Leader Burnout

I remember walking in to a large red and black auditorium. The tables and chairs were set up in a large horseshoe. A short plump man in his signature polo shirt and scout pants leaned on a wooden podium chit chatting with others as he waited to start our monthly roundtable meeting. 

At this time I had already been an Assistant Scoutmaster for about six years. I started going to roundtable in the months before I would be elevated to scoutmaster at the tender age of 24. As a side note I don't know any 24 year olds who are mature enough or ready enough to be a Scoutmaster. I know I wasn't. 

These meetings were usually just robust extensions of conversations started at OA chapter meetings and probably at a plenty of other meetings I didn't know about at the time. A semblance of a program, announcements about upcoming events and perhaps some cake. One month, when there was nothing planned. The roundtable commissioner, still leaning on a podium asked for suggestions for upcoming topics to discuss. I raised my hand and said leader burnout. 

I was practically laughed out of the place. “If you were burnt out why would you be here?” I shrugged and gave my signature “whatever dude”. But in my mind the words obligation, responsibility, legacy and if not me who, kept running through my head. I know I wasn't just talking about myself, there had to be others who were there just because that is what they did. And no doubt there were people who were so enthusiastic about scouting at that point. It just wasn't me. 

I toughed it out and there had been ebbs and flows of “scout spirit” running through my veins. I have always remembered that I never wanted to make any of my leaders feel the way I was feeling. In subsequent years, my Troop and Pack have had leaders who have stepped up and took a lot of the burden on themselves. I always pull them aside and talk to them about how much we appreciate their efforts but that they don’t need to volunteer for every single task. When you have too many balls in the air, and suddenly something changes, the unit can go into chaos.  

While there are no accurate statistics available on how long the average adult stays with scouting, mostly because of the very wide range that goes from volunteering for a year or two to the “lifers”. But I would assume that a lot of those people feel burnt out from time to time. Having kids in the program would also skew the statistics (of my 25 years as an adult volunteer my son’s third year as a Cub Scout starts in a few weeks). 

I have used these tips to try to keep myself engaged.

Change your role on the unit level - I switched off the scoutmaster/Assistant Scoutmaster path because I knew I didn’t want to have to be at everything.It wouldnt hurt on a unit level to reshuffle the deck and give different people a chance to try new roles. 

Take some training - Our district offered Scoutmaster training and even though I was done Scoutmastering, the training was fun and rejuvenating. It lead me to take Wood badge. 

Say no - I stated a Tiger Den for my son and some of his classmates at a failing pack at his school. I was barraged from day one about running the pack, I was no I just want to run this Den the best way I could. 

Take some time away- Once every few years I take a little time away, a few weeks or a month or so. I’m always drawn back in but it's nice to be missed and miss something.

Set limits for yourself - While the myth of an hour a week is a well known joke, you need to make sure that you give yourself time to live you own life. I don’t go to summer camp, the troop does, I just don't. I love camping but when the scout year ends, I need to get away. Because if it's all the time, it becomes a burden rather than a leisure activity.  

There is a lot of guilt associated with burnout. You don't want to let down the scouts and the other leaders. I know I went on plenty of camping trips over the years I didn't want to go to because they could be cancelled without me going. 

Nearly twenty years later I was sitting in a hall of a local Lutheran church and filling out an evaluation form for our district’s roundtable and when it asked about topics you'd like to see covered. Once again I wrote Leader burnout. Because I know I’m not the only one.


  1. Thank you very much for sharing. I took a course called Commissioner Burnout at my Council's Commissioner College several years ago, and everything in that course and what you've just said still very much applies. I consider myself a Scout lifer, and establishing your boundaries and limits is very important as you set the example for not only Scouts, fellow leaders, families but most of all for yourself.


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