Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Shyness and Reluctant leadership

DOVE: I am a reluctant leader. Okay. Fine. But I became the co-head majorette in high school.

BOND: I've seen you twirl.

DOVE: Yes, you've seen me twirl, but I became a majorette mainly because I had been teased so often as a kid for being smart. I was called brainiac and stuff like that. This is what you get used to. But I thought if I became a majorette, maybe I could become popular, too, so I learned how to twirl and went out for the squad and I was accepted into the squad. I and another black girl kind of integrated the squad. There'd been one other black majorette years before but that was that, so we were on the squad and then the next year I was voted to become co-head majorette. They couldn't make me head, so I was co-head, but that meant that I had to lead the troop, the squad every once in a while in football games which was a very interesting thing. And I played the cello and occasionally I would become first chair in cello and that's an interesting way of leading, too, because you lead by example. You don't lead by exhortation or word, but by the very posture, by the very way you move, you lead the entire section and that I think has helped in terms of when people say, oh, you're my role model and that kind of drives me nuts, but I also know that it's incredibly important to have role models. I know from my own life, so how to become that role model, how to lead by example. Other examples of leadership, in 19 — , and I'm so terrible with dates, so I'm going to think about this, 1985 I believe it was, I was elected to the board of the Associated Writing Program which is the leading organization for writers in academia and it was a learning experience. I went to my first board meeting and another board member took out a calculator to figure out the deficit and we're all poets. Calculators? Please. And his response, he was an editor of a magazine, was that you gotta balance the books. You can't go anywhere, even as a poet, so I learned to use a calculator that time. The next year we had terrible deficits due to improprieties, let's say, in the administrative staff because these poets did not know how to use calculators. That's why we had this problem and a long story short — the rest of the board — no one wanted to be president and so they tried to elect me because they figured, well, put it on the youngest member, and I remember thinking to myself. I said I can't be president. I don't know how to lead anybody and I said I have to call my husband, so I went into another room where the phone was. This room was in a hotel but this room was the room where the executive actually was supposed to be. There was a conference room and there was the executive room, a huge mahogany table and every emblem of leadership there and I had to sit behind this desk to call my husband to tell him the horrific news that I might become president of an organization that was about to go down the tubes financially and as I sat behind there and I called him and Fred said, "oh, my God," and then I stopped and I said, "I'm going to do this" because there are ways to do this. Someone has to do it and I'm going to do it and so I squared my shoulders and went back out, said, "I will be president," and did the necessary firing of the people who were skimming, and we pulled it back up. We pulled the whole organization out of the dumps, so that was — And I remember thinking of my father at that moment with his index cards and realizing I was 150% ready even though I was shy. You just do it.

BOND: A moment ago before this train of thought, you said you were a reluctant leader. Then you immediately went to two episodes in high school where you in effect volunteered for leadership and then you tell this other one when you're older, when you are reluctant once again, so what's the story here.

DOVE: Well, when I say reluctant, I mean that my natural inclination is to just sit in the background because I am shy, but I also had the examples of a father who was shy who just went ahead because he knew he was prepared to do this and he was ready to do it. He was the best person —

BOND: He didn't let his shyness hold him back.

DOVE: He didn't let his shyness hold him back. He just buckled down and did it, so for me, even though I didn't, you know, I didn't want to be out there in the limelight, at the same time, I knew I could do it. Also, music — I think that music has in a certain way taught me how to be a leader because the music itself carried me away and when I played the cello in the orchestra and I felt this sound all around me, it wasn't just me even if was leading my section. It was everyone in that room playing and being a majorette, it wasn't just me. It was a whole band behind, so I always felt that I was being buoyed on that and I was terrified every time.

BOND: But you did it.

DOVE: I did it.