What I Have Been Reading This Month… and Then Some (December)

I love books. I have been collecting them since my teens, and I have a lot of them now, both at home and in my office at the University. It has gotten expensive to move my library, which is one reason I’m looking forward to putting down roots in Tallahassee. Before our most recent cross-country move, I tried to downsize, mostly books related to my teaching that I figured I would not need again. The risk, as I see it, however, is letting go of a friend you might need again.

Case in point: in 1993, while I was still a student living in Kentucky, I purchased An Ocean Apart: The Relationship Between Britain and America in the Twentieth Century by David Dimbleby and David Reynolds. I know it was 1993 because I write the date I buy a book on its inside cover. I also date when I read (and reread) books. Yes, I know, that may seem very strange, but I like to keep a record of what I am reading and have read, and the purchase dates help me trace in my own mind what topics were of most interest to me at different stages of my life.

I have been reading An Ocean Apart this week for an article I am writing on a British television show from the 1960s. It is a very good book, if a bit dated now (it was published in 1988, before the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – both critical components of the story told by the two Davids). Nevertheless, it is still an excellent read and provides a very thorough analysis of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States throughout the last century. I was aware that there had been highs and lows in the “special relationship,” but Dimbleby and Reynolds provide a richly detailed overview of just how volatile that relationship has sometimes been, both at the level of the governments and political elites, and among the citizenry of the two countries. Their generous quotation from letters, memoires, newspapers, and declassified government documents brings their historical overview to life. Their analysis is balanced, and they do not hold back on their assessment of both personal and professional conflicts on both sides of the Atlantic. It is especially fascinating to consider how very human emotions and reactions among American and British leaders to each other actually influenced the shape of the relationship and ultimately global politics.

I originally purchased An Ocean Apart because of my general interest in British history, which stretched back long before my teaching career began. I finally read it this month because of a particular article I am writing. But reading the book has also reinforced a number of leadership principles about which I have been reflecting for several years now. Obviously, there have been lessons to learn (or review) as I have read about British prime ministers and American presidents in World War II and the Cold War, but the clear examples of the relationships among economics, politics, policy, and culture that Dimbleby and Reynolds highlight are especially valuable to me as I have immersed myself in recent years in issues of organizational mission, budgets, and cash flow. There are never unlimited resources, and this shapes the destiny of each individual, every family, every organization—large and small—all educational and performance organizations, and even entire nation-states. I know, dear readers, that insight is achingly commonsensical, except that our contemporary political discourse—not to mention many conversations I have heard on three campuses as a faculty member—seem to unfold in an environment where that commonsensical insight regularly is ignored or misunderstood.

A key component, then, of leadership at any level and in any organization will be helping to define priorities and clarifying how missions and values will shape budgets and expenditures.

The bottom line: Books are heavy, and money does not grow on trees.

Family Reflections at Christmas

Any moment now, my son, Nate, will walk through the door, home for his first extended winter break in College. It seemed appropriate, then, to post this short reflection.

Several days ago, I was reading a letter that my Mom wrote to Heidi and me for our anniversary. It contained a beautiful reflection about my Dad and my son. Back when Nate was less than 2 years old, Dad would spend an afternoon or two in our home in Pittsford, New York, with Nate so that I could go into Eastman to do some research for my dissertation. In very early spring 1999, Nate slid off the guest bed one day and landed on a toy truck or car in just the “right” way that his leg slid out from under him, and he fell and broke his leg —  on the very night before I left town for a job interview!

I want to share this story for two reasons. First, it is precious and sweet and life affirming at a time when I think we all need those reminders of the good things in the world and the good times in our lives. This is the season of pilgrims’ stars and lighted candles; let’s remember that the darkness cannot beat us when we are agents Faith, Hope, and Love.

Second, I’ve been enjoying seeing pictures of former students now raising their own families; some are even enjoying their first Christmases this December! I want you all to know how wonderful it is to see you so happy. Enjoy these times! Make the most of them! They go by quickly. I can remember Nate’s first Christmas like it was yesterday; now we’re anticipating his first Christmas home from college.

My Mom writes: “This morning [December 4, 2015] I browsed through 3 ‘composition’ books in which Dad wrote sermons as well as papers (reflective) for [his M.Div. degree]. Later I typed his papers but he always wrote everything in long hand first. I found a section where he told about taking care of Nathan in Pittsford. One morning when Dad arrived Nate was fussy. He had recently had the cast removed from his leg. But he held up his arms for Dad to take him. Dad wrote that Nate snuggled against his chest and shoulder for a good 5 minutes. Dad could feel Nate’s little heart beating and surmised that Nate could feel Dad’s heart beating. Even though I must have typed this paper, I didn’t recall the incident nor the impact it made on Dad. I am keeping those notebooks.”

Dear Readers: Hold your loved ones, your friends, and your neighbors close! And may Peace abound.

December 17, 2015

Professional Development: Thoughts About Life and Leadership

“Thoughts about Life and Leadership”

Stan Pelkey

I have been keeping a journal since August of 1985. Every few years, I find it instructive to read over large swaths of that material to consider what I have learned. In the past five years, having made the transition from full-time teacher to full-time academic administrator, I have filled my journal with more and more reflections on career development, leadership, and taking stock at mid-life. Here are some thoughts about life and leadership that have come into focus for me since 2010:

Keep finding ways to expand your skill set.

Do not underestimate the power of good communication.

Work to develop a “sense of the next.” In the end, the only real conflict is how will you marshal the limited resources of time and energy that you personally possess.

