Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How Leaders Are Made

BOND: Some people characterize making leaders in three separate ways: One: great people cause great events; two: movements make leaders; or three: the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate to the times. Which of these fits you?

BERRY: I think it’s number three.

BOND: Number three?

BERRY: Confluence of —

BOND: Unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time? Well, let me argue with you. Your childhood experiences, the racism, the deprivation that you suffered, this wasn’t really predictable, was it? Or was it?

BERRY: It was unpredictable.

BOND: It was unpredictable? Okay. And those unpredictable events helped to mold you into who you are today.

BERRY: The person I am, yes.

BOND: The person you are today.

BERRY: Although they happened to other people and it didn’t mold them.

BOND: Indeed so.

BERRY: Into the person I am.

BOND: I guess that’s what I’m reaching for. Why, again, did this have an affect on you and didn’t have an affect on the next person?

BERRY: If I could answer that, I would be wiser than Solomon. I don’t know the answer, so I always think these things are a matter of nature and nurture and so it’s a matter of how people respond to events.

BOND: Okay. So the combination of nature and nurture make you or the next person—

BERRY: Anyone, who they are.

BOND: That person into who they are. So, if you look back over your path to leadership, how would you summarize that or characterize that?

BERRY: I had no intention of being a leader of anything. It never occurred to me and I’m still not sure I am, but I had no intention. I was going to have this quiet life of being a professor, of writing dull books which I do write.

BOND: They’re not dull.

BERRY: And living in my study and talking to the students and that would be the end of it and then things happened, you know, things were offered to me or happened to me and I was put in positions when I, you know, when I became provost and when I became chancellor, issues of justice came to me and my response to those issues made me into what some people call a leader.

BOND: But again, let me dispute this here. These are leadership positions that you occupied. By the nature of the position, you’re a leader; even if you’ve done nothing with them, you’d still be a leader.

BERRY: I’d still be a leader.

BOND: But even prior to that, in the classroom, I’d argue that you were a leader then. You were imputing knowledge, passing on knowledge to these students of yours in such a way I’m guessing maybe without intending to say to them here’s what others have done, here’s an example you can follow. Is that true?

BERRY: That’s probably right.

BOND: So even before you had the title that said this person is a leader, you were exercising leadership.

BERRY: I think the point at which you figure out whether somebody has become a leader is to look at a set of circumstances and see what their responses are, because some people will respond to the same circumstances by either simply walking away or not passing anything on, so it depends on how they respond.