Figurehead? Powermonger? Does it matter?

Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox from the TV adaptation of “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.”

Back in November 2000, on the night of the presidential election, I went to bed thinking one man would be the next President of the United States. I was awoken shortly afterwards by a highly distressed and tearful friend who told me that a different man had won. After getting through the confusion of the moment, I casually suggested that my friend not worry about it. “It really doesn’t matter who holds that position,” I said. “It’s just a figurehead position, with other people doing the work that matters.” My friend vehemently rejected my naïve notion, and I soon realized exactly how wrong I had been.


Sixteen years later, I am worried. I am worried that it has been possible for the United States to go down a path that has led to this hugely dangerous and potentially disastrous presidential election. I am worried that it is possible for one man to be so hungry for power, and so severely delusional about his own shortcomings. I am mostly worried that there are so many people – some of them acquaintances of mine – who have had the wool pulled over their eyes, and actually think it would be a good idea to have this tyrant in office. At this point, I am hoping against hope that this particular incumbent would simply be a figurehead, with others making the decisions and doing the real work. However, most of us know that this will not be the case.

The bucolic campus of St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH.

As I begin the final year of my five year term as Head of the Arts department at St. Paul’s School, I am aware of the way in which my approach to the job has changed over the years. During my first year, I commented to one of my colleagues that it really felt like I was in a figurehead position, involving a lot of leading by delegation, convening of the minds, acting as a conduit for the flow of information, and as a supporter for the arts program…aside from my own particular niche of creative responsibility in chapel music. What I have realized over the weeks, months and years, while negotiating challenges, streamlining communications, strategizing possibilities, and dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities – whether mundane, or hugely consequential – is that this has been an exercise in balance. Being open, thoughtful, and responsive to situations has been crucial. Leading by example, asking questions, broadening my knowledge, listening to people, stepping up to conflict, admitting error, holding fast to my own values, demonstrating flexibility, being patient, staying cool, working hard, and keeping a positive outlook.  All of these qualities are continually developing in me, and I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity. I retreat into my own space to refuel…frequently…and my desire for authority is founded upon a hunger for efficiency and effectiveness, not upon power and possessiveness. Control? Yes, there is a little bit of that there too…

Ubi Caritas - Full Score
The first page of a new setting of the Latin hymn “Ubi caritas” which I composed this weekend.


“Where charity and love prevail, God himself is there.” What I do in the summertime is write a lot of music, blog – which helps me to get my thoughts together –  and generally prepare for the busy year ahead. I am powerless when it comes to choosing the next president. However, I am powerful when it comes to choosing how I spend my time, choosing my friends, and making  thoughtful decisions concerning my loved ones. It is on that creative power that I shall dwell and, God willing, prevail.

My beautiful wife, Kate, with me on the island of Aruba last week. Zaphod has nothing on us!


2 thoughts on “Figurehead? Powermonger? Does it matter?

  1. You have expressed my thoughts better than I could. I worry about my children’s’ future, my grandchildrens’ future in this country. I worry that my generation has lost its sense of statesmanship and the leadership required to fill the office of President with dignity and integrity. Perhaps I need to observe carefully the lesson you teach in this blog…that the best we can do is to do our best for those in our immediate care. Thank you, Nick!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary! Yes, I think that’s all we can do. Sadly, this tends to put us in “protection” mode, which is not always healthy! N x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s