Get yourself organized!

There is power in cultivating the ability to understand multiple sides in an argument or situation. Work to become the colleague people trust to always be fair.

I really want to learn to be magnanimous, no matter what, and to see conflict and change as opportunities to cultivate new skills and insights.

Experience is a very important ingredient for success in the workplace, but so are intelligence, your message, and your timing. There is a lot of wisdom in the old saying, “Strike while the iron is hot.”

An academic leader will not be able to avoid the collision of faculty, staff, and administration prerogatives and perspectives. What remains, then, is to find those ways that create the best balance possible.

You are going to second guess yourself. So be it. Success does not come because the “second guessing” stops. No, success comes because you decide, again and again, day after day, to take command of yourself in every situation in which you find yourself.

“Leadership” is often just a fancy, “loaded” word for “managing relationships.” Oh, and by the way, successful leadership cannot even begin until you begin to manage yourself.

Lead from the front; build from the center.

Here are leadership traits that everyone appreciates: “was welcoming”; “was prepared”; “asked good questions”; “was honest”; “listened”; “supported.”

Develop coalitions.

Practice an ethic of hospitality.

Embrace the naysayer and find ways to reconcile your vision with his or hers.

Sometimes, the best strategy is to just get on with the day!

At least get out there! Take some risks! Get into the scrum!


December 2015 Music: It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Ok, so it’s really not… at least not for this boy from the North who is now living in the South. But to be honest, I really do not miss the snow, and I am acclimating to the vision of Christmas lights coexisting with palm trees. I cannot lie: walking around the campus of Florida State University for an evening concert on December 1 with temperatures in the low 70s is marvelous. This is why I moved to Florida… well, it’s one of the reasons.

It’s beginning to SOUND a lot like Christmas!

That’s true.

I’ve “broken out” my Christmas-time iTunes play lists.

So those who know me well know I am a rather eclectic music listener, and my Christmas play lists are no different. Yes, there are some very tasteful choral arrangements of traditional carols, but when I am working in December and want some fun Christmas music in the background, here are some of my favorite go-to-pieces from across several genres:

Selections from Michael W. Smith’s “The Ultimate Christmas Collection.”

Duke Ellington’s suite on selections from The Nutcracker.

Dan Gibson’s “Christmas in the Country” (Don’t judge! I have had a soft spot in my heart for New Age music since I bought my first stereo system in the mid 1980s!)

And favorite selections from a collection of Christmas songs and carols performed by popular artists from the 1940s and 1950s, including a fun version of “Ding Dong Merrily on High” by the Mantovani Orchestra, and Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

If it is December, it means it is also time for the ever-popular PRISM concert at the College of Music at Florida State University. Tonight’s opening evening performance was outstanding. As you see and hear the sound of a mass of trombones or saxophones or even bassoons in the aisles and balconies of Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, you are made fully aware of the incredible musical benefit of being in a university town with such a large music unit and with such a “deep bench” of players in every studio. That, friends, is another reason I moved to Florida. The musical resources of Florida State University are simply second to none.

I particular loved the Percussion Ensemble’s “Marimba Spiritual” (Miki), the Clarinet Studio’s delightful “Molly on the Shore” (Grainger), and the Bassoon Studio’s “She Loves Me.” The University Concert Band’s “Festivo” (Gregson) was also one of my favorites.

And of course, with the next Star Wars movie set to open in just a few weeks, there have been numerous renditions of Star War cues on various band programs at FSU over the past few weeks. Tonight, the University Wind Orchestra offered “Princess Leia” and “Parade of Ewoks” (both very well played!), the University Symphonic Band reprised its stellar performance of “Star Wars / Main Title” that was also showcased last week on the Band’s final fall concert, and the Marching Chiefs themselves gave a rousing, full-force rendition of “Cantina Band” before concluding tonight’s PRISM concert with “Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold.”

December always reminds me of the emotional power of traditions and rituals and of their therapeutic potential for our mental well-being. I have always loved Christmas trees blazing in a darkened living room. There is something very peaceful about such an experience. I am sure that today, nostalgia for my childhood layers even more meaning on such Christmas-tree moments. After all, as a child, I’d try to squeeze myself under our Christmas tree to look at the lights from below or to snooze in the peaceful down pouring of colored light or to read in the warmth of the hazy reds and blues.

At tonight’s PRISM concert, I was also reminded of the deep value of the traditions and rituals that accumulate around collective music making, such as those that adhere to a marching band program or to an instrumental studio at a vibrant school of music. I appreciated the joy of being part of those rituals tonight, even if only as an outsider invited to look in, or better yet, as an outsider invited to become enmeshed—physically—by the powerful presence of musicians and their music surrounding us on all sides.

These experiences are just like opening up those Christmas-time-only play lists. It’s not that my Christmas play lists are filled with particularly great music (“as music”). It’s that the play lists are filled with familiar pieces that help me to refocus and reground myself each December. And I’ve needed such a recurring role of seasonal music in my life ever since I was five or six and first listened to an LP recording of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” that my father owned. I would listen and re-listen to that LP, in no small part because as I child I fell in love with a choral rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” that was featured on that LP. For years afterwards, I had to listen and listen again to that LP every Christmas season. It is not surprising, then, that “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” remains my favorite carol to this day, and I will look forward to playing my favorite arrangement of it on the piano sometime this month.

“And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

My hope, dear readers, is that your December is filled with the life-giving joy of music and the life-rewarding experience of friends and loved ones drawn near to you by the holidays.