I’m not always good at asking for help. Are you like me? It’s easier to give than to receive–more familiar, anyway, or, if truth be told, simply more controllable. On the receiving end there is no telling what you’ll get.  Because if I do, in fact, ask for help, what I want is something that looks and feels like help to me. I guess I’m picky that way.

This is on my mind because we’ve started using new software on my job and so I’ve been asking for more help than usual; me and 1,000 other people. So here are two things I’ve learned from being on the receiving end that I want to remember when I’m on the giving end:

1. Acknowledge the cry for help. The person who needs help first of all needs to be validated in their request.  Don’t gloss over the concern or confusion with a cheerleader, company-line response.  Give space for the frustration or confusion. Don’t take it personally. Remember that being heard is an empowering experience.

2. Answer the question. This implies that you are listening to the person who is asking, whether or not you have heard the same question one hundred times.  Where, exactly, is the gap in their understanding? Resist the urge to jump right to the “fix,” without hearing the entire scenario. If you aren’t paying close attention to where they are stuck, and how they got there, then it’s likely your answer won’t be clear. Too much information is disempowering, even if it’s true. What you have to say can seem “above” the person, meaning it is so confusing that they assume an expert is needed, which they are not, and so they aren’t motivated to engage in finding a solution. Or your words can seem “below” them, as in not important or relevant, so they are not motivated to find the connection between your input and their problem.

Especially in the case of questions that don’t have easy answers, we need to offer help that supports the other person in their learning process. Believe in them while you toss out the life preserver. It’s only a matter of time until that ring will come your way.

Step Forward

Margaret Wheatley, in her book Turning to One Another, provides a definition of leadership that is so straightforward and simple. She says,

“In working with many people in very different cultures, I’ve learned to define leadership differently than most. A leader is anyone willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and takes the first steps to influence that situation… everywhere in the world, no matter the economic or social circumstances, people can step forward to try and make a small difference.”

A leader is anyone willing to help. If that is all it takes, then there is no reason you and I can’t be leaders. Wheatley has four simple steps in the process: see something that needs to change, step forward, try, and envision a small difference.

Seeing something that needs to change isn’t too difficult. I usually have an opinion about what needs to be different! But recently I read this quote, which really made me stop and think:

The heights charm us but the steps do not; with the mountains in our view we love to walk the plains. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

I can envision making a difference, but am I stepping up? Am I leading?

I think it’s important to focus on the “small difference” that I can make. I am more likely to see every starving African child, which is overwhelming, than take action in my own town. But Wheatley simply says, step forward. Just try. Envision a small difference. Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before… maybe in It’s Your World- Change It!

Tell me your story of stepping up. What did you try and how did it go? Did the experience help you encourage another woman or girl who saw a need, but was still walking the plains?

Act Now 2012

Last week, I went to the Girl Scouts Act Now 2012 Conference, focused on strategies for increasing membership. The organization wants to grow by 1 million volunteers in five years! Wow!

I heard some great things. I had fun! Most helpful to me– 10 Essential Elements for Creating the Girl Scout Experience. Based on research with nine troops, 10 elements  are essential to the quality of the girls’ experiences in Girl Scouting.  It reminded me why I wanted to do this in the first place. Take a look!

1. Families welcomed – when families understand how our commitment to girls helps them be leaders in their daily lives and in the world, girls have richer, more meaningful experiences in GS.

2. Belonging to a big sisterhood – getting girls excited about belonging and looking forward to the fun and impactful opportunities that await them may help retain them down the road.

3. Leadership development – is the core of the GSLE

4. Community engagement – through journeys, girls explore opportunities to change their communities and make a difference in the world

5. Skill building – choosing and earning at least one skill-building badge helps girls gain confidence in their ability to use their new-found knowledge

6. Expanding world view – by taking a trip, meeting an expert, or exploring in some other way, a girl’s world of ideas, people, and places expands

7. Ceremony and tradition – celebrating and honoring how girls have learned and grown in GS helps to point them toward new adventures

8. Adult support – especially in the use of the three processes (Girl-Led, Learning By Doing, and Cooperative Learning), volunteers can make the GSLE come alive for girls

9. Earning and learning – by participating in product sales, girls have the opportunity to “earn and learn” five skills (goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics)

10. Experience progression – share the exciting opportunities girls will have if they stay with Girl Scouts

Tell Me: For experienced GS leaders: Have you found these elements in your work with Girl Scouts? For new volunteers: Are you hoping to develop these elements in your troop?

Resources: How do you include these elements in your troop? GSUSA has created toolkits for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, available at:

The Hall of Fears

I think everyone is born with some instinctive fear–of falling, of the dark, of speaking in public, and/or of the words “Some Assembly Required.” I’m personally afraid of big machinery–pipes, cranks, dials and grease. Big wheels and fan belts. Maybe it was all the hydraulic equipment my engineering father showed us when we were young (read “family vacation”). At least I’m old enough now to say “no” to tours and museums that involve big machines and not apologize for it.

