Learning to Help Unit Leaders Succeed
By Robert Peterson
Commissionersa unit leader's best friendhone their skills and gain inspiration at an annual council conference.
For many people the title "commissioner" brings to mind the official who runs a professional sport, like the Major League Baseball commissioner, or a person serving at a top supervisory level in government, like the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
A Scouting commissioner, however, serves not from on high but from wherever the action is, being a combination of adviser, counselor, information and idea resource person, and cheerleader. His or her job description boils down to one essential goal: Do whatever it takes to help unit leaders succeed in effectively delivering the ideals of Scouting to their members.
An annual council conference or college for commissioners provides a variety of opportunities for training, fellowship, information, and inspiration. Last February, 100 commissioners, bearing such titles as unit commissioner, roundtable commissioner, district commissioner, and council commissioner, gathered at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., for this year's commissioners conference of the Theodore Roosevelt Council of Long Island's Nassau County.
Keynote speaker for the conference was BSA National Commissioner William F. (Rick) Cronk. Focusing on the problem of "lost units," he stressed the importance of monthly commissioner visits to help prevent any threat to the health of a pack, troop, or crew.
A district commissioner in action
Making such visitsduring which a commissioner provides encouragement, advice, and program tools to unit leaderscan be habit forming.
Just ask Rough Rider District commissioner Vito Deliso, who had served as a unit commissioner for four years. Now, as one of the district's "Key 3" (along with the district chairman and district executive), he focuses on recruiting new commissioners and providing training, supervision, and motivation for his commissioner staff.
But Deliso still goes regularly to unit meetings throughout his district. "I'm not required to do that," he said, "but it's like anything else, whether at work or in Scouting. You need to know what's going on."
Both Deliso and his wife, Terry, have been devoted to Scouting since 1994 when their son joined a Cub Scout pack. "We're out almost every night on Scouting business," said Terry, whose varied duties include serving as a unit commissioner.
Vito Deliso's people skills are celebrated in the Rough Rider District. "He's a wonderful leader who inspires people," said council commissioner Stephen R. Herman. "He's also a facilitatora diplomatwho knows how to bring the various factions of the district together, and that's a great skill."
Deliso is also a highly successful recruiter. As a result, the Rough Rider District averages one commissioner for every 1.9 units, compared with the council end-of-the-year ratio of one for every 2.6 units. (Both district and council far exceed the national average of one commissioner for every 4.8 units.)
The opportunity to recruit new commissioners is one reason he continues to visit units, Deliso said. "When visiting a pack, for example, I look for experienced Webelos Scout den leaders whose boys are graduating into troops."
The best candidates are leaders who "have enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication to the program, plus Scouting experience," he explained. "Enthusiasm and dedication are important because, if you really believe in the program, you're going to go the extra mile."
However, Deliso won't approach current Scoutmasters for commissioner service. "Scoutmasters are off-limits," Deliso explained, "because they're too busy and their job is too important."
At the conference, commissioners learned what the Internet canand can'tdo for them from Robert Koch, council commissioner of neighboring Suffolk County Council. Koch described the resources available on a variety of Scouting-related Internet sites. He explained the benefits and draw- backs of using e-mail, online message boards, and mailing lists for exchanging information, and how to promote Scouting with digital pictures and greeting cards.
But he also warned that "a 100 percent digital commissioner will fail. The personal touch is critical at all commissioner levels."
Scouters William Maron, Tom Liddy, and Ray Greenspan told the commissioners about the BSA's national Strategic Plan for 2002-2005, developments in leader training, and the new Wood Badge course for all adult leaders.
At the breakout sessions led by Michael Chirillo, Janice and Raymond Pomerico, and David Barkstedt, commissioners considered how they could help their packs and troops earn Quality Unit status, the ingredients for "a menu for success" at roundtables, or the elements for effective Venturing crews. Some topic choices included how to become a more effective leader, conducted by Austin Cannon, Louis Korosy, and Fred Troll, and a problem-solving exercise on such questions as sex discrimination, charter renewals, and camping on private property.
Another session, how commissioners can help to ensure that units aren't lost, was led by William Russell. Called "Unit Retention," that session's title would have been appropriate for nearly all the breakouts because, as National Commissioner Rick Cronk had urged in his keynote talk, "our focus is on no lost units."
Robert W. Peterson is a Scouting magazine contributing editor.
September 2002 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2002 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.