I am privy to great leadership. No not personal skills, talents or traits but privy to the exposure to great leaders. These folk, some cloaked in the fog of what seems a simple laborer and others standing tall at the front of the platoon, are all influential to a point that sets me on my heels and robs my mouth of words. The progress of the gardens over the last few years has been at a neck breaking speed. The social impact on campus, the rewarding community interaction, the environmental progress and the immense selections of produce all coupled with systems and physical growth have moved at fantastic speed. Not to mention little things like building websites, marketing and branding. All this often inspired by not the leader in me but the followers I’m lucky enough to engage with. I find myself standing on a hillside of life next to a stream of students who ripple through our university approaching us as quickly on the uphill as they escape us on the down. For a brief breath we onlookers absorb their brilliance and often in my case their leadership.
A few show early on in this flow, a sense of unbridled excitement and an edge of something out of control. Not always easy to pick out when they enter, as they blend in to all the others causing a nuisance, but obvious when they leave are these talents then seen. In a setting as our small garden it only takes a few renegades. A few who are not willing to just work, not willing to settle for what we have but complain, constantly needling and obviously teetering on the limits of their own attention. Always wanting more, wanting progress and change. Change we now see looking back over time as change for the good (organics, sustainability, outreach and the impact on health). It’s difficult as one in my place, ruined by the limits of an adult with responsibility, to temper, shape or direct this passion. However without those limitless dreams we wouldn’t be where we are. Now we beg some to stay and celebrate where others will go.
That being said this week my young students, my departmental peers and myself take a big deep pause, for the leaders who do stand on the front lines. These men after years of honing their skills for pesky persistent progress are fighting new battles. Neither battle expected and both formidable. Dr. Chittick, our chair, after leading this department out of black and white pictures, and on the eve of retirement, finds himself not stepping aside to idle days in retreat with his wife but quietly putting her to rest. Dr. Benson, our Dean, still young and ready found himself sick last weekend and at Mayo Clinic by the next Wednesday. The news from both was so fast and so shocking. We all now stand in shock saddened by the blow.
And here is where I learn true leadership. For we all are brilliant on sunny days after a full nights rest or in the ignorance of our youth. But, how are we half way through the battle, side by side with reality, unrested, deep in the dark of night with firefight lighting our eyes. I had a short interchange with each man this last week. Feeling solemn and timid going in yet leaving inspired and positive… I learned. I learned that they hurt like we all do, but that they have deep seeded family support, they have faith and a future. I learned they aren’t’ where they stand in life because they were comfortable saying ok and rolling over. If nothing else I left completely energized by the faith, the fortitude and opportunity they foresaw in the midst of a struggle. Today we in the garden stand back, saddened, frightened, empathetic and also inspired for those who lead our small group and for the struggles they face.