Louisa May Alcott is famous for saying “I’m not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I’ve been driving a car for 36 years, but I’m still afraid to drive in a blinding rain storm- the kind where the wipers on the highest speed don’t keep the windshield clear, and you’re lucky to see the red taillights of the car right in front of you on the highway. But I get her point. I’d probably say “I don’t mind being afraid, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Feeling fear is just a part of life.

Probably the more debilitating fears are the irrational ones that keep us from living our fullest lives. We all have some of those, right? I found this great exercise in a book called Life is a Verb by Patti Digh.  Try this: create your own Hall of Fears (picture something at the state fair, without an exorbitant entrance fee). Set the kitchen timer for three minutes and write down everything you can think of that creeps you out. Things you avoid. Things that are scary. Keep going until you hear the timer “ding.” Next read over the list and notice which fears actually keep you safe, and which ones keep you small. Circle the ones that inhibit you, that keep you from doing something you’d really like to do. For the most part, fear is actually a learned behavior, so think about how and where you learned the fears that you’ve circled. Finally, pick one fear and spend just five minutes writing a short children’s story about unlearning that fear. How would you teach a child not to be controlled by that fear?

That will give you something to stew about for the rest of the day. I’m sure Louisa May Alcott would agree that application is always the hardest part.

The Good, the Bad, and the Snack: My First Troop Meeting

Troop 40072′s First Meeting

My troop met for the first time yesterday. Troop 40072 consists of 13 girls, from Kindergarten through 5th grade, Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.

The Good

  • They were so excited to be Girl Scouts!
  • We learned the Girl Scout Promise, handshake, sign, and quiet sign — they caught on so quickly.
  • They shared what they wanted out of their Girl Scout experience: arts and crafts, trips, exploring outdoors, camping, and helping children in Africa to name just a few.
  • We voted on sashes — instead of vests — for our troop.
  • As a short Discover activity, the girls wrote and shared about things that make them happy and things that make them sad.
  • They liked the Friendship Circle.
The Bad
  • We had a bigger group than I expected and the person who was going to assist couldn’t make it.
  • We needed a bigger room.
  • The Daisies needed more help. When I went to help them, the Juniors seemed to get bored, walking around the room.
  • I didn’t leave enough time for clean-up!
  • My younger daughter didn’t think she squeezed the hand of the person next to her, yet the Friendship Circle continued to go, resulting in tears in the car on the way home. Total meltdown.
The Snack
  • They kept eating snacks the whole time and I only scheduled five minutes for it. They were really hungry right after school!
  • Then, there were lots of Clementine peels to clean up and not enough time to do so (see clean up note above).
Notes to Self
  • Get someone to help! For certain!
  • Allow more time for snacks.
  • Allow more time for clean up.
  • Split up group into age groups with an adult for each.
  • Find a bigger room.

Tell Me: How was your first troop meeting? Do you have meeting tips to share?


Leading Means Going First

“Everything in Girl Scouting is based on the Girl Scout Promise and Law. The Girl Scout Law includes many of the principles and values common to most faiths. Thus, while a secular organization, Girl Scouts has, since the movement began, encouraged girls to take spiritual journeys via their faiths’ religious recognitions.”

If you’ve ever looked into the “My Promise, My Faith” pin on the GSUSA website, you’ve seen that text above in the introduction to the recognition process. To earn the pin, a girl must make connections between her faith and the Girl Scout Promise and Law. As a leader or mentor you might wonder how to bring that connection process into a conversation, a meeting or, for that matter, your own life.

Faith is a major organizing principle in our lives; it is the source from which we derive meaning and inform our major life choices. Faith doesn’t require a religious belief system, although it often does. You might explain your view in terms of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zen, Indigenous or Earth Based Religions, Humanism, New Age Spirituality, a General Ethic of Care, etc. There are many ways to explore the essential questions of life.

The first step in guiding a girl to answer her own questions is to have invested in the answer to your own. And to connect your beliefs to Girl Scouting–Your Promise and Your Faith–is a learning experience that is well worth the time of quiet reflection that is required. Unfortunately, you won’t get a pin, but your ability to lead will be enhanced by the fact that you’re guiding a girl in a process you have experienced yourself.

Here is a suggestion: start with the Girl Scout Promise, and think through what each line means in your own words, and in your daily life. Print out the attached worksheet to get started. And please share what you learned making connections.

A Better Place

I was sitting in the airport the other day with my glasses on and a book in my lap but I was too doggone tired to read. I was daydreaming about that giant Boeing 777 airplane outside the window. Some lucky people were settling into their seats for a flight to Paris, or Barcelona, or some other beautiful place in the world. For some reason, this led me to think about “making the world a better place.” When it’s all said and done we want each girl, in some way, to be her best self and contribute to making this world better. Maybe that means saying “no” to friends who are cheating, gossiping or selling prescription drugs at school. Maybe that means saying “yes” to the college major she really wants instead of the program her mother prefers. Maybe that means being the first female president.

I think that how, when or why we say “yes” or “no” is a process of discovering our “voice,” or our true identity. Even though a girl grows and changes, and her environment changes, there are a few things that remain constant, meaningful and particular to her. She has a voice, a presence. When her voice is heard it has the dual effect of reinforcing that identity while uniquely affecting the people and processes around her.

