Since Mike Surbaugh was named as the BSA’s next Chief Scout Executive in May, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Mike as he prepares to transition to his new role. Behind the scenes, Mike has tenaciously been gathering facts and engaging countless volunteers and staff across our organization to listen to their thoughts and feelings about how Scouting should move forward.
Later this week, Mike will share some of what he’s heard, along with his vision of Scouting’s future during our annual Top Hands meeting. We’ll share highlights across the BSA’s various communications channels, but in the meantime, I’d like to offer you an interview with the next Chief in which he candidly shares what’s on his mind as he prepares to become the BSA’s next leader.
Q: Can you point to a single moment in your life that you feel has prepared you for this moment?
A: Pointing to a single moment would be tough. It might surprise folks that I never aspired to be Chief Scout Executive. In fact, when people ask when I decided to do this, my answer is “When they asked me to interview!”
What I can point to, though, are all the experiences I’ve had in Scouting, and all of the coaching that I’ve received from volunteers and professionals along the way. Every role I have had in Scouting has been so interesting and I have tremendously enjoyed how each one has led to expanded leadership opportunities. Looking back, this is really just a culmination of all the incredibly talented people that brought me along. And today, I’m optimistic that those experiences and relationships have given me the tools to do this job effectively.
Q: What’s your assessment of the current state of Scouting?
A: I truly feel that we have limitless opportunity. I think that we’ve gone through a number of very serious challenges. We’ve struggled with a number of issues, as has society. I think we are now able to get past the controversies and get back to our core mission, which is serving youth with programs that transform and strengthen their values.
The impact of what we do in Scouting can be expansive. I’ve never been so encouraged about the future of our nation until I went to the National Order of the Arrow conference earlier this month. When you see 10,000-plus young people gathered together who have tremendous leadership capacity and who demonstrate a commitment to service, it is impossible not to be impressed and reflect upon our potential for doing amazing things.
Q: What keeps you up at night when you think about Scouting’s future?
A: I think about how we are going to be able to effectively demonstrate our value proposition to a very different demographic. The BSA’s legacy has been built by generations passing Scouting’s heritage to the next. We’ve had a very iconic position in popular culture. People have known who we are.
The demographic we need to serve during the next 25 years looks very different than it did 50 years ago, but the value proposition of what we can deliver to young people is timeless. Our challenge will be taking the values and core mission of Scouting and delivering them to a different population that has different expectations. If we can effectively share with parents “Here’s why you need Scouting for your child,” we will be stronger than ever.
Q: What are you most optimistic about when you think about Scouting in the years ahead?
A: We’ve been through a lot as an organization, both at volunteer and staff levels. I think we are ready to set that aside and say, “Now it’s time to grow,” and “Let’s redouble our focus on serving kids.” I hear that again and again from Scout Executives and volunteers.
We have conducted an intensive study of our culture. When you look at the results, we all want to be in the same place – whether it’s a local council board member, national council staff member or district executive. Culture really is everything. If you can establish a dynamic culture and develop an organization that wants to go in the same direction, that’s incredibly powerful.
If our mission is to serve more youth – to make Scouting more easily understandable and deliverable to today’s parents – then we have unbelievable potential. We have the strength with our volunteers and staff. We have the mission. Now we just have to execute. And I am very optimistic about our ability to do that.
I’m optimistic about that too, Mike.
I want to thank my successor for taking the time for this interview and letting me share with you some of his thoughts on the journey that awaits him and all of us who are members of the Scouting community. I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say it’s clear that our future is in very capable hands.
You will hear more from Mike in the days and weeks ahead as he prepares to officially become the next Chief Scout Executive. In the meantime, I encourage you to reflect on his thoughts, embrace his positive outlook and consider how you can help Scouting continue delivering unforgettable experiences for the youth of today and tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.