Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Guiding Metaphors

BOND: Do you have a general philosophy that guides your life, a general set of beliefs that guide you? And if you do, and I'm guessing you do, how has this sustained you at moments of crisis and challenge?

WILLIAMS: I think that life is a judgment, you know what I mean? If life were just a lot of bright lines, life would be easy. You know, I think that there's a — there're judgments all the time in life. You know, fish or cut bait, I mean — you do any fishing? I mean, it's a cliche, because it is actually a big issue if you're out there fishing. Do you want to hang in here? Do I want to cut and go somewhere else, because if you're managing a situation, how much are you spending time on your long game as opposed to your short game is a big, big issue in this business, I think in life in general. Always keep your — but that 30, 40 percent on your long-term goal. Make sure it's one or two or three things, and then do all your dinner orders and that's how you're going to stay in business. That's a big, big philosophy for me and then the number two big thing for me is if you're in a bind, right, or you're know you're going to get into a bind — it's like if you're riding a horse and you're coming to a jump, what you've got to do is communicate to that horse, "I believe in you, we're a team, you're going to make it over this jump." If you communicate to the horse, "Oh, I'm scared I'm not going to make it," you're going to crash. Or when you're taking off, right, you pedal to the metal all the way to the end. You don't see the end of the runway coming up and then say, "Oh, my God, we're going to crash!" then pull the power. Yeah, you are going to crash.

And I see people time and time again in this business where they've got to make a critical decision, right? They know there's going to be some opposition to the decision so the analogy would be you're sailing along. All of a sudden you see this storm come up in front of you. Now, what's the best thing to do if you want to get to your destination? Turn and go the other way? Well, that's clearly not going to get you to your best destination. Kind of cut your power and slow down? Why would you want to do that? That's just going to extend the time that you're in the storm. The best thing to do is pedal to the metal, get through the storm as quickly as possible, and I'll give an example with this baseball decision, concrete manifestation of this.

So, here we know — we all know we're going to make this baseball decision. The public at best is 50/50 divided. There's going to be a lot of opposition. I say, "Let's just make the decision, get it through, get it over with, get the storm behind us." All of a sudden we make the decision. The public animosity brews up like a storm. All of a sudden, it's starting to rain. All of a sudden, there's some lightning. All of a sudden some of the people on the ship, on the decision-making ship, go, "Oh, my God, we're all going to die! Let's cut the power." No, why would we want to do that? We cut the power, then we sit here in the storm for three or four weeks. The storm gets worse, the ship almost sinks. And the moral of the story for me is when you make a decision, it may turn out to be the wrong decision. It may turn out to be the right decision. Make your decision. Get through it and then suffer the consequences pro or con.

BOND: Let me shift gears here.

WILLIAMS: What's the difference between that and — the difference between what I take through life, and I'm always sensitive, is there is a fine, fine, razor-thin line between dedication and perseverance and intransigence and stupidity and stubbornness. And a lot of times, it's a consequences of how it turned out. If it turned out well, "Oh, that was fearless leader, great perseverance," but if it turned out bad, "Idiot, stubborn idiot."