That, you might think, is a lovely way to think about a girl’s identity. Let me ask you this: have you heard your own voice lately? Does your “yes” come out with tightness in your gut that says, “I don’t really want to do that”? Is your “no” a bit conflicted because a small feeling in your heart says, “go ahead and give it a try”?

This gets me to thinking that perhaps the first step to making the world a better place in general is to make my world a better place for me; to show up in an authentic way. To connect who I am with what I do. To speak what is true for me and make an effort to see my visions through. When what I believe is consistent with what I do, my voice has a quality that enriches my parenting, my work, my volunteering, my learning, my relationships…my world. Since I share this world with you, our voices together might sound like a chorus of intentional living. Who needs to fly away to find a beautiful place in the world when there is beauty right here in my own backyard?

Well, the truth is, I’d still like to go to Paris.

What is the Girl Scouts Leadership Experience?

Journeys and Guides

Volunteer Essentials answered a lot of the logistic questions I had–about registration, parent meeting, co-leaders, CPR certification, a troop bank account — which was great.

But in the week that’s passed since training — and as the date for my first troop meeting comes closer–I’m still not clear on the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. I don’t have a handle on the Journeys or the Girl Scouts Guides. So, I’ve searched the web for some more information. I’ve found this stuff helpful — and some of it fun. You may find it helpful too if you’re wondering about the GSLE. Take a look! Let me know what you think.

Experienced volunteers, tell me: What do you want to share about the Girl Scout Leadership Experience? How do you use the journeys and guides?

Girl Scouting is meeting girls’ definition of what it takes to be a leader with the New Girl Leadership Experience—a model that engages girls in discovering themselves, connecting with others, and taking action to make the world a better place. This model is more inclusive and empowering of girls as the experiences are, as much as possible, girl led and encourage experiential and cooperative learning.

Introducing Troop 40072!

Volunteer Essentials: Required Training

I went to my home council for the required training, Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson. “If you take two things away from this training,” our trainer Leigh said, “it should be 1) You can do this! and 2) there is lots of help available.”

She went on, “The biggest goal for your program is to be girl-led. It’s leadership; it’s girl-led.” We are teaching them how to lead.

While this is all very interesting — and why I wanted to start a troop, to nurture leadership in girls — what I really wanted to know was: What do I do when they show up that first day?

I do want to build girls of confidence, courage and character but I also want to make sure they don’t all get up and walk out of the room! Leigh was ready for that, and shared a typical troop session schedule:

  1. Girl Scout Pledge
  2. Girl Scout Promise
  3. Snack: Ask parents to sign up to bring snacks for each meeting
  4. Meeting Starter: Ask girls to share something about their week, sing a song, play a name game
  5. Activity: Working on a badge? Planning a trip? Going on a trip? Community service?
  6. Clean Up: “A Girl Scout always leaves a place cleaner that she found it” (If I can get my girls to do this at home, I will consider the whole experience a success!)
  7. Closing: Reflection, Song, Friendship Squeeze

“Create a community in your troop,” explained Leigh. “This is what we do.”

Other interesting tips:

  • I’ll need a First-Aid kit at every meeting
  • CPR and First-Aid training is strongly recommended
  • Write up a calendar for the year with meeting dates, place, and time
  • I’ll need a troop account at TD bank
  • I’ll need a registration form from each girl before they are covered by insurance so registration is REQUIRED before starting
  • The official volunteer uniform is a plain white shirt, khakis (pants, skirt, shorts), vest or sash
At the end, Leigh gave us the name of the contact person we email to get a troop number. I sent in my email however, they didn’t have proof of my completing the training. After clearing that up, I got the information: We are Troop 40072!
Tell me:  What do you think is essential in training for a new volunteer?



Why Change?

I have a ChapStick habit. Over the years I’ve changed from glossy, to all natural, to tinted, to medicated. I’ve even used different brands but never gone out with naked lips. That would feel funny to me, and according to the advertising professionals it would also be unhealthy, unattractive, and affect my quality of life. So I’m in! I love my ChapStick.

Suppose I was suddenly, and without consultation, deprived of my ChapStick. This is no laughing matter, because as Mark Twain says, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” Even if it’s for a good reason, abrupt change is hard! And I can’t think of any good reason to give up my ChapStick. But what if it wasn’t my decision?

It’s the same with organizational change. Moving from familiar tasks, procedures or policies to new ways of doing your job is a process that takes time. Have you asked any of these questions in the last five years: Why do we have to change? Why are these the right changes? Is this organization capable of handling the changes? What will the organization do to help me through the changes?

Or you can always feel free to look around for yourself. The important thing is to learn ways to change habitual actions in your own life, and then bring that knowledge and skill to the organization for collective change. It’s a life skill, really, and one that our girls, our families and our neighborhoods need to practice in order to enjoy a healthy quality of life. And that new shade of ChapStick- Hibiscus- doesn’t hurt, either!