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Sharing the experience, a year after taking over a unit


Veteran (100+ posts)
I took over a Brownie unit just over one year ago now, and thought some might be interested in my "lessons learned" relating to common concerns when taking over a unit. I don't consider myself to be a wise fount of all knowledge or anywhere close to experienced leaders I know but wanted to share the other side of all the "eek I've agreed to take on a unit now what" posts, as rarely are there full follow ups! My experience may also be different to others as I am lucky to have a good network of friendly leaders near by, previous experience of Guiding, and willing unit helpers.

Like lots of new to being a LiC I had been an assistant leader with another unit before taking the plunge into being the "main" leader, and so whilst I had an idea of the programme, how Guiding's structure and Go works etc, some of the day to day stuff needed figuring out. Things like when and how is best time to send notices, what do I do when a parent hasn't returned subs, when girls have a serious falling out how can I talk to them.... I'm also not a parent/parent figure and I am younger so I worried about what would seem reasonable and would have me taken seriously. And I am a natural stresser who seems to look for problems and over think to a intense degree, so this year has been somewhat anxiety ridden but good for pushing my comfort zone.

What I have see to be common concerns when taking over a unit/ what I worried about:
  1. I can't do the same things as the previous leader!
  2. The girls love leaving leader, will they ever like me?!
  3. I have to plan a term?!
  4. How do I cope when there is no other person to turn to?
  5. People (girls, parents, others) "flexing" to see what they can action with someone different
  6. Managing Guiding starting to eat into more of my time/ impacting on my relationships
1) To some extent everyone has different talents and comfort zones, so what different units might gravitate towards may vary- but a good unit offers variety. Even if you aren't the best at a beloved activity is there something new the old leader wasn't as confident at? Most girls are just happy to be there and if you do feel that you are missing out you can always attend a training, start a qualification or get someone else in who is more confident at cooking/ campfires/ craft/climbing etc. The only one I found to be a sticker was requests for pack holiday. I don't have a licence or the time to spare to run a residential but we are looking at alternatives.

2) It might be slightly different as I took on a younger section, but girls will soon like you in your own right, and often accept that you are just a part of going to Guiding now. Go in with positivity and without too much change straight away/ change for the sake of change. The only things I changed or brought in were in response to problems or if I thought they needed retiring as they no longer worked. Such as having a general sharing chat at the start. This made it hard to settle so we moved it to our water break half way through. I asked the Brownies what the best things about being a Brownie were so I knew what was important to them right from the start. Sharing in things can work too, such as asking them whats their favourite game to play or some of their favourite songs, then share a straight forward one with them thats new to them. Be prepared to have "but old leader.." for a bit and remember that young children can say things without meaning to be hurtful ("I miss old leader!")

And for both 1&2 don't forget that with time the unit makeup will gradually change, there will soon be girls and parents that have only known you. I also had to bear in mind that the summer holidays into autumn term is a popular time to drop/change activities, its not always that parents have seen a change of leader and balked.

3) This will have changed with the new programme but don't feel that you alone are responsible for thinking up ideas for the whole term. Let all the team add ideas and don't forget to involve the girls, who might surprise you. Let them look through resources and discuss and pick. If they struggle narrow it down then give them voting options.

4) I was warned that one of the hardest things being lead can be being the "final say" and this was/is true. I would say that this splits into three parts. The first is to try to be prepared and then consistent in it, for example decide with the team what your behaviour tolerance policy will be then stick to it (potentially adapting to individuals needs)- ideally before it ever needs to be actioned. The second is that you will never not have anyone else to help whatsoever. There are section coordinators, DCs and places like this forum where you can ask for guidance if its a longer term problem. Keeping the first two in the loop with any issues means that they can help you and support if problems escalate. Lastly some of this concern can go away with experience, as things begin to feel more natural. You have a word with a parent about behaviour for the first time and the unit goes on. You haven't been splashed over the front page of the local paper as "heartless leader dares say a word against innocent girl!!". I have had to ban a certain parachute game after several injuries, I've been asked several times about reintroducing it, one of the UHs is keen but I feel that there isn't the space to safely play it in our hall given the history of how the game has ended- and I've said no and said that when I delegate running games I expect that it isn't run when the girls inevitably ask.

