​One Hundred Smaller Gorillas

Written by LPS Superintendent Tom Deighan

Weighing in at 600 pounds, Gargantua was reportedly the largest gorilla ever recorded. He was raised by humans on a ship from infancy until one of the sailors threw acid into his face, nearly blinding him. A couple in New York City took him in (known as Buddy at the time), nursed him back to health, and even arranged plastic surgery to repair his scars. While it fixed the acid burn, it left Gargantua with a permanent and terrifying grimace, but he was such a kitten on the inside that they dressed him up for rides in the family car. After breaking out of his cage one night during a thunderstorm and crawling into the couple’s bed for safety, they knew Gargantua had to go. With his menacing scowl and monstrous size, he became the premiere attraction at the Ringling Brothers Circus. The public easily accepted the myth of the ferocious and man-hating Gargantua, although nothing could be farther from the truth.

We have all heard the term “800 pound gorilla,” and we understand that the biggest ape in the room usually get its way. As you can see, however, gorillas are not always what they seem to be. Of course, 800-pound gorillas really don’t exist, and the only 600-pound gorilla was a softie who wore a sun bonnet for Sunday rides and hid under the covers during storms. Oklahoma is unique because we have two 800-pound gorillas: the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas. They are very intimidating, so we readily diminish the importance of Lawton-Fort Sill as the third largest metropolitan area in Oklahoma.

At the Rotary Leadership Institute Pre-Conference this week, over eighty-five leaders spent a little time considering commonalities Lawton-Fort Sill has with other communities. The big gorillas don’t always need support, but the smaller players around the state might thrive together. As the third ranking gorilla in the state, Lawton-Fort Sill could have a distinct advantage due to our ability to form partnerships with the other, smaller communities. On the state level, our individual voices might be drowned out easily enough by the two scary silverbacks, but if our voices rise together, our power multiplies. We practice this on personal and organizational levels, relying on strategic alliances all the time, so why don’t we think that way more often as a community?

As the community comes together on November 4 for the Rotary Leadership Institute, we will be immersed in some of the finest leadership training available. We will be encouraged to ask why, to identify what matters, and to focus on those things that improve others’ lives. I have no doubt that attendees will apply those principles in their homes, businesses, and churches. But just imagine if Lawton-Fort Sill began to apply that approach corporately, purposely reaching out and assisting other communities in their struggles to better themselves. We know that leaders mentor and nurture others to greatness. What would happen if the third largest metropolitan area in Oklahoma did that for other communities?

Lawton-Fort Sill will likely never be the Gargantua of Oklahoma, but nothing is stopping us from being the smaller gorilla with strategic alliances. We share interests with other communities in areas like the military, technology, healthcare, education, and business. The big gorillas might not need the rest of us, but we smaller gorillas might be able to work together to get things done. And who knows: one day, Lawton-Fort Sill might just be positioned as one of a hundred gorillas working together to do things never imagined in our smaller communities.