Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

What Makes a Good Leader?

[Access a PDF Response Sheet]  |  [Access a MSWord Response Sheet]

Find out what a leader is, how leaders are created, and the characteristics of good leaders.

Section A: What is a Leader?

A leader is often defined as someone who others follow.

A leader could be someone like the President or the head of a corporation who makes decisions for people based on the power of his or her position. However, leadership is not always based on a person's job title.

Leaders can act as guides creating a path for themselves and others through uncharted terrain.

A leader can also be someone who inspires others to take action through his or her words and deeds.

Task #1:

Click here to link back to the Biography page to identify at least six different fields that the featured black leaders are working in. Some have traditional leadership positions and work or have worked for the decision making bodies of the government. Others are leaders in business or the arts. Record your answers on your response page.

Section B: How Are Leaders Created?

When experts first began studying how leaders were created they examined the traits of specific leaders. However, when the list of traits got too extensive, researchers began to look at situations that create leaders rather than specific traits. View some of the clips below from the Black leaders' oral histories to see how the featured leaders think that leaders are created.

Task #2:

In each of the clips, the interviewees describe how they feel leaders are created, and their opinions differ from each other.  Select three of the six clips to view. After viewing the clips, write two sentences about how each leader feels leaders are created. Record your answers on your response sheet.

Leadership Development

Julian Bond

  • Founding Member of SNCC
  • Former Member of Georgia's Congress
  • TV Commentator on America's Black Forum
  • Chairman of the NAACP

How Are Leaders Created?

John Conyers, Jr

  • Lawyer
  • U.S. Congressman with focus on Civil Liberties and Voter Registration
  • Founding Member of the Congressional Black Caucus

Leadership: Style

Robert Franklin

  • Minister
  • Author of Books on Social Justice
  • Former President of the largest African American Theological Center

Leadership: Development

Benjamin Hooks

  • Minister
  • Lawyer and Judge
  • Former Executive Director of the NAACP
  • Professor of Public Policy and Social Change

Leadership: Development

Elaine Jones

  • Peace Corp Volunteer
  • Lawyer
  • Former Director for the Legal Defense Fund

Leadership: Development

Henry Marsh

  • Lawyer
  • Former Mayor of Richmond
  • State Senator in Virginia

Section C: What are the Characteristics of a Good Leader?

Task #3:

Before examining what our Black leaders say, list six attributes that you feel make a good leader. Don't worry about being right or wrong as this list will just be for your own use.

Task #4:

Now list four attributes that you feel would make someone a bad leader.

Task #5:

Watch each of the clips below and write down at least two characteristics that each leader feels is important in leadership.

By viewing the video clips we can examine how individuals who are already successful leaders became leaders. Doing this helps us understand about what has worked in the past and what might work for us in the future.

Leadership Qualities

Julian Bond

  • Founding Member of SNCC
  • Former Member of Georgia's Congress
  • TV Commentator on America's Black Forum
  • Chairman of the NAACP


Leadership: Development

Earl Graves

  • Businessman
  • Founder of Black Enterprise Magazine
  • Author on the topic of Black Business Development

Leadership: Development

Dorothy Height 

  • Former Leader within the YWCA
  • Past President of the National Council of Negro Women
  • Humanitarian Aid Worker in area of Social Justice

Leadership: Vision

Oliver Hill

  • Lawyer of Numerous Civil Rights Cases (NAACP lawyer for Brown vs. Board of Education)
  • Former Director of the Virginia Chapter of the NAACP
  • Former Richmond City Councilman

Section D: Leadership Characteristics

In the clips the Black leaders mention a variety of characteristics of good leaders such as:

  • Leaders are excellent communicators who can speak, write, and listen well
  • Leaders are confident in their abilities
  • Leaders have a clear vision and are goal-oriented
  • Leaders show respect for others
  • Leaders are able to persuade others to their point of view
  • Leaders are honest and worthy of trust
  • Leaders actively seek responsibility and show initiative
  • Leaders are active and energetic because being a leader can be time-consuming and stressful
  • Leaders are tough and show determination

Task #6:

Now that you have heard what the Black leaders have to say, are there any qualities that you would add to your list of leadership attributes?

Task #7:

Now list any additional attributes that you feel would make someone a bad leader.

Discussion Question:

Are all leadership traits innate, or can they be developed? Are leaders created by movements in a critical time when a leader is needed? Are leaders people who see the need for change and decide to take the responsibility to convince others to follow them? Write down your idea on your response sheet and provide reasons to support your perspective.