This past week I heard the idiom “pass muster” three times. Before then, I could not tell you when I heard it last. But three times in one week got me thinking.

The first hearing of it this week was from Heather’s grandmother. She is 101 years old and now lives in an assistive-living center. We went to visit her this past Sunday, and when I asked her how her lunch was, she said it was good and that she finally had a meal that “passed muster.” I just laughed. The second time was listening to the radio of an interview about company CEOs stating that some employees were not “passing muster” since coming back to the office and not working from home anymore due to Covid. The third was from my friend Dr. Thane Ury in discussing apologetics in his Theology class on Creation, Science and The Problem of Pain, that he lets me jump in via Zoom to listen and glean.

So… a quick recap on the etymology of this idiom… a quick internet search will show: from pass (“to undergo successfully”) + muster (“military assemblage or review”); from 1570s, originally as pass musters. Comes from the military and means “to pass inspection.” If you join the military, you muster in and when you leave, you muster out. A muster also refers to lining up for a formal military inspection, the goal of which is to pass muster. From Old French mostrer “appear, show, reveal,” also in a military sense (10c., Modern French montrer).

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Ok… enough history, you say. Where is this going? Well, education and leadership, of course.

First, “to pass muster” … this has to be defined. What are we meaning? To look good? To act the part? To __________? Or, in the real sense, to formally pass an inspection?

Too often in leadership positions, and I include teachers here, we see the effects of those who just “go through the motions” to pass inspection. Since we all are creatures of habit, we do what comes naturally to us. By looking at the real sense of the idiom, the really good ones are so good at what they do; they actually pass inspection every day. Therefore by default, they really do not need a “formal” inspection, per se. So, when the “formal” inspection comes around, they are just who they are; really good to begin with. Good leaders lead, and good teachers teach.

However (here’s the but), do we rely on others to let us know if and when we “pass muster,” or do we live in constant denial of our true self-inspection of knowing if we do or do not? It’s easy to inspect others, but not so much ourselves. And there lies the problem of leadership… There will be many who pass the “eyeball” test and those who do not. With each case, when it happens, leadership negligence takes place. That’s something I do not want any part of. We must inspect what we expect for the right reasons and eliminate the false pretensions many lead with.

I’m glad I heard the phrase this past week. It made me self-inspect a little deeper. Maybe, this will work for you as well.

Side note… It is not “pass the mustard!”

Let’s go fight the good fight of leadership. Someone has to…

Go be a great educator and leader today… Our future needs it…

Remember… Think Leadership and Be For Others…

©2023 J Clay Norton

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