(San Antonio, TX)
My organization recently formed a think tank to study a subject in which I have a record of expertise in excess of 20 years. The group was formed while I was away on three weeks military leave for reserve annual training, so I was completely unaware of the formation of the group.
When I returned, I was told that the group was formed and that an individual with less than 10 years professional experience was selected by the executive staff to lead the group.
I started inquiring why I wasn't considered for the leadership position. I talked with the individual who made the decision and he told me that he interviewed the other guy and the other guy said that he didn't feel I had enough passion for the subject to lead the group. I went to the other guy to get his side of the story, but of course, he claimed to have said something completely different.
As a result, the executive staff has an image of me that tells them I am not interested in leadership positions. They gave credence to false statements concerning me because the other guy didn't have the facts and the executive staff never bothered to talk to me before they made a decision. They never asked if I was interested.
Now I look bad in their eyes and I'm up for a management slot in the organization. I have my work cut out for me.
Your story brings to mind a quote from Woody Allen: "80% of success is showing up". I wonder if the other guy got the lead assignment because he was there, while you weren't.
A three week leave doesn't seem very long but it's an eternity when key spots are about to be filled. In your case, it's extremely unfortunate - almost unfair - that when duty called, a key decision was made. It's possible that the real reason why you were not selected for the position was a question of "out of sight.. ", more than "lack of passion for the subject".
We can only speculate, we may never know the real reason why they chose the other guy.
Now all you can do is move forward. Don't dwell on this missed opportunity because not everything is lost. New positions do open up and a better one may be in the cards for you. Remember that people get selected for positions based on fit, not necessarily on one factor alone. Never take being skipped for a promotion personally, just consider that someone else was a better fit for it, for whatever reason.
I doubt the executive staff is going to conclude that you don't have an interest in leadership positions. You certainly don't come across that way in your email, so it's unlikely you come across that way in general. If they were indeed told you lacked passion about a given subject, they will not extrapolate that to mean that you lacked drive for a leadership position.
At this point, don't dwell on what went down. You are better off focusing on spotting the next opportunity to advance your career and make your move in due time.