“Dear Sir: Yours of May 2nd has been received and is somewhat of a surprise to me. I would say, however, at the outset that it is against my custom to make reply in regard to tales that are floating about in the air. Any man who is at all before the public will have any number of stories put into his ears, and if he permits himself to be influenced by them I find he will impair his usefulness for work, and it has been my rule to neither deny nor affirm such stories […]” -Booker T. Washington, “May 4, 1892”
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Of all the considerations persons fail to consider when they approach the President of Tuskegee Institute (University)-or any leader of a highly visible organization-is perhaps the most obvious of all: “[…] in regard to tales that are floating about in the air. Any man [or woman] who is at all before the public will have any number of stories put into his ears […]”. And Mr. Washington’s assertion is one that all leaders and talebearers would do well to take heed to. For talebearers, such an omission does not injure the public figure, but injures the bearer of the “tales” designed to “put into his ears.” Unknown to many, the role of President or CEO grants access to a great many details that most persons are not-nor ever will be-privy to. And those who approach a leader with information that he or she is likely already familiar with will generally find that their information is likely-partial at best or faulty at worst. For if a leader allowed himself or herself to be “influenced” by partial or faulty information, it would “impair his [or her] usefulness for work.” And, in the end, it would be the leader-not the talebearer-who would be standing alone to explain why he or she relied on “floating” tales as opposed to facts.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.