5) Some people in life are chancers and others are just innocent questioners. Perhaps the rent was due for an increase, or a parent had confused Guiding policy for being the previous leaders personal preference. Don't be afraid to tell people that you will get back to them, avoid pressure to give an answer straight away if its not needed. I asked friends and people who are parents if they would mind proof reading emails to ask "do you think this is reasonable"? Girls, especially the oldest in a unit, will often test boundaries, its not personal its just that you are a new adult. As long as you aren't in breach of GG policy and its not putting the other unit volunteers out, run the unit how it works and suits you. I moved to a set date for subs to be in rather than any meeting before the end of term (with allowance for known circumstances) and was worried about backlash, but everyone just accepted it. I was worried about telling a non attenders family that we had assumed she had now left. Keep the DC in the loop with any problems and she should be able to back you up.

6) Probably the hardest that no one warned me about. For the first term running the unit began to eat into lots of my spare time, answering emails, looking at activities and updating Go (there was lots to update when I took over) also led to lots of my conversation topics being Guiding based. I now have set Guiding admin time, and I don't have alerts for unit emails on my phone. I hate having emails unread and the idea of having others waiting on me for a reply, so switching off alerts was a way of dealing with this. Experience following this step helped, I didn't have angry parents because they waited three days to get an email back be told that we have no plans for a camp this year or that there is no set place to put a pot of gold badge. In fact most of my parents don't bother to acknowledge email replies!

On the whole what I have taken away is that most people are just happy that you have kept the unit going,that there are people there to help and to not be afraid to say no. I know that although I could probably start GAW it wouldn't be healthy for me in the sense of my life/Guiding balance. I can still run an interesting and fun unit for my Brownies without offering lots of exciting trips and camps. I am a caretaker for the unit for a period of time like those who were LiC before me, the unit belongs to the community and its not my job to meet everyones expectations for what the unit could/should be in their eyes.


Veteran (100+ posts)
Thanks for sharing. You're right, lots of people ask questions on here and we don't very often hear what happens next.

With regard to your parachute game: the worst you'll get from banning it is a grumble. Compare that to giving in and imagine that local paper you mentioned leading with "she knew it was dangerous, had had accidents before, but recklessly went ahead and played it again with disastrous consequences ". You carried out a risk assessment and are right to stop the game.


Veteran (100+ posts)
If another leader wants to do the game, then ask them to write a risk assessment, it's good practice for them, and will allow them to see any issues.


Veteran (100+ posts)
Staff member
I am a caretaker for the unit for a period of time like those who were LiC before me, the unit belongs to the community and its not my job to meet everyones expectations for what the unit could/should be in their eyes.
That's a really important point, I'm dealing with an issue with a unit where one leader regards it as 'her' unit and despite not being able to commit to running it 100% wants to have control over who and how it is run.... Sorry but it belongs to the members as a whole and no one individual ..


Veteran (100+ posts)
It’s easy to see how it can happen though, especially if someone has been the only/main leader for a while or was a founder. You give up room in your home, time that could have been spent with family/friends to make the unit happen, not to mention that being a unit leader can easily become part of your self identity. It’s also quite common to refer to a unit as “Shelias Brownies” rather than Shelia runs that Brownies/Brownies that Sheila runs, and many tips say “it’s your unit”. Handing over the reins or accepting help can therefore be difficult, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t excuse attitude or actions that are bad for the unit. It’s like the saying about truly loving something. If you love the unit you’ll do whatever it takes for it to thrive/what’s best for it, which might mean asking for help or accepting changes.
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Yes, it's important to remember that it's the 1st Anytown Brownie Unit - it belongs to Anytown, it belongs to the Brownies - but the Leader isn't mentioned in the unit name, the unit does not belong to her - she is it's superviser, caretaker, manager, but not owner.


The Wicked Witch of the West (15,000+ posts)
With regard to your parachute game: the worst you'll get from banning it is a grumble. Compare that to giving in and imagine that local paper you mentioned leading with "she knew it was dangerous, had had accidents before, but recklessly went ahead and played it again with disastrous consequences ". You carried out a risk assessment and are right to stop the game.
it's always best to stop something if the girls are getting too boisterous or controlling it however you see fit


You are responsible for doing or overseeing risk assessments. If you think the risk is too high to justify, then the activity either doesn't happen in that way, or it doesn't happen at all. Given time, the requests for that activity will become fewer - either because there are fewer girls in the unit who remember it and want to play it, or because they've twigged that you're not going to agree to it, or a combination of the two. At Brownie age they like yes to mean yes and no to mean no. They want to know what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, and what will happen if they cross the line into misbehaviour, and for the resulting reaction to misbehaviour from the Leaders to be consistent.