Generation Gaps & Leadership Outcomes



As I mentioned in my Tradition post, I recently finished reading Tough Cookies by Kathy Cloninger, the CEO of Girl Scouts from 2003 to 2011.  I won’t rehash my first impression or caveats since I already did that in the first blog post about this book.  Also, if you’re curious as to what my background is as a Girl Scout and volunteer, you can read about it here (4th paragraph down) to see where my perspective lies.  With all of that out of the way, I’ll move on to another commentary about what I see affecting us today based on the philosophies shared in Tough Cookies

On p. 18, Cloninger shares her experience as a young woman graduating from school and entering the work force.  She states that even though she ranked high in her class, she was pushed toward secretarial school – because that’s what you were supposed to do as a woman at that time.  She then goes into more detail about her road to CEO-dom as the book continues – I suppose as a way to show that yes, she was a woman that worked her way up from nothing to being Girl Scout Overlord.  It’s obvious that her experience of being pushed toward “womanly” roles and away from other careers early on colored her view of the world and how the business world worked.  Which makes sense – everybody is influenced by their experiences.  She states multiple times throughout the book that there should be more women in the boardroom.  And how the world would be a better place if there were more women in the boardroom.  And that perhaps the financial implosion of 2008 and Fukushima nuclear meltdown wouldn’t have happened if there were women in those boardrooms (pp. 160 and 161).  I could make a snide comment here about our membership numbers imploding and melting down when she was at the helm, but I won’t.

Women Woman - our role model that kicked ass and took names!

Women Woman – kickin’ ass and takin’ names!

I don’t know how old Cloninger is, but I was born in 1973 and graduated high school in 1991, and I could not have had more of a different experience than she did coming out of school.  Growing up, I could do anything as a girl.   I don’t remember anyone ever stating otherwise.  Granted, my mother wished I wore pink and frills and wasn’t such a tomboy, but she never said I couldn’t accomplish something just because I was a girl.  If anything, we were cheered on by teachers and adults.  Sally Ride as an astronaut?  Well yeah, why wouldn’t she be one?  What show did every girl my age watch in the late 70s, and who did they pretend to be when they wrapped aluminum foil around their wrists?  Wonder Woman!  Secretarial school?  What is that?  Home Ec class?  I’m not even sure we had one at my high school.  Sure, there were jokes like “you throw like a girl” or whatever, but we pretty much just rolled our eyes and went on doing whatever it was we were doing.  Careers?  My fellow girl classmates went into all sorts of fields ranging from engineering to English literature.  The sky was the limit, and I don’t think it ever occurred to us that it would be anything but.  By the way, I thank the women who went before us that made this possible.  Unlike Cloninger’s experience, I was pushed hard by both my parents and the advisor at UGA to take a path toward a double major in finance and marketing while on a MBA fast track.  My advisor said we needed more women executives, and she was very disappointed when I decided to switch to the Journalism School.  I sort of felt like I let women down everywhere, and I almost stayed with it out of obligation.

So when I read about Cloninger’s experience, it felt very foreign to me.  There’s a huge generation gap between the two of us.

I’ll come back to this later.

Transforming Leadership

Transforming Leadership

When I returned to the Girl Scouting world as a volunteer, I learned about the Processes (Girl Led/Learning by Doing/Cooperative Learning), the Discover/Connect/Take Action focus, and the 15 National Leadership Outcomes.  If you’re not familiar with them, then take a brief moment to follow the links to familiarize yourself with them.  My first impression was that they were right on target, and I still believe this.  They pretty much put into writing what I gained personally from my experience as a Girl Scout.  I got the impression that the 26 member strategy team mentioned in the book thought they were revolutionizing Girl Scouts by coming up with the Leadership Experience, but they actually did not in my opinion.  They just put what Girl Scouts does and what it has been doing for years down on paper.

But next came the execution of the Leadership Experience, and here’s where I part ways with the current strategy because I believe its implementation is flawed.

