Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s a scenario:

So you’re new on the job, leading an organization with a certain amount of history and tradition; and of all the members of the organization, you’re the only new person. Everybody else all know each other; they all know how things have been done before; and the organization’s past successes have only cemented the feeling that the main job of the new leadership should be … just keeping things going exactly as they have been going for a very long time, and everything will be fine.

And of course as the new person you’re just looking to survive, never mind thrive.

Naturally you will wish to prove you’re the best person for the job.

Starred Thought: Prove you’re the best person for the job.

And also, if you are any kind of strong personality, or if you are the kind of person that possesses even a tiny bit of confidence, you will wish to demonstrate that you have a vision for the future direction of the organization.

And through all this you are walking a tightrope: I want to prove myself! And I don’t want to alienate people.

Starred Thought: It takes ten years to build a program; it takes just one to destroy it.

Starred Thought: Be a builder, not a wrecker.

So you look around, keep your eyes and ears open, make an effort to listen carefully to all the stakeholders and all the constituencies (or at least give that impression!), learn as much as you can about the history of the organization.

Starred Thought: Look for past traditions to uphold.

And you discover that, for weal or for woe, the members of your organization are really really fond of the previous leadership. You also discover that some of them are a little bit more passionate about this fondness, and about expressing this fondness, than is sometimes comfortable. You do your best to reconcile this enthusiasm with your interest in moving the organization forward, Toward The Future.

It is a hard tightrope to walk. A ridiculously hard tightrope. Especially if your predecessor happens to be seen as legendary.

So, at least at the outset, you play the game.

Starred Thought: If you act the part long enough, you become it.

In those first few moments of your time as the leader of this organization, what you don’t do is – in private or in public – dump on those that came before you. Whether you’re firmly confident in your abilities, or you quietly think to yourself, “what in the world kind of bear trap have I gotten myself into?” You don’t take shots at the people who have done your job before you … whether they’re legendary for good reasons or bad.

Starred Thought: The easiest way to mask insecurity is to cut other people down.

And so, you don’t. Especially in the very early stages of your time there, you make sure to go out of your way to publicly appreciate the foundation that previous leaders have laid, so that you can have this amazing opportunity to contribute to the long line of successes that have characterized the organization.

Starred Thought: Support people before they’ve demonstrated support for you.

So, you give credit where credit is due.

 

Here’s a new wrinkle to this scenario:

You are now several years into your time as leader of this organization. You’ve begun to find successes that you can call your own. Some of them are very, very significant – feathers in the cap, to say the least.

You might consider (or you might not) that now, finally, the time may have come when you don’t need to trumpet the accomplishments and the legacy of the leadership that came before you. After all, living in the past isn’t always a great strategy for moving Toward The Future. Appreciating and recognizing the past, yes, but not getting mired in it.

And yet the membership of the organization still hangs on to the legacy. Not in such a way that they’re dumping on you, no indeed … they’re just remembering fondly … but very very often there are references, remembrances, big and small, that continue to canonize the leadership that came before you.

Starred Thought: You can’t do this job without a LITTLE bit of ego.

Be honest. After five or six or eight years, wouldn’t you start to get a bit weary of it? No matter how much the remembrances emphasize the wonderful foundation that you are now getting to build upon. Can you honestly say you absolutely would never even think, quietly, in the most tucked-away corner of yourself, “…can we just ease up about that?” We’re five or six or eight years on now, after all. Is it not time to turn our eyes Toward The Future?

And is it unreasonable for people to allow you (the not-really-so-new-anymore leadership) to have this tiny thought? To allow you, with your growing record of leadership, to begin to shift the focus back in your direction? Or at least not to focus quite so hard on your predecessor’s?

I think it’s probably not unreasonable.

With all this in mind: I’ve become impressed with a particular gentleman’s willingness and ability to play this complicated game, to play it well … and to play it with respect for so many members of an organization, some of whom may not always have responded entirely in kind.

Starred Thought: To be a leader is to do the uncomfortable thing.

And one event in the last couple of days suddenly stood out to me: both as an example of this willingness and ability to play a very tough game, and as evidence that this gentleman all along has had the confidence to play it very well.

 

Two afternoons ago was the last weekday rehearsal of the UMass Minuteman Marching Band before the eighth anniversary of its previous leader’s passing. There have been eight September 16ths during which the current Minuteman Band leader has had to navigate those potentially treacherous waters.

Friday afternoon, the current director of the Band carved out a few minutes at the end of rehearsal so that the band could play “My Way”, the song that the Band’s previous director had established as a UMass band tradition.

Band members and alumni know that in general, they don’t really rehearse “My Way” after band camp is over; they just play it. At the end of most every public performance. Which means they play it a lot, but don’t use rehearsal time during the regular semester on it. (There’s too much else to spend that valuable time on.) So when they do break it out during the week, it’s at least as rare an occurrence as them not playing it after a gig.

The current band director sent his associate director to the podium to conduct the song. Which is now standard practice – the current director yielded that duty to that associate director almost immediately after his arrival at UMass. I imagine that his logic was something like, “that associate director, having been at UMass for more than three decades, can easily be seen as a comforting link to the past, through taking over the reins of this particular band tradition”.

There are people who, in that situation, might not have had that thought.

More publicly than a weekday band rehearsal, right from his first home football game at UMass, the current leader of the Minuteman Band has gone out of his way to acknowledge and appreciate that associate director in public performance settings. He’s pointed out to many, many audiences how important this new (now not-so-new) colleague of his has been, and is, to the Band.

Starred Thought: Saying “thank you” to someone else makes them feel like a million bucks, but it doesn’t cost you a penny.

And the current director of the Minuteman Band has made it a point to recognize and appreciate the legacy of his predecessor. Not just at Homecoming, when band alumni are all around and it would be politically expedient to do so … but consistently, time after time, opportunity after opportunity.

Giving credit where credit is due.

He could have decided not to do so at all.

He could have decided to do so for awhile, and then decrescendo, because after all, it’s been five or six or eight years now.

Instead, he decided to do so … and keep on doing so. Whether by invoking the name of his predecessor specifically … or by acknowledging the associate director gentleman who was at his predecessor’s side for three decades and more … or by putting in the effort, caring and love required to move the organization forward, Toward The Future – and preserving that legacy in the process.

Starred Thought: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.

If you’ve seen and heard the Minuteman Marching Band at the Rose Parade this past January, or at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City a few years ago, or at Gillette Stadium last weekend, or at any relatively mundane home football gig since autumn 2011, you’ve seen a band that plays and moves in an entirely familiar way. The Band’s sound and look, its style, its personality, its impact(!!) still carries with it the spirit of George Parks.

 

It’s a credit to the legions of band alumni that they’re devoted enough to the George Parks legacy that they have been willing to be vocal about not wanting to just push that legacy, that history, those traditions, aside.

It’s a credit to George Parks, and to associate director Thom Hannum, that their effort and caring and love for the Minuteman Band organization was more than fervent enough to inspire reciprocal effort and caring and love from their alumni.

And: it’s a credit to Timothy Todd Anderson that he has been willing to face more than a few slings and arrows, has walked that ridiculous tightrope, and has still doggedly, consistently, genuinely acknowledged and recognized the Minuteman Band’s past leadership, in the persons of George Parks and Thom Hannum especially, that has laid the foundation … so that he can maintain and continue the Band’s success, in an entirely recognizable form, out here In The Future.

Gotta give the guy credit.

Credit where credit is due.

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September 16, 2018 - Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, Starred Thoughts, Thom Hannum, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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