Because I’m in business for myself I rarely worry about building consensus. I look for a certain type of client. Prospective clients find me, seeking a certain set of skills. We negotiate the editing. And business gets done.
I’m paying more attention to consensus and other leadership processes lately, though, because the girls in my daughter’s Brownie troop are transitioning from being group members into owners. It’s often tedious but also, in flashes, amazing to watch this happen. From kindergarten through their second grade year, the moms pretty much called all the shots, deciding which activities the girls would take part in and how to allocate the troop’s cookie money. Well, no more.
These third graders are beginning to think for themselves.
To kick off their first meeting of this school year, they chose a troop crest. This is an optional bit of flair to wear in the insignia area of the scout vest or sash. There are 16 images to chose from. Troop leader Melissa got the girls started by setting their task: choose a crest that you think best represents the troop. Think over the images for a while, pick your top two, and prepare to say why you made those choices.
After the quiet time was up, each girl stated her preference. Several themes emerged, but the main one had to do with reaching for your goals. The arrow and shooting star images were therefore strong contenders for troop crest.
Mara was in the minority. She wanted the lei, a symbol of friendship. A few other girls had mentioned they liked the lei as well, for the same reason, but that they preferred something about aiming for a goal. Heather nominated the waterfall “because a river is made of lots of little drops, kind of like us.” My daughter took off with the water theme and suggested the nautilus shell, to represent growth.
Instead of getting closer to consensus the group had begun to scatter. Then Abby came in, a few minutes late from dance class. Melissa brought her up to date on the crest-selection task and the rest of the girls quieted for Abby to make her choice.
“The bee,” she said, pausing for a moment to think about why she liked the bee. But before she could share her reasons, each girl around the circle said, “Yeah, the bee!” Now, Abby is a well-liked member of the troop but not someone that others feel they have to please. So it was surprising that everyone was so quickly won over to her idea. None of them had even mentioned the bee in the first round of picks.
“Bees work together for their goals!” the girls exclaimed. But Mara was quiet. With a little prodding from the leader she managed to explain that she liked the bee for the togetherness aspect, but that she preferred the lei for its artistic value. Flowers are just plain prettier than bees.
“So, why not make a flower?” I suggested. Shifty shuffling noises had begun around the table, so I thought I’d offer a little nudge to tip the balance. “You can have the bee crest, but each girl can modify her crest with a crafted pin.” This went over well. With a little more prompting the girls got out their brand-new notebooks and wrote notes for themselves.
Next week we need to bring fabric and other supplies for making the pins, they wrote down, in excited large letters that were purely for their own purposes. No teacher would read and correct their supply lists.
After establishing the date of the next meeting, Paige called out, “Hey! We could make calendars!” Pencils moved. Oh, the power of being able to write things down and use your own brain, and make decisions.
Of course none of us wants to think about the dreary grown up versions of the skills our girls are learning: running a meeting when you’d rather be elsewhere, synthesizing disparate opinions, recording minutes, and planning for yet another meeting. But it’s fun to see third graders’ little grey cells firing away. When their leadership skills bloom, maybe a pair or trio of them will own a gym or dance studio together. Maybe a few will become policy makers in Washington or their state capitals. Maybe some will become scientists, not just toiling in a lab but also collaborating with co-authors on journal articles and grants…
For now I’m just proud of them for enjoying the thinking process together. We can all learn something from that.