Brownie Leadership Lessons

In June of 2012, my colleague, Dr. Randy Roberts, and I were honored to keynote the Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary Gala for Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. Randy and I were both working at the Crocker Art Museum at the time. Now she is the Deputy Director at the Manetti Shrem Art Museum in Davis, California, and I am the CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California.

I came across our remarks just the other day and wanted to share them. We are both not only leaders of organizations, we are both “leadership geeks.” We love to talk about our leadership practice and continue growing as leaders. Our remarks focused on my 1963 edition of the Brownie Handbook and the leadership lessons we found in it. Enjoy!

Dr. Linda E. Farley, CEO, Girl Scouts Heart of Central California (left) and Dr. Randy Roberts, Deputy Director, Manetti Shrem Art Museum (right) at the Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary Gala

Many years ago two little girls became Brownies—Randy was a Brownie in New York; Linda in California. Though our lives were very different in so many ways, they were the same in so many more.

The leadership lessons we took from our Girl Scouting experience were invaluable.

first-aid-badgeThese aren’t Jr. High school memories of bad hair and boys. These are memories of girls working collaboratively toward a common goal. Of badges earned and songs sung; of camping and hiking.

Like the time Linda cut her foot on a camping trip and her troop earned its first aid badge as a result!

Who can forget summers at Girl Scout camp? There were so many firsts—first time being away from home for a week; first time riding a horse; first experience of a raccoon in a tent.

It was a time we believed we could do just about anything. Family camping badge? No problem. Sewing? Cooking? We got it under control. Community service? Not an issue.

Recently, Linda found her 1963 Girl Scout Brownie Handbook. As we perused the tattered book, we realized how relevant and compelling it was. Quite possibly because it was our first Handbook and it created our foundation in Girl Scouting. But, more than anything, we realized there were incredible and relevant leadership lessons in the Brownie Handbook.

Here are a few we’d like to share . . .

First, it really doesn’t take a village. It really just takes a troop. We learned at the start of our Brownie experience that Brownies join together to accomplish great things. There’s a thing called “Brownie Magic.” With it, wonderful things can happen. And the secret of it is that all of us together are needed to make the magic work.

Just like our seven-year-old selves, we see a little of that magic every day in our work. It’s not about one person – and it’s not about a title—it’s about all of us. No matter your position on the team, everyone is needed or the work is not effectively accomplished.

The adult leader in a Brownie troop does not make the decisions and then tell the troop. The goal is to build capacity in each girl in the troop.

The same holds true in organizations. There aren’t many successful organizations where the positional leader tells everybody what to do. Success comes from people growing and learning together.

So let’s remember that it takes every one of us to make a good troop—at home, in the office and in our families.

Linda’s self-portrait inside the cover of her 1963 edition of the Brownie Handbook.

Our second leadership lesson is to be a discoverer! We learn from the Brownie Handbook that “seeing eyes and listening ears” are very important. Add to that an open mind and welcoming heart and you have a recipe for success in life.

Discovery is about understanding self and values; it is about using knowledge and skills to explore the world. It is about reaching beyond the edges of comfort and seeing from different angles in diverse ways.

Girl Scouts are always trying something new. Who can forget learning how to wash dishes in a dunk bag or making a carry-all or a pixie hat from your bandana?

Leading in times of change requires a strong core (discovering self) and openness to people, to ideas and to the unknown (discovering others).

The Brownie handbook reminds us that we each have our own way of seeing, yet we can all share a common vision.

The next lesson we want to share is to be a “ready helper.” The first line in this section of the Handbook is, “When you see a ready helper watch her.” What great advice!

So often, we are too busy trying to prove our point or making sure someone sees how hard we are working. We forget to watch for others from whom we can learn.

Being a ready helper is really about taking responsibility for ourselves and being a self-starter. Self-starters are continually looking for ways to address a problem or a situation when others think that all that could be done, has been done.

A self-starter says, “What more can I do to make things better?” We think of it as holding ourselves accountable and not assuming that someone else will take care of things.

Finally, be a friend maker. The Handbook says, “As a Brownie you make all sorts of things. What are the best things you make? You cannot carry them in your pocket. Yet you always want them with you. Friends, of course!”

In your family, in your community and in the workplace, relationships matter.

We’re all so different, the Handbook says, and by knowing each other and caring about each other we learn to be in the world together.

Forty-eight years ago, Randy was sitting in the basement of a church in Brooklyn, New York, reading her Brownie Handbook.

Linda was in the all-purpose room at Collis P. Huntington Elementary School in Sacramento doing the same.

Who would have thought then that these two very different girls would be together 48 years later sharing the common lessons learned from their Girl Scout experience? Lessons that have guided us through our lives.

So find the power in your troop, be a discoverer, be a ready helper, and be a friend maker. Remember The Brownie Girl Scout Handbook. If you have a copy, pull it out and re-read it. By using the timeless lessons in the Brownie Handbook, we all can contribute to making our community a better place. And, we may even learn a few neat bandana tricks.


4 Thoughts

  1. Absolutely true!!! How fun to take that trip down memory lane with our Brownie books only to discover how applicable the lessons of service and friendship still are so many years later!! Thanks for the journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderful tribute and reminder of what we need, even as adults, to help life be a learning experience and worthwhile. This brightened my day!


  3. Good truths, Linda! I wasn’t a Brownie – but a Junior, Cadet and Senior Girl Scout. Wow – still have my Junior handbook and all my badges! Fun to see Collis P. Huntington mentioned, too!


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