Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Fostering Future Leadership

BOND: Do you see a crisis in leadership in black communities today and if you do, what contributes to this?

CANADA: I think there is a crisis and I think that I’m part of the problem and maybe part of the solution and this is what I believe and I learned this the hard way. I mentioned Ken Chenault because we’re friends and he runs American Express and we both took over our organizations at about the same time and I go and occasionally once a year we talk about running organizations and business. Obviously, American Express is thousand times bigger than our organization, but organizations are organizations. There’re many similar things. And I was talking to him about leadership and he said to me, “You know, one of the first things my board demanded when I walked in here is that I have a leadership succession planning in place,” and I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh, yeah, they like me, but this was never about personality. This was about how much money you’re going to make and if I’m out of here, they want to know that the company’s going to be fine and so they’ve really thought about leadership and how — ” and I think in our community, many of us who were in leadership positions have not taken this seriously in thinking how are we preparing the next generation for leadership.

How is that we get out of the way and allow leaders to come up and one of the things that I’m convinced that I have to do is I just have to leave this position. I can’t stay here. I told my board. I told everybody, look, I’ve got another four or five years and I’m not going to, I'm not going to — I have to make space so someone else who’s younger can come in. We have to groom them and prepare them so that they can take the organization to the next level so that we have to intentionally create the next leadership and then you’ve got to get out the way so people have space to actually develop their leadership skills and I think part of the problem is that many of us who’ve gotten to these positions, we fought so hard to get here and every moment you’re here, you’re fighting, so you cling to the positions of power until you die, right, and you just protect your kingdom until it’s over and you never think I should make way for someone else to come in so that we continue to replenish the leadership well with our own organization.

And we're like, start your own organization, you know, if you want to be a leader, you create your own thing. Well, yeah, that’s great, but some of us who’ve had I think some success at this have to think about what we’ve learned from I think from the corporate America about leadership and how you bring in the next level and by the way, it’s not always successful. Many companies go out of business and I think that’s poor leadership from the first leader because they did not protect their company in a way that you could ensure that that company could even get through a lousy leader to allow another leader to come in, so I think we’ve got to do that all across America. I think my generation has clogged up a lot of the leadership positions and, you know, we don’t want to go anywhere and that we’ve got to start making room and we’ve got to start sending a message to others that there’s an opportunity here for you that if you’re serious and you’re committed, that we don’t plan to stay here and you don’t have to go out and start your own thing. There’s opportunities for you in existing organizations that are doing great work.

BOND: Geoffrey Canada, thank you for being with us.

CANADA: It is absolutely my pleasure.

BOND: Been our pleasure.

CANADA: Thank you.