I can’t help but wonder if when a certain group of GSUSA leaders and board members took over in the early 2000s, they felt like they could use Girl Scouts as a vehicle to create a vision of what they thought women’s roles in the world should be.  But was their thinking colored by a generational gap and misplaced motivations?  Were their beliefs what today’s girls really want?  We claim we know by using terms and phrases like “girl led,” but are we really doing that when it comes to materials such as Journeys?  Case in point from pp. 129 and 130:

Our core business strategy has driven big changes in our program for girls.  We realized we needed programs that could build on girls’ past scouting experiences, resonate with diverse populations, incorporate service and citizenship and community action, and produce consistent experiences and outcomes.  These guidelines led us to design and introduce leadership “journeys” – books of activities, lessons, and games – for girls of different ages.  Each journey offers progressive activities related to a theme…

Each journey is also tied to specific outcomes – such as “Girls can solve conflicts” – enabling us for the first time in scouting’s history to say to families, donors, and legislators, “Here’s what girls get out of Girl Scouting.”  Identifying and quantifying those outcomes has been a major challenge….

Cloninger goes into further detail about the outcomes and how they are measured in Chapter 8.

Before I continue, I just want to say that the claim about no one ever being able to explain what girls get out of Girl Scouting in over 100 years is absolutely ludicrous and frankly pretty arrogant.  Wow, it’s a wonder Juliette Gordon Low ever got the program off the ground since she wasn’t ever able to explain how Girl Scouts benefits girls.  But I digress.

I don’t see anything that’s “girl led” in that passage.  So in other words, our programming is a slide in a boardroom presentation.  That hopefully have women in them, of course. Or stated another way – the point of a Journey is to measure an outcome.  Instead of finding out how girls want to eventually get to that outcome, we’re stating that we want girls to have that outcome as a goal while they earn this Journey or badge, and we’re going to tell them how to get there.  Isn’t part of becoming a leader finding out how to forge your own way and not following what others want you to do?  Would either Cloninger or I have become effective leaders if we had done what was expected?

cart before horseWhile I can see where they were going with having the ability to measure where girls stand on the 15 National Leadership Outcomes as explained in Chapter 8, making this measurement the goal of a Journey is putting the cart before the horse in my opinion.  It’s almost as if the success of measuring the outcome itself is more important than how the girl gets there or if she even gets there at all.

Am I saying that outcomes such as solving conflicts shouldn’t be encouraged in materials?  No, not at all.  But I believe those outcomes will fall into place and will develop on a girl’s own path to leadership.  So how do I think they’ll get there?  By trying, testing, succeeding, failing, teaching, implementing, and working by themselves and together as a group via a variety of badges and awards of their own choosing that expose them to experiences and skill sets that they normally wouldn’t have in their everyday life.  This is truly the Leadership Experience and the way Girl Scouts has worked for over 100 years.  Would it be harder to show others what Girl Scouts does for girls and young women (and therefore making it harder to fund raise)?  Yes, it probably would.  I said two years ago that you’d have to have a time machine to do this.

While I’m sure some people and GSUSA would claim Journeys and the current badge program develop leaders the same way, they really don’t.  It’s not the same path because it’s not created by girls.  They don’t experience things that they wouldn’t normally do.  Maybe I ought to write a more in-depth post explaining specifically why I feel Journeys do not deliver the Girl Scout Processes, but it might be just beating a dead horse since complaints about Journeys have been going on for so long.  Maybe I’ll write it while our Cadette troop is working on one in the future since we have to in order to earn the Silver Award.

Back to the generation gap.

