When we set out to interview The Boss’ boss, we knew of only one intrepid reporter up to the task.
Unfortunately, that reporter was not available, so we had to settle for … Pedro the Mailburro.
Please prepare yourselves as the hungry, happy hairball interviews the Boy Scouts of America’s Chief Scout Executive, Mike Surbaugh.
Q: Chief, what is a Chief Scout Executive? Are you like the camp ranger over all camp rangers? The Scoutmaster over all Scoutmasters? The Boss’ boss?
A: Well, Pedro, people often refer to me as a “boss” of some kind. I guess I always like to picture myself as the chief helper. We have a Boy Scout national president; he’s a volunteer who does a lot of great things for the organization, and I’m always assisting him. It could be that I’m helping one of our staff members who runs all of our computer systems. Or it could be one of our staff and volunteers responsible for running all of our high-adventure bases like the Summit, Sea Base, Philmont and Northern Tier.
So it seems most of my day really is about trying to help other people achieve their goals, and to help Scouting overall achieve its dream of being the best youth-serving organization in the world.
Q: So would you say you help other people at all times?
A: I never thought about it that way, but that’s a great point, Pedro. I think that probably got instilled in me early on.
Q: People probably ask you for advice all the time. Is there one question you get more than others?
A: Scouts in their first leadership position — whether it’s teaching a junior leader training or being a patrol leader — often ask me for leadership advice.
Q: What do you tell them?
A: You want to be a leader others want to follow, and you always need to put the other person first. Scouting teaches principles of servant leadership, where it’s not necessarily an honor to be chosen as a leader; it’s a responsibility.
Q: Leadership. Responsibility. Got it. … Enough about you; let’s talk about a more intriguing subject: How long have you been a fan of me?
A: Pedro, I first met you when I was 8 years old and got my very first issue of Boys’ Life. I have seen you in every issue — every single month — and when I first became Chief Scout Executive, people asked, “What’s the first thing you’re going to do, and what do you really want to do?”
I said, “I want to meet Pedro because he’s been my hero since I was a kid.”
Q: Your humble-yet-great mailburro at your service, Chief. I’m so glad we could make this happen for you.
Now I have a question a friend asked me to ask you: Let’s say you have a mean boss who dresses badly, smells like cheese, yells at you constantly and doesn’t get your unique brand of home-spun humor. How would you handle that?
A: Well, that’s a tough one, Pedro. I once worked for a boss who was pretty tough. He didn’t smell like cheese, but he was a little challenging to work for every day. What I did every morning when I came to work was say to myself the Scout Oath and Law. I just thought, “I’m going to treat that guy as much like a Scout as I can, and maybe he’ll come around.”
Q: Did that work for you?
A: It worked about halfway.
Q: What about the other half? Because that’s where The Boss and I — I mean, my friend and his boss — are right now.
A: I just had to realize you don’t work for the same person forever. If you can make it through and you just stick with it, Scouting and the program and the things that we do are more important than any one person.
Q: I suppose I — I mean, my friend — can live with that. What I cannot live without is my secret napping place. Where is yours?
A: Actually, Pedro, you are the first of your breed to sit on my napping place. You’re on a nice comfy couch that’s in my office, so every once in a while you might just find me taking a little quick catnap.
Q: I take burro naps out back. They’re very refreshing.
A: I’ve heard that. I’m looking forward to seeing your corral in the back.
Q: Well, it’s a secret, so I can’t tell you where it is … um … Chief.
Instead, are you ready for a lightning round of questions?
Q: First question: Pedro — a great mailburro or the greatest mailburro?
A: I would have to say a great mailburro because, Pedro, if I said you were the greatest, you wouldn’t have anything to reach for. Everybody can always do better. You’re a fantastic and a great mailburro, but there’s always the next level.
Q: Fair enough. Alfalfa milkshake — a great snack or the greatest snack?
A: I find it a revolting snack, personally. But for you, I think that’s probably the greatest snack.
Q: I can’t remember the definition of “revolting.” Does that mean fantastic or awesome or delicious?
A: It means it tastes really disgusting, Pedro.
Q: Ooohhhh. Moving on, then. Boys’ Life — a great magazine or the greatest magazine?
A: Boys’ Life is the greatest magazine because it’s hard to picture how this magazine could ever get better. Somehow it always does, but I have enjoyed every single issue since I was 8 years old. I read it whenever it comes out; I read it cover to cover. Still do to this day.
Q: Thank you; thank you very much.
A: No; thank you, Pedro. Thank you for all you’ve done for generations of Scouts; you’ve made the experience much richer.
Thanks, Chief. You’re the kind of boss a mailburro could get used to. And I’m going to start getting used to that right now, in my corral out back, with the greatest snack of all time, an alfalfa milkshake. Catch you in the BSA Café, Chief!
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