The Grand Otter reported after the lunch stop that she had been chosen for a special program at her school. "I was like the least qualified, but they chose me anyway. It was like a five hour session on leadership."

"So, how was that?" I asked.

"You know those experiences where everything you hear just seems to mean so much, but after, you can't describe what happened?"

"Of course."

"It was like that."

She went on to explain that the instructor had given the participants a choice of five or six different topics to focus upon, asking each to pick the problem they'd most like to solve: world hunger, climate change, … , a short list of the more pressing difficulties facing our world. The Otter explained that she was the only one who chose 'ignorance', which baffled her enough to inspire her make a brief impassioned speech about how all the other troubles seemed to her rooted in ignorance. "If we don't resolve that one, we have no hope of making any headway with any of the others!"

Almost everyone changed their topic to ignorance after that.

"I don't know why they picked me for this, but I'm really glad they did."

I commented then about how, as long as I could remember, she had seemed to be the ring leader of any group she was a part of. Her suggested mischief tended to be the one others agreed to pursue, even when they'd previously agreed to do something else. But, I reflected, maybe that only happened when I was watching.

"Well, David," she replied, "it doesn't always happen like that, but usually."

"That's what leaders do," I said. "Or what they are. They tend to, like you did with the topic selection, feel strongly about something and speak up. That passion seems to inspire others to follow. I don't think they can help doing that, that you can help just doing that."


Then her side of the conversation went kind of quiet while The Muse, speaking from the authority of the Zoom Car's back seat said, "I think they chose well."

"I must have gotten it from my grandma," The Otter mumbled.

I classify myself as a leadership skeptic, as I question every know-it-when-I-see-it phenomenon. I believe that we more often see what we beforehand believe than we believe what we see, and this subtle projection utterly convinces us, further validating what we believed in the first place. A near perfect example of circular reasoning, or, what we might more reasonably describe as no reasoning at all. But—let me make that a BIG BUT—there might be a class of phenomenon which could only ever be identified by this knowing-when-seeing technique, and The Otter's experience might exemplify this.

It was no surprise to either The Muse or I that The Otter was tapped for this special class. The surprising part was her warm acceptance of the distinction. More often, when someone has noticed her exhibiting some extraordinary ability, she's had the rejoinder ready to deflect the distinction.

The literature seems overflowing with wannabe leaders pursuing leadership, but seems rather mute on the perhaps more common and more telling situation where the unsuspecting leader finds herself pursued BY leadership. This seems by far the better story. Unaware, the hero receives the call and denies it, then proceeds to receive several additional calls, each of which she refuses. The intrusions don't cease, though her skill at deflecting them grows with her impatience at the gross inconvenience they increasingly represent.

This pattern maps more closely to my leadership "journey", as the Hay House authors so blithely refer to this experience. The reluctant, deflective leader represents the kind I could always relate to, the one who never did have a freaking clue what they were doing that others found alluring enough to follow. Humility pretty much guaranteed, I'd much rather follow this kind of leader.

Some day, probably not today or tomorrow, but someday, The Grand Otter might more deeply understand just where she stands in this world. She was more or less born there, but the echo-locating to accept her position could well and rightfully take decades to conclude. I hope and pray that she not tumble to the designation either lightly or quickly, and start pursuing leadership before it's thoroughly exhausted itself pursuing her. It's a game of Tag You're It where acceptance properly requires exhausting the pursuer before relenting.

The proper role of every granddaughter seems to be as the supplicant seeking advice from her wizened grands. Few suspect the role reversed, where the skeptical oldsters find renewing insight from their clearly inexperienced grandchild. I find myself moved to acknowledge that my leadership skepticism, employed as evidence of my half-vast experience (and maybe my wounded optimism), may have been misleading me until now. Now, my earlier snits, my leadersnits, seem like evidence of an unconscious blindness—the usually most intractable kind; a blindness rejecting my own experience as evidence of the way things are. Watching The Grand Otter wonder why she was chosen woke me up long enough to reconsider my earlier conviction, which seems like it might be even more evidence that her teacher chose wisely when they selected her as a leader, and to reflect on how often I still try to avoid the leadership pursuing Little Old Unlikely Leader me.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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