Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me move on to leadership philosophy. What do you see is the difference between vision, philosophy, and style? Can you describe the interaction between these three things? Vision, philosophy, and style. What are the differences and similarities?

WILDER: Vision is you see it, and you might even have an ability to plan it. Philosophy, in my judgment, means of course a question of your belief. Do you believe what you say you see, do you see what you believe? And style is implementation. There’s one word, two words to describe it -- do it. In my life, I think you should do it. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Vision in the absence of implementation is nothing. Philosophy is beautiful to expound and to discuss and to have drinks over, but style in encompassing those two things means you’re doing it, getting it done. Now how do you do it? You just do it! You don’t talk about it. Now, is it going to be right? It might not be. Is it going to be proven? It might not be. Will it work? You will never know. You’ve got to try to do it. And so, the three things I think are beautiful ways to describe how you put the test to the test. You first of all have to encompass it some way, visualize it, but if you don’t believe it, it’s empty. And if it’s something you really believe and it’s something you see, then you don’t try to stylize it to the degree of how you do it -- you do it. It might not be the same way someone else might do it, you might make some mistakes, but when you get it done, then the test is did you get it done -- what you saw and what you believed? If so, that’s the style of it.

BOND: So would you describe yourself as a pragmatist mostly?

WILDER: I try to think of myself that way, but I’m most described as a maverick. But people think I’m running outside of the guidelines. I don’t see that. I see reality. Just like that old elephant who got across the bridge -- he puts one foot on it first to shake it to see if he can put the other one on it. And I think that I follow that old elephant's line.

BOND: But you know the word maverick, I’ve seen that associated with you more than I have the word pragmatist.

WILDER: I know, you’re right.

BOND: So whatever your intention is, I think the larger audience says, "Maverick -- that guy's a maverick." You ran against the crusade for voters, you ran for office, one against conventional wisdom to run for lieutenant governor and governor, and really people must say that you’re crazy. “You can’t do that.”

WILDER: No they did.

BOND: But you did it.

WILDER: Well, see the question isn’t how people see you. It’s how you see yourself. And if you see yourself as a maverick, then obviously that holds you back. But if you see yourself as doing what any person would do similarly situated, then it means you’re doing what is right. And that’s why I continue to go back to saying, "If the thing is right, the time is right to do it." Just do it! And don’t pay any attention to how you’re being described.

BOND: Now, do you have a vision that has guided your work in your life? A single vision that’s remained constant over time?

WILDER: Yes, and that’s never resting. Never believe that you’ve made success of it. Because success is something you continue to work at. It goes back to what I said about Mordecai Johnson’s exhortation. Develop to the highest possibility of your potential. At my age now, I never would have thought that I would still be tapping into that development. But age as we now know is relevant. It depends on what you’re doing with the time allocated to your space here on earth.

BOND: What you described could be called your personal vision. Do you have a vision for the city of Richmond as mayor? Do you have a vision for the state of Virginia as governor, lieutenant governor? Do you have a vision for the whole country? You ran for the U.S. Senate -- do you have different visions for the positions you’ve held, or just the life you’ve led that is different from the personal vision that you have?

WILDER: Yes. I would like to think that we will be coming into a time where the things that I have personally envisioned, as such as would be the pilot of this country. Taken for granted in some instances but so much so that it would be expected that people should be in these positions that you and I have occupied, the goals that we are seeking. After all, all we’re talking about is the development of people. And people having a fair opportunity in an equal setting. At a point of looking out for the overall good of mankind, the overall good of Americans, the overall good of people around the globe in terms of making certain that we maximize that possibility that Jefferson described in terms of the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of life.