Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University, has given up more than $90,000 of his salary so university workers earning minimum wage could have their earnings increased to $10.25 an hour from the current $7.25.

Burse, a former president of the university, retired from an executive position with GE with good benefits and says he doesn’t need to work. His voluntary salary reduction is a way to recognize the needs and importance of those who are on the lower end of the pay scale, but, as he says, “do the hard work and heavy lifting.” “I did this for the people,” he explained. He still will make almost $260,000 for his twelve months as interim (note 1).

Burse has set a wonderful example of real leadership that every high-paid executive (is there any other kind?) could and should follow. What if the “Christian” CEOs of a well-known big box store and a certain craft chain that has been in the news would take similar steps to ensure that their employees make a wage that would lift them out of poverty, so the cashiers and stockroom workers wouldn’t have to rely on food stamps for groceries and could afford basic health care? Suppose football coaches, paid obscene salaries and benefits by universities, didn’t live in million-dollar homes, but insisted on lower pay that would go to fund the custodians’ and groundskeepers’ and cafeteria workers’ wages? Or maybe the “rock-star” preachers on TV could donate the royalties of their books and videos to Habitat for Humanity or their local food pantries.

Pope Francis recently said that “Jesus teaches us to put the needs of the poor above our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor, who lack the necessities of life.” He has set an example by driving a Ford instead of some luxury car and living in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the Palace (note 2). Of course, his opinions and lifestyle have not endeared him to some “Christians” in our Congress. Too “liberal.”

If two men, one in a secular university, the other the world leader of a church, can live so, why can’t others with wealth and power? Why can’t some do with a (relatively) little less so others may simply have enough? Those who keep amassing more and more while other suffer want may not answer me or you, but they will have to answer to Jesus.

Note 1: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/08/01/3361549/ksu-presidents-gives-up-90000.html

Note 2: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/06/pope-francis-poor_n_5654732.html


Billy Crystal:Of course, when I asked her where she was when Kennedy was shot, she said ‘Ted Kennedy was shot?!’”

Bruno Kirby: “No! No!”—dialogue from When Harry Met Sally

Where were you when Kennedy was shot? It’s a question that defines and is shared by a generation. My generation, the Boomers.

My answer to the query is that I had just turned 12 and was sitting in a seventh-grade classroom when the news broadcast was piped in over the speaker above the blackboard. I remember very little else—not my reaction or that of my classmates or that of my parents (who were no fans of Kennedy) when I got home that afternoon.

It would be years later, at my high school graduation, before I thought much again about John Kennedy. Because the valedictorian didn’t like to speak in public, I, as salutatorian (by a fraction of a grade point) was tapped to give the speech instead. My first, hastily written and lazy draft wasn’t approved by the Powers That Be, so I had to get to work on a real talk. When I went to the library and started looking for resources and direction, Kennedy provided the inspiration.

Here is what I said:


What if the values Kennedy recommended, and I found inspiring in 1970, were embraced by all of us, especially public leaders, in 2o13?

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Susan and I have gotten hooked on watching “Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan on the National Geographic channel. If you’re not familiar with the show, Cesar goes into homes with, we think, troubled dogs. But it usually ends up that the owners are the ones who need help, especially with how to be leaders.

So it occurred to me that, even though Cesar teaches about leading dogs, his lessons are useful in the worlds of business and church. Here is what I have gleaned from just the few episodes I’ve watched so far:

1. Look first to yourself. The only thing we can really change in a system is our reaction to stimuli. How do you or I contribute to the “presenting problem,” as they say? How is our energy, our approach, our attempt to attend to our needs/agendas negatively influencing outcomes?

2. Be calm and assertive. In family systems theory, this way of acting is known as maintaining a “non-anxious presence,” though these days theorists speak of the “less-anxious presence,” realizing that no one is totally free of anxiety. When everyone else is falling apart in a crisis, the leader of this sort sees and thinks clearly. In Cesar’s terms, he or she gives off a “positive energy.” Dogs, intuitive as they are (and also with their sensitive noses) can tell if their owners are on edge, and they exploit that. Some folks are intuitive as well and will also exploit the leader’s lack of confidence. So be calm and at least act like you know what you’re doing!

3. Respect the needs of those you lead. Cesar reminds the owners that dogs need to be dogs. They aren’t people (especially not babies/children) no matter how much we may try to make them such. In the same way, those we seek to lead have particular needs that they are trying to have met, from the most basic ones of food and shelter to respect, intimacy, and accomplishment. How does our leadership create conditions and support to enable those in our charge to prosper and succeed?

4. Teach what you learn. Cesar’s whole approach is teaching dog owners the techniques they need to lead their dogs. He even sat down with a group of little kids the other night and taught them how to handle a rambunctious standard poodle. When we know helpful approaches and techniques, we ought to share them as well, with all sorts of constituencies. Indeed, Jesus commands us to teach everything he has commanded us. Our job as leaders, in the church at least, is not to do everything ourselves, but to make disciples, who make disciples, and on and on.

Thanks, Cesar!

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8).

I’ve been an amateur guitarist for about 40 years now. I started playing at sixteen, primarily learning by teaching myself from books. Over the years, I’ve discovered a great many fascinating things about the guitar that I had no inkling of when I started out.

One of those discoveries has come only in this decade. It’s the concept of alternate tunings. In an earlier blog, entitled “DADGAD” (October 9, 2008), I talked about the lesson changing and playing one of my guitars in that tuning taught me. In this post, I want to share a couple more insights I gained while talking with some folks about leadership at a conference last month.

In our small group, we were discussing various ways of leading, specifically making changes in our approaches as necessary for a situation. I said that reminded me of the capability of a guitar to be tuned different ways depending on the preference of the musician and the piece being played. Standard tuning (EADGBE, low to high) is fine for strumming chords or leading singing. DADGAD is great for “fingerstyle” as played, for example, by Pierre Bensusan. “Drop D,” in which the lowest string is tuned down from E to D is useful in rock, while open tunings (like tuning the guitar to play an E or G chord on open strings) are great for slide and blues.

All that on the same instrument. Of course, a standard guitar can’t produce the resonant tones of a bass or the mellow sounds of a baritone (tuned a fifth lower than standard). But it’s still incredibly versatile.

My point here is that all of us have our standard tuning, as it were. That’s our typical way of responding to a situation, the default setting that we go back to in a crisis. Anyone who has ever taken the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory has discovered his or her standard approach to the world around. Sometimes our normal way is helpful and appropriate. We are served well in our work by being a “commander,” for example. Or our family has appreciated our intuitive grasp of others’ feelings and needs.

At other times, though, we will need to adapt, to tune ourselves (or allow ourselves to be tuned) differently, if only for a time. The introvert has to draw on his or her opposite pole, the extrovert, in order to relate well to someone else, even though the effort is emotionally, even physically, draining. The commander will need to discover how to collaborate when part of a team, contributing ideas, but not pronouncing final judgment on them.

The good news is that we can in fact adapt. We each have it within ourselves to change a little bit (“drop D”), moderately (“DADGAD”) or even a great deal (open tunings). The key factor is what we most care about. Do we value above all our comfort with what’s familiar, whether our usual approach works or not? Or do we care most about effectively carrying out God’s call to us, even when it’s clear we must adapt by, say, giving up control or deciding to listen seriously to someone else’s viewpoint?

The Chief Musician wants to play beautiful music through us. And he will if we are simply open to his creativity in our lives.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham