Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How Leaders are Made

BOND: Let me ask you about how leaders are made. Some people think leaders are made in three ways -- great people cause great events and leaders emerge, or movements make leaders, or the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate to the time.


WILLIAMS: The latter two.


BOND: The latter two?




BOND: That movements make leaders?




BOND: Do leaders ever make movements?


WILLIAMS: Hitler did.


BOND: Well, could you argue that Hitler took advantage of sort of latent anti-Semitism and German nationalism, that he took advantage of something that was already there but that needed a leader?


WILLIAMS: But he still created a movement. It was not a good movement.


BOND: No, but it was a movement. It was a movement.


WILLIAMS: It was a movement.


BOND: So, what about Martin Luther King? Now, it's arguable that there was going to be a movement in Montgomery and somebody picked him, said, "You be in charge of this." He didn't create it.


WILLIAMS: The times that we were in selected him.


BOND: So, you don't think it ever happens that great people causing great events? That was the choice you didn't make of the three.


WILLIAMS: I think the circumstances and the times make great people. I don't think you start out being great. You don't know who you are until you go through the fires of life, the trials of life. I mean, you look at someone like a Nixon. Look at someone like a Dr. Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It's the time and the circumstances. It's the struggle that make leaders. You cannot be a leader unless you go through a struggle and you've got to have the moral fiber and the moral character and you've got to have moral restraint in order to be a leader lest you end up destroying yourself and many of the people around you.


BOND: What about the prospect that somebody becomes a leader in this field, in these events, and then suddenly he finds him or herself on another occasion, separate from the first, and takes that greatness that he exhibited here and turns into a leadership role here. That can happen.


WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. That happens often. We have examples of that. No question.


BOND: Do you see your legitimacy as a leader grounded in your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or -- and these don't have to be separate -- or in your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?


WILLIAMS: Well, I think you have to be able to articulate the agenda of a movement but I think what is even more important than that is that people see in you something you cannot see in yourself. I think the people around you create the leadership because most people who become leaders should never want to become that. If your desire is to become that, if that's what you're sitting around for, you're not going to make the best leader, but if people come to you and especially if you're humble and it's not something that you really want and they demand of you that "We need you at this time, you're the only person that can do this, we've watched your life and we will follow you. We believe in you." Then you already have the trust of the people instead of forcing your trust on the people. I would rather for the people to force me into leadership than the other way around.


BOND: But there are occasions when people force themselves into leadership because of their ego.


WILLIAMS: Like Hitler.


BOND: Yes, or even people in our own society. I don't want to mention any names, but I think there're people who just say, "I'm the leader, you know, follow me."


WILLIAMS: Like Jesse Jackson.


BOND: Well, I won't say that.


WILLIAMS: No, you didn't.


BOND: But somebody who says, "I'm the leader, follow me." And some people follow that person just because that person has said I'm a leader and acts like a leader and looks like a leader and hasn't led --


WILLIAMS: Anybody will follow you for a while. Anybody will give someone a chance, but to earn that trust and to keep it is the real issue.