Avoiding Leader/GSM Burn Out

Volunteer burn out is a real problem in every organization. People give and give and give, until they have nothing left to give. Avoiding this, means setting boundaries and delegating tasks. It means saying “no” sometimes, even if you don’t want to.

Today, we are going to get into how to avoid burn out for yourself and your leaders in Outdoor Service Guides. There are two sides to this coin, empowering people to do things, and setting limits for yourself.

Empowering Your Team

As a GSM, my goal is to say No as little as possible. That sounds like it contradicts what I just said, doesn’t it? But what matters is not that I said yes, but how I say yes. Let’s say one of my scout leaders asks if we can have an event like a boat race or a model car roll. I will reply, “That sounds like a great idea! Let’s talk about what that looks like.” Then I work with the leader to make sure we have a plan that we can all accomplish. Will the guides make their boats or cars at home? Will we have to order kits? What other supplies do we need? Once we have a plan, we agree who will do what. Perhaps I will inform the parents that they need to gets kits and make cars, and my leader will get together all the other needed supplies. If there are a lot of supplies, we may pull in more leaders to help. If we need to borrow a different space than we usually use, we may even ask another leader or parent to make the necessary phone call. In this case, I took on the step I was comfortable with, sending parents an email and delegated the rest. ¬†This reduces everyone’s load to something manageable.

There are also times a parent asks if we can do something that wasn’t in my plans. Instead of either saying no, or taking the task on myself, I ask the parent to get the details or set it up themselves and get back to me with more information. An example of this is when one of our parents wanted our group to march in the local 4th of July parade. It sounded fun and appropriate, but I did not have the energy to chase down the people and paperwork that was required. Putting it on the parent who asked to do it, kept my load manageable. Once she had the information and had done the leg work, I could let our guides and parents know where and when we were doing the event and what to bring.

This method of asking the person who bring the idea to me to do the work to make it happen, keeps me from creating a load that is too heavy. If a leader or parent really believes in their idea, they will help you make it happen. If they just wanted you to do all the work, and it wasn’t in your plan, you do not have to do it. Letting others add an endless supply of things to your to do list is a quick trip to exhaustion. Plan what you want to do, and let others help with the rest.

Saying NO

It is a lot easier to say yes than to say no, for most of us. So, before you get to the point of wanting to say no to everything, you need to delegate. If you are a control freak, this might be hard for you. Be honest with yourself, what are things you have to do, and what work can you share? Forming a leadership team or group auxiliary is the best first step toward sharing the work. I like to invite all of our parents and leaders to attend planning meetings for the group. At those events, I have a list of jobs that need to be done, and I ask for volunteers. Often, parents who say they are too busy to be leaders, will volunteer to make a few phone calls to set up events or to help with work they can do from home. If someone else is able, they can run the website or do the camping trip shopping. Walk into your meetings with a list of things you can ask of others and expect help.

The hardest part of saying no, is when you will disappoint the youth members. But you cannot say yes to things that aren’t safe. Every meeting or event requires 2 deep leadership and reasonable adult assistance. If you don’t have the bare minimum of help, for whatever reason, make peace with canceling events or changing the group’s plans to work with what you have. Letting the group know that the reason you had to say no is a lack of volunteers, may bring a few out of the wood work.

Finding Your Own Limits

One of the things about being a scout leaders, is that it may cause you find your own limits in a way you never have before. There are SO many aspects to this work, that you will inevitably do things you have not done before. Some things that sound like no big deal, like planning a multi-group event, may turn into a LOT more work than you planned on. This means you have to recruit help as you go, and may need to declare you can’t do something again next year. If an event is successful, you may find that when you ask, you have far more help to do it a second time. But if you don’t, realize that if no one else feels it is a priority, you can’t carry the entire group on your own shoulders.

Be Kind to Yourself

You can only do so much, so choose wisely what you want to do with your group. If your favorite thing ever is kayaking, and you can rent kayaks for the group at a good price, plan that event! Planning things that make you feel good about leading, will keep you inspired. At the same time, if parents ask you to take the kids to an event that you would hate, it is okay to say no. Or ask if other leaders would like to be in charge of that event. Some events will make you feel awesome and others will make you exhausted. As you do them, make note of how you are feeling and use that information for future planning.

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