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.