Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision, Philosophy, Style

BOND: Let me ask you a question, what you see as the difference between vision, philosophy and style. Can you describe the interaction between these three—vision, philosophy and style?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think vision, to me, in my view, is something that you create in terms of where you want to go in the world, what you want to achieve. We like to say at the Research Triangle Institute that our mission and our vision is to improve the human condition. It's one of the reason why I work at RTI International because I feel like since I went into the Peace Corps my life has been all about trying to improve the human condition and so then the question is what strategies can you create to try to achieve that vision and you sit down and you figure in our case it's working in education or working in health, working in governance around the world trying to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

BOND: So what about philosophy and style? Are those the means by which or the umbrella under which you carry out this work?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think any leader has to have a personal philosophy. I think that's helpful to have that. I think it's part of being a leader. My philosophy is that, no. 1, I want to help the people on my team in my enterprise, in my organization, achieve their goals within our vision.

BOND: And it strikes me that might be a common philosophy that others would adopt. Are there different philosophies that could be equally as successful?

WILLIAMS: Probably. I think that's right. I mean I've always tried to lead my life by the Golden Rule—do unto others, and I always assume that there is good in people and I like to try to bring that to the table.

BOND: Now, what about style?

WILLIAMS: Style—I think -- Style. That's always an interesting question, isn't it? People always wonder, what exactly is a leader's style? I think in my case I like to believe that I'm a person who listens. I think listening is a very important skill set to have as a leader. It's important because you can learn a lot about the people who work with you, you can learn a lot about the challenges that you have to take on, and you can empower people by letting them know that what they tell you, what they believe is important, is going to help shape your philosophy and your approach to solving problems within your organization.

BOND: Now, over your lifetime, has your vision changed? Is it different now that it would've been, say, 20 years ago?

WILLIAMS: Actually since the time I've joined the Peace Corps, my vision has not changed. I've been very privileged, very fortunate to work in organizations, whether it's with the Peace Corps, with the International Youth Foundation, with RTI International—now, I'm back again the second time with the Peace Corps certainly -- that I've worked for organizations that cared about improving the human condition, organizations that contributed to making the world a better place. I've been really fortunate in that.