in being both an example to,  and  a servant –leader of  their fellow campers.  

Moreover, they wanted to make that recognition something special. Something that would be both and meaningful and forward facing. Meaning, it would both recognize and motivate those who were honoured, to dedicate themselves all the more to the idea of serving others. To achieve this, the two men drew heavily on their Masonic background to create and induction process that would embody and emphasize the core principles of this new honor society; Brotherhood, Cheerfulness and Service.

Additionally, they decided that the decision of choosing who would receive the honor of membership in this new group would be made by non-members. Election to the Order would be something bestowed on you by your peers, not something you campaigned for. 100 years later, The Order of the Arrow has grown from a creative idea to recognize and inspire campers and staff at one Summer camp, into American Boy Scouting’s national honor society with over 180,000 current active members and hundreds of thousands of alumni spanning the globe. The OA counts among its ranks, Presidents, members of Congress, Astronauts, CEO’s Generals, Admirals, Cabinet members and Hollywood icons. 

Consequently , the OA has often been regarded (as many fraternal organizations are..) as some sort of “secret society”. While untrue, the assumption is understandable. To ensure that new members going through their induction in the future do not have their experience lessened or spoiled, some aspects are safeguarded as confidential. This Allows the Order of the Arrow, to utilizes mystery as a tool in its induction process. Yet the OA will never withhold information from any person legitimately interested in investigating its nature, purpose, or methods of the organization.
The mission and focus of the Order of the Arrow has grown over the past century and includes areas such as environmental responsibility, promoting the protection, sustainable use and conservation of the outdoor camping environments in which the Order was founded. The ArrowCorps Program provides hundreds of volunteer hours annually. Yet the Order's core purpose is and has always been, this idea of servant leadership. Or “Cheerful Service” to others.
Programs to achieve this include the aforementioned National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC), held every two years and happening this week at Michigan State University.
Also, the OA regularly runs National Leadership Seminars (NLS). A two day conference focused on the skills and attributes of leadership. The program enhances the leadership skills of the members as they seek to improve their services to the Boy Scouts of America and the greater communities in which they live.

The NLS complements other week-long, more detailed leadership programs for both youth and adults in Scouting. The NLS prepares members to become better leaders both within and outside of Scouting program. It is an outcome I can attest to, first hand. From 1987 to 1992 I taught sessions as part of the staff of more than 20 National Leadership Seminars at both the Regional and National level .  

It is not an overstatement to say, my experiences in Scouting, but more specifically in the Order of Arrow, are largely responsible for my more than twenty year career in organizational learning and leadership development, that has spanned the US, Europe and Asia. 

There is not a day when I am not able to apply the principles instilled me as a member of the Order of the Arrow in both my personal and professional life. My experiences as an “Arrowman” both influenced and informed key choices I have made, and have also given me some of the greatest friendships I have in my life.

So to my friends, and fellow “Brothers” (and more than one Sister as well... ) in the Order of the Arrow, happy 100th birthday. Here’s to the next century of service, friendship and fellowship.


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