Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Decision Making Strategy

BOND: Coming forward again, when you become the Chancellor you've got to make all kinds of decisions, as anyone would in this position or others. Do you have a decision-making style or strategy that you employed both as Chancellor and at the Legal Defense Fund before that? Are there – and even in your law practice before that? Is there a style that you follow in coming to decisions that you are going to make?

CHAMBERS: I would think so, although I know others will argue that I don't have.

BOND: Tell me what you would think and then tell me what the others would say.

CHAMBERS: Well, I like to first identify the problem and go through whatever is necessary in order to identify the problem. And then I like to listen to the different approaches that people might offer. So I don't mind going to or picking up a phone and talking with any number of people about the problem and about the approaches for resolving it. And then I take all of those things and arrive at a decision.

BOND: Now in some of these decisions, at each of these places – the law firm, at the Legal Defense Fund, at the Chancellor's position – in some cases you could make decisions just on your own. You speak, it's done. In other cases you have to be consultative. And I understand how you can choose which is which. But to what degree in the consultative decision making do you broaden out to the widest possible group of people? I guess I'm thinking particularly about the Chancellor's job where your constituency is not just the students and faculty and administrative staff, but the alumni, the legislature, the board, I mean, a wide variety of constituencies. How do you stay in touch with all these people?

CHAMBERS: Well, okay – you brought several items together –

BOND: Yes.

CHAMBERS: – but that's okay. I stay in touch largely by going to lunch, telephone calls, frequent meetings. And I don't mind doing it. A lot of my colleagues think that I spend too much time trying to be democratic. But I think that it's absolutely crucial because part of the decision making, in my opinion, requires that one build a kind of consensus to have some support once the decision is made. And so that takes some time and takes some effort.

BOND: Do you find that reaching consensus on decision A may make it easier for you to make unilateral decisions on issue B?

CHAMBERS: It can. But at the same time – at the same time one has to appreciate that doing that can create problems for decision C. Because I think people get used to having some input in some decisions. And if they are excluded with decision B, they will remember it when you come to decision C.