Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me talk about leadership philosophy. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style? What is the interaction between these three — vision, philosophy and style — in your life and in the leadership roles you’ve had?

BUTTS: Philosophy is how you understand life, your point of view. For me, I guess the most prominent, if you want to call it a philosophy, is defined by my faith. Vision is where you see that lifestyle leading you, where you see that philosophy leading you, where’re you going, what’s out in front of you, and if you are in a position of some influence and authority, what do you want to accomplish, so as a Christian I would like to see the valleys exalted and the mountains made low and all of God’s children stand on an equal plane. As a Christian, I want to see poor people, you know, empowered to the point of view that no one is hungry and that people have good health care, where education is a right. That’s the vision based on my point of view as a Christian.

And my style — it’s how I accomplish or move toward that vision. Now, my style has changed. At once, my style was very confrontational, very in-your-face. At once, physical altercation was not impossible for me. My style has, as I’ve matured and grown older and understood more about life and people and travelled, it has become more negotiable. My style is to embrace every person I meet as a potential brother or sister. Shake their hand. Speak to them. Treat them like human beings, you know. They’re no different than you are. They’re no better than you are. They’re no worse than you are. My style is to keep people smiling as much as I can because all of us have so much trouble, so many challenges, that if you can bring a moment of lightness and joy into somebody’s life, that you try to do that, so my style may moderate depending on the circumstance, but I do have a decided philosophy that’s guided by my faith as a Christian.

I do have a vision of what I would like to see and some of my vision has been realized in Harlem through our Abyssinian Development Corporation of building better housing. We’ve built schools. We’ve built commercial developments. That’s part of realization of the vision and the style at which I approach it — depending, I mean, I have been confrontational. I’ve led demonstrations against people who are the producers of this gangster, negative rap, painted over billboards, you know. I’ve almost had physical altercations with police over brutality issues, but I’ve also negotiated with corporate executives, tried to win them to understand my vision of building and creating. I’ve met with presidents.