Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Importance of Style

BOND: Let me ask you a question. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style? Or do the three interact for you? Vision, philosophy, style.

CONYERS: I never thought about that before so -- first of all, to me, out of vision comes philosophy. Because at core bottom, every one of the 6.4 billion people that are said to be on the earth right now, no matter what language, no matter what culture, what race, what class, all of us can be stripped down to what is our philosophical -- "Here, you could put it here. Let's list it." Now, you could have a philosophy that may have a very narrow vision, but vision will determine your philosophy.

Then we add the ingredient of style. And style is all important. As we know, in government -- in life -- style is important. You're smart. You're articulate. You're intelligent. You're -- you bring your own persona. Style isn't something -- I don't consider it a negative, because the style is the thing that people see and there's two things --

When we meet a person coming toward us, Julian, there's only two things we can judge that person on if we don't know them: is how they look and how they talk. And to me, both of those combine to be style. Your style. You're wearing a spread-collar shirt with a Windsor knot. That's style. I mean, you didn't say I'm going to put on a -- there are, as you know, plenty of people, especially men, you know, who could care less about their attire. They have shirts, they have ties, they have suits. They dress. But style is what you bring to it. Not only in dress, but in the way you organize your objectives and the way you move forward. For example, for me, I've always -- my style is not to be worried about a formal bureaucratic structure of my office organization. Yes, there're titles and responsibility, but, to me, everybody that works with me is a part of my extended family. If I can't trust you to put in forty measly hours for the government, then I made a mistake. And what I believe in, is that if I forget about the fact that you are the computer operator and that you are the press secretary and you are at the front desk -- that we're all in this together and when the chips go down, we may have to do each other's jobs or we may have to be taken off something. And we don't want to say, "Well" -- and there are a lot of offices like this and they're not just government, in the private sector as well -- "No, I don't do that. That's not my MOS. This isn't my job description and I don't have to do that." That's a style. A lot of people like the way we operate over the several decades I've been here because I'm not worried about "I didn't see you this afternoon," because I believe you were doing something. I'll find out later but it doesn't bother me that you're not at your desk. Or if I want you, they'll say, "Well, he's at a meeting over on the Senate side about the court stripping bill," or, "She's somewhere else," and to me, that's a matter of style.

Another dimension of style that I think of with this question is, I believe that everything I'm doing should be maximally communicated to as many people as I can. I really believe a lot of people do things just to satisfy their constituency. Now, I don't know which category of the three in your question this falls into, but, you know, I think when I pass -- I introduce a bill. I introduce the Toxic Mold Bill. It isn't for the Democrats in the 14th Congressional District of Michigan or for some limited -- this is a national piece of legislation. When I advocate cost of living increases or living wage proposals as opposed to minimum wage, it's not for the black workers who need it. It's for everybody. And there are so many times I can recall where this philosophy, without me ever expecting it to, has held me in good stead because I legislate for the national good. And frequently, since we are the most powerful nation on the planet, we're sometimes legislating -- we're saying something to the rest of the world. We should have an assault weapons ban continue. That says something about the nation, to let it expire.