Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership is Problem Solving

BOND: But looking back at that time, then, there has to be a time when you say to yourself "I'm a leader," and you said it was at this time. What did being a leader -- what did that mean? If you say "I am a leader," what did that mean you were? Why were you different from Chuck -- not Chuck McDew, but why are you different from the other people?

CLYBURN: I always saw leadership as problem solving and I still do. I always said that if the distance between me and the other guy is five steps, I'm going to always be willing to take three of them. I always believe that you have to make something happen.

Now, a lot of people see leadership as making noise. They see leadership as giving a good speech. To me, leadership is getting from point A to point B to point C, and, what it takes to do that is what I'm always trying to figure out. To me, I don't put out press releases about legislation that I introduce. Sometimes it gets done, and I'll tell my press secretary, "Let's just wait until we get this done." Well, that's just the way I am. I think that we're here not to make headlines, but to make headway. And so what I try to do is solve a problem. When someone calls me, I want to solve the problem.

When I ran the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission -- I ran that agency for almost eighteen years -- I remember one time the first time we got an over a half a million dollar settlement. It was $640,000 settlement we got for a guy. It was a claim against an insurance company. To this day, I never had the press conference about it. Now, a lot of people thought that that was just crazy. I was criticized by some of my good friends in the civil rights community because their position was that these press conferences help deter others from doing the same thing. Well, I always thought that it poisoned the atmosphere, and it would prevent me from getting the next settlement. And so my whole thing was to keep a climate in existence that allowed me to negotiate these settlements, because to me, if John Doe comes to me with a problem, John Doe wants the problem solved. If he's lost his job, he wants his job back, if he's lost it unfairly. Of course, sometimes he wants it back even sometimes when he didn't do -- he wants his job back. He wants his back pay. He wants his benefits restored.

Now, the question is "What kind of climate can you maintain that will allow you to do what needs to be done for John Doe?" I always believed that if an employer felt that the problem would be on the front page of the newspapers, it would make that employer less apt to negotiate the settlement. And so the employers in South Carolina always felt if they found themselves in my office that they were going to get a fair shake and they always felt that I would not wash their faces in it. And that's the way I am even to this day. I try very hard here in the Congress to sit down with people and to get, when I see a problem, to get the problem solved. And to me, that's what my leadership skills are to be used for.