But Cloninger’s experience and mine are similar in one way.  Both of us were pushed to do something we didn’t want to do.  Hers was due to women’s limited career choices at the time, and mine was because I was expected to fill a role for equality’s sake.  However, I believe our motivations are different because of this generation gap and because of my Girl Scout experience.  My interpretation is that she feels women are still burdened by what society thinks women should become, while I think we’re almost past that (but whether we are or not is a separate discussion).  I get the impression she thinks Girl Scouts should be used to even the playing field and based a plan and programming on this belief, while I think its purpose is for individual girls’ development so that it can help them do whatever it is they want to do in life, and there’s not one particular way to do this.  Please note though that I am NOT saying that everyone who did not have the benefits that I did growing up have the same motivation.  If anything, I feel a lot of these women, especially Girl Scout alumnae and “old timers” (I say this affectionately), see the big picture and appreciate and build on it to the benefit of girls today.

To sum up, I feel the current Girl Scout program, as promoted by GSUSA, attempts to turn girls into leaders to serve the purpose of equality in the world and workforce by using a cookie cutter approach that does not work.  On the other hand, volunteers hope each girl develops her own path to become a leader because that’s what will benefit her personally.

The Leadership Outcomes are based on ideas that have been promoted throughout Girl Scouts’ history, and according to GSUSA’s research, the experience works.  It’s puzzling that Cloninger pointed out the long-term evidence of our success (p. 133), but yet threw it out the window because she felt it was antiquated and hard to measure.  Our program is one that teaches girls leadership, but it only works when they travel a path they’ve created themselves.

road not takenThe Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost


  • Very well said. I had almost the same discussion today with our Council CEO. I have two daughters, neither of whom was a Girl Scout. One is a BSRN ER Nurse at a large metropolitan university ER The other just completed her PhD in Higher Education and Economics. They both amaze me.

    They were both raised to believe that they could do anything they aspired to and we are trying hard to instill the same belief in my two granddaughters, now 6 & 11, a Daisy and a Cadette.

    I hope that my granddaughters’ experience in Girl Scouts leads them to have confidence in their ability to be anything that presents itself. I am not convinced that Journeys is doing that and that it is truly “girl-led”.

    Thanks for your very well-written and reasoned thoughts. Keep it coming!

  • This is smack dab, righteously correct. As somebody who is advocating and working for more Official Outdoor Program (and many more badges), I agree that this would give the girls of Girl Scouting many more choices. And I feel they deserve to learn about what THEY want to learn about.

    It is not just about what job is best, it’s about what is best for EACH girl. Each girl is unique. She needs choices. She needs to see and research ALL opportunities, not just some.

    I have shared your posting several places. I really love it! And can’t wait to read your next one!

    A postscript: When you were born, I was graduating high school. I already knew that I COULD do anything I really set my mind to doing. I did not feel that I HAD to be a Secretary, but I took shorthand to make this easier as a “Fall-back” job just in case. I skated through a few kinds of different jobs, trying out different things. I wound up staying mostly in the Printing Industry. I did enjoy a lot of things about it.

    I have seen many glass ceilings break in my lifetime. In my opinion, we are not where we need to be yet. But we are doing better.

    My Girl Scouting experience DID really help me, in many ways. AND it helped me discover what OTHER things I liked too. And made me braver and a better learner.

    Your posting touches on something SO important to our Movement.

    The most important thing is that GSUSA Program change is great, but sometimes we need to reflect on whether what we (or others) have changed was necessary.

    We should not cling to something that is NOT working. We need to get back to what really makes Girl Scouting work, and stop limiting the girls. We need to have work together and get back to what Juliette Low intended, and what the GIRLS need.

    To me, it is another path to Girl Scouting’s Highest Awards and many more badges too. Could it look like a badge and award-driven Program? Yes, it could. Kudos for a fine article!! 🙂

  • Very well said. Your are right on target. You should write a more detailed post sharing why you feel the journeys do not deliver the Girl Scout Program I totally agree with two of your comments. “Each girl develops her own path to become a leader because that will benefit her personally”. ” Our program works where the girls travel path they have created themselves.”

    • It will probably be a while since I’ll soon be getting ready to ramp up for the start of the school year, and troop business comes first!

  • I’ve enjoyed your posts! Looking forward to more. And plan to read Kathy’s book soon!

  • Nail on head. From the author of the White Paper, October 2015, Glad you stayed with journalism.

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