She summarised it all.
Cadets. Law School. Officers Training School. Basic Staff Course. Masters of Defence Studies. Consulting. Workshops. Seminars. Books. Lots of books. All the PowerPoints, training films, lectures, military exercises, manuals, exams, yelling, drill, marching, chains of command, legislation, tutorials, performance reviews and on the job experience.
She was 12 years old.
I had finished teaching spear throwing to a group of Year 7s who were at New Norcia on a Leadership Camp. They were sitting cross-legged in the shade of the trees at the end of the oval and I was trying to draw leadership lessons from the last hour of throwing Gidgies - the Aboriginal spear - using the Miro. It was impromptu. I was making it up as I went along. I had an inbox full of emails back in my office.
'Did you learn anything today about being Leaders?' I asked them.
A hand went up.
'You're the New Norcia Town Manager and you led the activity today?' the boy said with a child's typical upward inflection.
'Well, yes. And was there anything that I did that you thought was what leaders do?'
A different hand went up.
'You drew a line in the dirt and told us that we weren't to go over the line unless you said that we could?'
'Was that because I was bossy?'
'No. You didn't want one of us to accidentally get speared.'
'That's right. So I explained the boundaries of our activity. Good. Anything else?'
'You put that cardboard box full of straw in front of us and told us it was a pretend kangaroo and that was our target that we had to spear?'
'Good. I gave you something to aim for. Anything else that I did that you think a leader might do?'
'You gave us each a Gidgie and Miro and taught us how to use them?'
'Yes. Anything else?' I reckoned I'd exhausted all the lessons. One last opportunity to squeeze thoughts out of their capped heads.
Hand up. I'm surprised. I nod towards the boy squinting up at me.
'After each throw you told us what we did right and what we did wrong? We kept missing the box - er - kangaroo but we got closer each time?'
I was impressed. 'Good. So I was giving you feedback. Yes. Leaders give feedback in a way that encourages or affirms.'
I reckoned that was about it. I was feeling quite chuffed about how much we'd extracted given I'd done no planning. Most had lost eye contact with me and were tugging at the tufts of dead grass. I glanced at my watch. Five minutes left.
'So does anyone have anything else to add? Any questions about our activity?'
Silence. Then her hand slowly rose from the middle of the group.
'You got out of the way?' she said. A few giggles.
I started to smile. But didn't. I wondered.
'What do you mean?' I'm wondering if...
'Well, the last thing that you did was that you moved to the side and just let us throw the spears. You waited for us all to finish and didn't say anything. You just watched us. And then you came over and let us know how we'd gone so that we could do it better next time.'
I felt a tingle.
'That's right. I got out of the way. There was nothing more for me to do.' I paused to remember the list of things that they'd told me I'd done. 'I'd shown you the area or space that you had to do the activity in. I shown you what the purpose was - to spear the kangaroo. I gave you all the equipment and taught you how to use it. I gave you feedback after each throw so that you learned how to do it better. And then - I got out of your way and let you get on with it.'
I scanned their bored faces. They didn't share my excitement at the significance of that exchange. They were thinking about afternoon tea and then Aboriginal tool making with Lester. But my mind was humming.
And then this.
The same girl's hand rises. 'Yes?'
'Is that why they say that leaders are brave?'
My tingles tingled.
'What do you mean?'
She blinked. Cocked her head slightly. Waved away a fly.
'Well...it must be really hard for a leader to just stand back and let people do their jobs and not keep yelling at them or taking over and doing it themselves. To know that some people might do it wrong and it's the leader who gets blamed. I think it must take lots of bravery to be a leader.'
Then off they trotted up the hill behind their teachers to their biscuits and cordial and more lessons about Leadership.