Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How Do Leadership Abilities Emerge?

BOND: Let me shift gears one more time. When you think about making leaders, most think there are three ways leaders are made. Sometimes great people cause great events, and leaders emerge. Sometimes movements make leaders. Or sometimes unpredictable events create leaders appropriate for the times. Do you think any one of these is superior over the others?

LEWIS: Well, knowing -- and in terms of the movement, when you see someone emerge from a movement, from a cause -- in my estimation, I think is perhaps much more authentic, much more real than someone emerging out of a struggle. You know, whether it was seeing someone in Poland or in South Africa. That's a great cause. Someone sort of emerging from the people. And then sometimes events come along where there's something like 9/11 or whether it's something like the Great Depression or whether it's someone emerging out of a great national natural disaster and sometimes people are elected and they respond to the situation, but I like to think when someone emerges out of a call, sort of a movement, to me, it's more real and more authentic to see the young people, whether they're in China or the young people in South Africa or a labor leader in Poland.


BOND: Do you think that your ability as a leader comes out of your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or is it your ability to articulate the agenda that has to be followed? Is it you convincing people to follow your vision or is it your ability to say, "Here's the agenda, let's follow that"?

LEWIS: I think it's some of both. I think part of it is my ability to persuade people and sometimes I'm pretty good at persuading people, but -- you know, growing up, I became very involved in caring for chickens and I learned to do by just raising these chickens and preaching to these chickens and encouraging these chickens to do things.

BOND: I know your brothers and sisters didn't care for these chickens.

LEWIS: They didn't care for them, but I took care of them. I raised them. And I think some of the same techniques and tactics that I used with those chickens during the early years, I've used with some of my colleagues and friends today.

BOND: Now, you used to preach to those chickens.

LEWIS: And some of them were very responsive. Some of them would bow their heads. Some would shake their heads. They never quite said, "Amen." Some of them tended to listen to me much better than some of my colleagues listened to me.

BOND: Are there times when you wish your colleagues were chickens?