Interview With The Author: Dr. Wayne Burton
Former President, North Shore Community College (Danvers, MA)
Former Dean of the School of Business, Salem State University (Salem, MA)
1) What is the main takeaway from your book that you hope Registry Members will derive from Wayne’s War?
My experience in Vietnam verified the notion that “strong” leadership most closely identified as the military style, failed when needed most, in times of crisis. Rather, I came to believe that the role of a leader was to create an environment in which people believed themselves to be honestly valued and fully respected. Listening and responding to organization members replaced yelling and screaming as my primary modus operandi.
Leading organizations, especially those with legal or implied tenure such as higher education institutions, works best when presidents manage meaning, not manipulate behavior. We do this effectively when the values we espouse match with those we put into practice. The narrower the gap between the two, the more effective a leader will be.
2) Could you supply a brief anecdote from the book that will illustrate this takeaway effectively?
In Wayne’s War, I recall an episode in which I found one of my men who had been ordered to man a listening post in front of our sector to warn of a Viet Cong assault, cowering inside the berm that formed our perimeter. He begged me not to order him out front as he was “short”, having “two days and a wake-up” remaining on his tour. I sent him back to his unit for a replacement knowing my humanitarian act would reinforce in my men my message that I cared about them.
3) How did your experience in our military shape you as a higher education leader?
One should not have to go to war to become a person believing an organization can be humane and effective simultaneously as I did. The second stanza of the poem “Ode to Wayne” composed by my VP Human Resources when I retired after thirteen successful years as a college president reads: “Staff would always be welcome with his open door / He would lend an ear no matter what for.” My education as a higher education leader began in a bunker on the other side of the world in Vietnam.