Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Becoming a Leader

BOND: Let me ask you a question about making leaders. Some people think there are three separate ways that leaders are made. Number one, great people cause great events. Number two, movements make leaders. And number three, the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the time. Which of these do you think fits you, if any?

WILDER: I think the last two, probably would — confluence of events and the second one was —

BOND: Movements make leaders.

WILDER: Movements obviously make — obviously, Martin Luther King fit all three of the categories, but they had never been tapped other than for the confluence of events. Leaders are all around us. The question is how they are tapped, but when so tapped, who seizes that opportunity? And in many instances it’s — it’s a question of that individual commitment. You see it in the same families. You see it in the same settings. You see people who have been exposed to the same things but that are affected in different ways. So the real test is, how does that individual become affected by what you described as envisionment and philosophy, and then the implementation with style. Those are the three things that are fixed to what that individual sees as the need to change what is. Leadership means change.

BOND: And would you guess that if you had people in the same family — brothers, let’s say — and one finds the confluence of these things, all these things coming together, then that one will exercise some leadership ability. And the other doesn’t see that, then he won’t?

WILDER: Might not. I go back to my mother again, and she told me once, she said, “You need to determine for yourself what you think is right. Even though it might not be what I think is right. But once you determine that, don’t stop." It’s almost like stealing it from Aristotle. Know thy right — or Socrates rather. Know thy right, then proceed. But first of all, know thy right. That’s why I think it’s silly! You’ve experienced the same thing. Relatives don’t necessarily see things the same way. But that’s life! That’s what great about mankind. And we are born differently in terms of perception and experiences. We’re all the same in terms of makeup, but how we go about following that is different. And that’s what makes life so interesting.