It’s Dec. 18 as I’m writing this for publication in January and I have on a Pandora holiday radio channel. At this moment, the a capella group Straight No Chaser is singing The Christmas Can-Can which is one of my favorite songs they sing. This is relevant because my assignment is to write about the word Partner, one of the ways we define our Culture of Excellence.
While a cappella* is defined simply as singing without instrumental accompaniment, I always think of it as being about harmony, of distinct voices joining together to create one complex sound. Therefore, for an a cappella group to sound good, two things have to happen: 1) every member has to do their individual part really well, and 2) they have to blend with the other members of the group.
I only sing in the car… when no one else is present, so as much as I appreciate a cappella music, it’s not where I practice being a partner. The dance floor is another matter! In ballroom dance, it really does take two to tango. One member of the pair may be highly skilled, but if their partner has less experience, it limits what can be accomplished. The leader and the follower have to hold up their own weight, literally, but they also have to provide support for each other so the dance partnership reaches its highest level of achievement.
Both of these examples ring true for us as we work to achieve true excellence in our work at UT Austin. Each of us has to work to be excellent on our own. We have to know our jobs (our song part) and we have to be able to blend that work with others in our departments, throughout the Division and across the university. Each of us has to know our steps, but to really achieve excellence we have to work to make it possible for others to shine in our dance.
The ways we define Partner includes: improving access, elevating quality, increasing efficiency, optimizing resources and sharing information. Our challenge in the coming weeks and months is for each of us to work on all of these AND find ways to partner with others to raise our work to a new level. We don’t create harmony if we only sing in the car by ourselves. We don’t dance with true excellence, if we forget about supporting our partner.
I look forward to hearing your songs and seeing your dances this semester as we all partner in creating our culture of excellence in the Division of Student Affairs.
*As I looked up this definition, I wandered deep into music theory and history. Therefore, with apologies to my musician colleagues, I’m using these terms the way I believe they are commonly understood….