2008-04-23 / Opinion

Teaching leadership skills is part of Girl Scouts' task

Guest Column

Afew weeks ago I heard a knock at my front door. Like many of you in the same situation, I opened it a crack and peered outside. Standing on my doorstep was my next door neighbor's young daughter. She wanted to sell me Girl Scout cookies.

While most people see this encounter as nothing more than an opportunity to buy some sugary goodness that can only be purchased for a few weeks every spring, I knew her visit represented much more. This young entrepreneur wasn't just selling cookies, she was receiving a lifelong lesson in self-confidence and leadership.

I know this because I'm not just a connoisseur of Girl Scout cookies; I'm the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore and I'm a Girl Scout, too.

Girl Scout cookies are about more than dessert. They are the face of a national program designed to teach girls the skills necessary to become confident women capable of doing anything they choose.

Anew nationwide survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute illustrates just how much programs like these are needed. After talking with almost 2,500 girls, the results are shocking. Most girls don't aspire to be leaders. They're turned off by the conventional conception that leadership is about command and control.

While girls are turned off by leaders, they still aspire to leadership roles. They just don't want to be the type of leader they see on the news every day. Instead, their goals are far nobler. They want to be leaders who stand up "for their beliefs and values" who try "to change the world for the better."

Isn't that what we all wish our leaders would be?

These young girls' leadership dreams can be turned into reality. They need opportunities to become the leaders they wish they already had. They need a place to express themselves and identify their own voices. They need Girl Scouts.

Leaders aren't born, they are created by the people who surround them growing up. Girl Scouts introduces girls to role models and opportunities that nurture their inner voice and encourage a redefinition of leadership from their own point of view. We provide a safe environment for girls where they increase self-confidence and find strength to speak out about what's important to them. We identify community service opportunities where the skills and confidence received is just as important as the charitable effort given.

Girl Scouts are already preparing to do even more. Later this year we will unveil a new program model. It takes the opportunities that we already provide and expands them even more.

Girls will have greater control over their own success. They will discover what's important to them. They will use this discovery to connect their interests with needs in the community. And then, they will learn how to take action to meet and exceed those needs.

At the same time, we'll be able to evaluate the experiences they receive and adapt them, as necessary, for the generations of girls who will follow in their footsteps for years to come.

These experiences are for all girls. When you break the results of the Girl Scout leadership survey down by ethnicity you see that girls share the same views about leaders and leadership. They are ready to step up, but only if they can step into a role that they define.

Whether Hispanic, African American or Caucasian, these girls have specific, clear thoughts about leadership and what it means to be a leader. We are ready to help them turn those thoughts into action.

There is no one way to help girls become strong and courageous. There is no one method to teach them confidence. There is no one set of morals that teaches them how to be the leader they crave.

Some girls will discover who they are in large groups, speaking to hundreds while touching each set of ears on an individual level. Others will find their voices ring out loudest when they are speaking in the smallest of settings.

There will even be girls who learn confidence by walking to the front door of their neighbor and ringing the doorbell. You will hear her voice shake as she asks if you want to buy Girl Scout cookies. When she walks away, you will see she has just a bit more confidence than she did when she arrived.

And, most importantly, next year, when she visits your house again, her voice won't shake nearly as much.

Susan H. McClure is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore, Howell.

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