Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

What Leaders Do

BOND: How do you begin these talks about how you become a leader?

WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, I always start -- I think in America most people think they should be a leader. It's part of our society, our culture, our ethos.

BOND: It's how we grow up.

WILLIAMS: As we grow up, we should be leaders, and so I always start. I did this a lot in the Peace Corps. I always start off by saying, well, what do you think a leader does. Why do you think this is a something that you would choose to do? And I think -- and I talk about the fact that leadership is a responsibility. When you're the leader of an organization, of a group that seems to take on a lot of responsibility, you had to be prepared to accept that responsibility and it's 24/7 responsibility. It's not just something you turn on and off on 9:00 to 5:00 basis. Secondly, you need to study what the objectives of the enterprise would be, whether it's a company, whether it's a non - profit, whether it's a business, or a foundation, and understand what you're trying to achieve and how you can lead people to work together in a collective sense to achieve that.

BOND: Tell us something about your mentoring of other people as you've moved along in your career path?

WILLIAMS: Well, because I've always enjoyed great mentors from Mr. Caldwell in high school all the way through people like Ambassador Johnnie Carson who just stepped down from being Assistant Secretary for Africa who was a great leader. James Joseph who was my ambassador in South Africa. I'm sure you must know him. He's an outstanding outstanding mentor and leader. Ambassador James Michael who was my boss when I was in USAID who was the one who picked me for my first major leadership position at USAID. All of these men were important to me and so I've always made it a point to reach out and try to identify talented young people who I thought should be supported and allowed to have the opportunity to gain insights into the wonderful careers, whether it's in government or business or in the non - profit world. Certainly I try to do that here at RTI. I think it's important to encourage your talented people to really take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to them and to structure pathways for them to become leaders.