Thursday, February 28, 2013

Everything I Need to Know About Leadership I Learned in Girl Scouts

You've seen them in front of your grocery stores.  In DC, they even stand at the top of the escalator of the subway after work.  When you are weak.  When just a little chocolate will go a long way to washing away the hassles of the day.  And that price, $4 a box.  Really, it is a good cause, just keep the extra dollar.  (You know you've done it!)  As I sit here eating my Thin Mints I am looking at the side of the box.  It says:

The Girl Scout Cookie Program
Selling Girl Scout Cookies helps girls develop 5 skills that they use throughout their lives:

1.  Goal Setting
2.  Decision Making
3.  Money Management
4.  People Skills
5.  Business Ethics

Now I was a Girl Scout, in 4-H, and in Junior Achievement throughout my youth and I can tell you that they are all excellent organizations with amazing and lifelong leadership lessons.  But as I sit here wondering if I can really open that box of Tagalongs before the box of Thin Mints is empty, I wonder if they realize all that they have missed.

Goal Setting - is critical.  I agree.  My friend's daughter's troop in California has already earned the whole troop the week camping and the trip to Build-A-Bear and they aren't finished yet.  They are learning to aim high, work hard to meet the goals, step out of their comfort zone to solicit people they don't know, and achieve great things together.

Decision Making - important by all means.  Where are we going to target people at their weakest, I mean hungriest?  What goals will we set?  Very important indeed.

Money Management - don't laugh this one off.  Multiply your local girl scout troop's intake by all the troops in the country and you are talking a multi-million dollar industry...being run by girls.  They know their stuff.

People Skills - such an underrated commodity.  The young women at the top of my subway escalator this week were super polite.  They had a crowd of 15-20 people standing around and no one waited more than 30 seconds to get their cookies and their change.  When was the last time you got that kind of service anywhere?  And they said thank you when they gave me my cookies.  Are you serious?  I am the one getting the chocolate that I wait all year for.  THANK YOU!!!!

Business Ethics - do we still remember what that is?  If the above mentioned fact that young girls are in effective control of a multi-million dollar industry that has been self-sustaining for 100 years is not enough for you, I've got nothing.  (Happy Centennial by the way!)

But hey, Girl Scouts of America, you missed something.  It is relatively easy to set individual goals and achieve them (New Year's Resolutions to lose weight aside).  Decision making is taught through case studies at every major business school in the country.  Money management, well there are accounting courses for that, right?  People can go to Disney to learn that.  Business ethics, there are countless articles and books on that now.

But here is what you missed...

Teamwork - these young ladies are setting goals, making decisions, and succeeding as a team!  What I wouldn't give to sit in on one of those meetings.  The negotiating and back room dealing that must go on.  And I truly miss the feeling of attending camp with your team because you earned it.

Engagement - it is all the buzz in the leadership world today.  I don't think there is a Girl Scout out there that does not know, understand, and embrace the mission - "Girl Scouts builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place."  And remember that multi-million dollar industry?  I can guarantee you that those camping trips and Build-a-Bear days cost a lot less that the staffing and overhead a company would need to match it.

Marketing - When was the last time you saw a commercial about Girl Scout cookies?  Take a look at what the Presidential Candidates spent on marketing last year and then look at what the Girl Scouts spend in a year.  They are essentially marketing that multi-million dollar industry with posterboard and markers.  Not only that, but they have mastered the concept of social media marketing.  Young Olivia ( is using social media and has already raised over $1,300 in $5 increments to send cookies to the troops like her father overseas.

Supply and Demand - Do you really think we would all drool when we hear "It's Girl Scout Cookie Time" if they were available all year long?  By shortening the window of availability you create the buzz and demand (and reduce the time working).

And maybe the biggest oversight of all - Branding.  These young ladies are learning the power of a simple, clear message backed by a high-quality product.  I never buy cookies in the store.  Seriously, I don't.  But Girl Scout cookies?  I literally cannot pass a troop.  Even if I have a cupboard full at home.

These skills are harder to learn in books and classes.  Real world experience trumps every time.  That is why so many executive development programs are adopting action learning projects as part of the curriculum.  And these young women are learning them all on the job.

When I tell you that everything I need to know about leadership I learned in the Girl Scouts, I am serious.  So next time you pass one of these young women, make sure you are nice to them even if you don't buy their cookies.  I am pretty sure we will all be working for them someday.