Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Qualities

LEFFLER: And perhaps there's a way to sum this up, could you articulate what you think are the major attributes, or characteristics, that are either common characteristics for black leaders, or that you think are actually essential for all leadership?

BOND: Well, let me talk about all leadership. I think communication skills -- and by that I don't mean being a highly polished speaker or the best writer in the world -- but the ability to tell others what it is you expect of them, what your vision is. You don't have to be the most polished person. Inarticulate people can do this. I've seen inarticulate people do this. So it's not smoothness or sophistication I'm talking about here but just the ability to get something across. This guy taught me math. He was inarticulate, but he taught me math and I learned math. So that's one important thing.

First, you have to have some vision, some idea. You have to have some notion of what it is you want done whether you're talking about education or economic -- whatever it is. You have to have some idea of what you want done or what you think needs to be done, what the larger world needs to do. What your audience needs. What -- you to have some idea. Here's my plan and you have to put it out there. And you have to be willing to have other people say, "No, that's not right. Try this, or that or modify this in some way" or even "Abandon that and accept this." You have to be open to new ideas and to challenges to your ideas. And you have to be willing I think to look over the long term, the long, long term. I mean years and years, and years and years. While you hope to achieve little victories that make you have another one and so forth. If you can get 'em that's great. But you have to have a long, long vision of where things are going to be ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years from now.

LEFFLER: Do you have to be tough?

BOND: Yes. You have to be tough. You have to be tough. You have to be able to take defeat and get up and do it again and try again.

LEFFLER: Do you have to have the ability to somehow distinguish your private life from your public life? Is that something that is a learned skill do you think in terms of...?

BOND: I think it's a learned skill. You have to do it. You can't always do it, but you have to try to do it because you have to have privacy, of some kind. You can't live your life in public under the public lens. Sometimes, because of what you do, or what other people do, all of a sudden there you are. But you can't have that. You have to try to not have that if you can.

LEFFLER: So are these different for black leaders than white leaders?

BOND: I don't think so. I think black Americans, and this is a generalization, are generally more forgiving of flaws in leadership figures than white Americans are, and this is a big generalization. So that when a leadership figure stumbles, the black Americans are more willing to forgive and forget and move on. We've seen this happen time and time again. There are probably other differences as well.

LEFFLER: But is it -- but are white Americans much less forgiving of black leaders for example than -- ?

BOND: I think so --

LEFFLER: Is it the same in reverse then?

BOND: And less understanding of the forgiveness. Now some of it is I think religious and religiously based. We know this controversy in the Catholic Church we're hearing about forgiveness as a tenet of Catholicism. So the priest who stumbles should be forgiven. We ought not have an ironclad policy; one mistake and you're out. I think for non-Catholics it's hard to understand. What do you mean? But for those who admire aspects of the Catholic faith it's perfectly understandable. They do believe in forgiveness. It is possible for the sinner to be saved. That's true you know of Baptists and Methodists and all kinds of other people, too. So there are things that are peculiar I think to African-Americans that aren't understandable by white Americans and vice versa.