Read this post by Seth Godin. So much of what he writes is about the difficult work that has to be done. That's where the real rewards are, where the real meaning is. But this concept of the "umbrella holder"... this is sticking in my craw. Why?
This is where academia fails, especially in the research realms. The glory, the rewards, the "greatness" all points directly to the big new initiatives, the things that make deans and provosts harrumph with pleasure. Almost to a person, professors devote every last calorie to racking up those harrumphs. There's always glory for those faculty in glossy pages of alumni magazines, but they could not be bothered to hold an umbrella if their lives depended on it (even though their livelihoods actually do depend on it). These are the people who count their committees and throw it in your face when you ask them to do something. These are the people who always seem to be just-too-overwhelmed when there's a difficult problem to unravel. Holding the umbrella? That's staff work.