Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let's see if we can't get into some of these philosophies that create Floyd Flake. Can you see a difference between vision, philosophy, and style? Are they the same thing for you? Are they different? How do these -- ?

FLAKE: No, they're not different. I see vision as being able to kind of look and see things that are not as though they are. To dare to believe that whatever is out there – I may not be able to see it in the reality of the now – but something -- there is something out there that I know I have not been able to do. And my vision tied to my reality brings me to a perception that allows me to be able to go beyond what I can see with my natural eye and believe in my spirit that there is something else that I'm going to be doing at some point. Don't know what it is. Don't know when it's coming. But I believe that, for me, I identify vision as understanding that every season in your life is a season of preparation for something else. So just as in nature, there's a season for planting. There's a season for nurturing. There's a season for harvesting and a season for rest. I believe that those are the elements that define how one ultimately is able to bring reality to vision.

Philosophy on the other hand, for me, is thinking through the process of making things happen. And so the process has to do with learning how to analyze not merely that which defines you as you are at a certain stage, but also trying to give definition to what you want to be at other stages in your life. So my philosophy is rooted in one, the grounding of an historical background that comes up out of segregation. But my vision is that life is more than that. Therefore, whatever I am philosophically is not limited to whatever boxes people seem to construct and think I ought to be in. But rather an understanding that my philosophy has exploded in such ways in order to have connection to my vision that I cannot be boxed in. Therefore, whether it's politics or whether it is education or anything else, I don't see myself limited to having to accept one idea. Because life is continually changing. And because life continually changes, I want to always be aware of how that change impacts my life and I get beyond the limitation of philosophy and deal with the reality that with vision, there is no limitation.

Now -- and what I've been blessed with is a sense of a common style that is in many ways an attachment to people. And so that with a style where people are comfortable in my presence because they know that I'm not such an ideologue that I could not accept, appreciate another person's point of view, even if I don't agree with it. And so people find a level of comfort in that. So the style is always to say, "I understand where you are. This is where I am. But I think we have some common ground." I'm always looking for common ground.

BOND: And how do these work together, vision, philosophy, style, for you? How do these come together for you?

FLAKE: I think vision, philosophy, and style come together in a way that, with my philosophical positions, I'm always able to create a sense in the minds of people that there are things you can do better and greater with my ability to have a vision and then make that vision real. People are able to say, "Here's a guy who does not only have vision, who does not even have the rhetoric of possibility, but actually when he talks about possibility, I know that, because I see the result, that this can become reality for my life as well." And the style is one of giving comfort, a kind of comfort where people know, "If I can trust him, then I can trust myself to do more for myself. Because I've seen what he's been able to do for himself by virtue of the style that he's adopted in terms of his own lifestyle."

BOND: But there was a point when you were nineteen years old, you become the pastor of this church.

FLAKE: I have none.

BOND: You have nothing to show people.

FLAKE: And that's where it all begins. That's the foundation.

BOND: Okay, so it starts right there.

FLAKE: You start from -- you know, you launch from wherever you are. I think I said it last night, wherever you are, I believe that that's just another launching pad. And you keep on -- every stage you go in life, too many people find comfort at the stages where they have some measures of success. I'm never comfortable with measures of success. Because I think there's still so much I need to be doing so that I know that I'm put on this pad to accomplish certain things. But after this launch, I'm ready to go onto the next launch. And sometimes, that takes longer than others. Which is why it was easy for me to spend eleven years in Congress. Because when I ran for the office, I said, "I will be here ten to twelve years." At the end of the eleventh year, I resigned. And nobody thought that that could be. Because most folk don't leave what my father-in-law would call a good federal job. And so -- but my reality was that I could not accomplish all that I wanted to do locked up in a schedule that I don't control, in an environment that is ever changing and is becoming more hostile. But I can do more being free. And I've been able to do that over the last four years.