Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: How would you describe the difference between your vision, your philosophy and your style or how do these interact with you? Vision, philosophy and style?

CANADA: Well, you know, the vision I think I told you grew over time because I was afraid to really articulate the full vision which was to go into a place and save all of the kids and do whatever it takes to save them all. I mean, that’s the vision we have and we’re in the process of doing that. The philosophy — now, my philosophy has really undergone some real changes over time. I grew up in a time when we were trying to figure out whether or not capitalism could work for poor people. Would it just destroy people and sort of grind you up and spit you out while certain groups of people got rich and I was very ambivalent about sort of being in America which is a capitalist country and it taught me — it took me a while before I began to see that there were tools here that are very very useful in the work that I want to do, that the ability to I think motivate people, to bring people together, and reward hard work differentially was something that it took me a while to develop and so if you looked at my early style which talked a lot about sort of egalitarian, we’ve got to all pull together and you deal with me now which says people who deliver the most should be paid the most and I want to make sure that people know how you get rewarded, I think that philosophy has developed over time and I think matured somewhat. I think people —

My style is — it's interesting, I think I have one view of my style but people who work for me might have another, but let me tell you what I think that what my view is is that I like to bring a lot of people together to hear ideas. I am never one to pretend I don’t have very strong opinions and very strong ideas but I’ve learned to be more patient about suspending my own beliefs long enough to really listen hard to what people have to say and so when we want to do work, I try and get ten or twelve of the closest people in the leadership roles in the organization together and have a conference. I don’t care. It could be in fiscal or development, it doesn’t matter what their — I just want to hear — what do you think about this issue and what do you think about this problem and then to try and encourage people to come and solve it.

Now, ten years ago I felt the need to solve everything myself, right? Because I know what to do. Let’s go out and do this and then charge off and come on, everybody, let’s go. Now, I don’t think that’s such a great leadership style anymore. Can you get things done? Yes. And if you’re really good, well, can you get good things done? I think the answer is yes. But are you teaching anybody anything about sort of how you solve problems, how you deal with complicated issues. No. No. You’re sort of lining people up and saying I’m in charge, follow me, which I don’t think allows leadership to spread in other areas, so as I’ve become older, I’ve become much more I think aware that my style needs to be more collaborative. It needs to allow people to have more of an input. Believe me. If you talk to folks, they’d say, yeah, that’s what he thinks he’s doing, but I’m not sure he’s really doing that because he is off charging —

It is tempered by time, right? That I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot of time to waste. I can’t sit around and let people figure this out for the next five years, right, but we do have time, if it’s going to take us a week or a month, to come up with a good idea. I want people to really I think have a chance to grow and develop but this issue of time I think impacts my style because I’m impatient and I think we can do it and I think we can do it now and the only question is — how do we get organized and focus so that we can do it?