“Dear Madam: Replying to yours of August 22nd, I would say that we wish to employ some woman who can assist us in improving our Household Departments. We wish a person who can stay with us long enough to get each department in the best possible condition. We wish one who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense, who will be frank in all her criticisms, and have the executive ability to have matters properly adjusted. It is my idea to have the one employed to take each department in turn, and remain in it long enough to make whatever improvements are necessary, all, of course, to be done in connection with the teacher directly in charge, who, I am sure, will be willing to cooperate in the right spirit.” – “September 5, 1894,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
The search for new employees to come alongside in service to a mission both broader and larger than any one person was not an unfamiliar undertaking for the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). Mr. Washington was always looking for talented and competent leaders to assist him in the carrying out of both the mission and vision-the tradition and trajectory of Tuskegee Institute (University) that he became the principal architect of. In a period where the tidiness of departments bore a direct impact upon the institution’s ability to court donors to help support the growth of the institution, Mr. Washington needed someone with Mrs. Alice J. Kaine’s skillsets. First, he needed someone “who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense.” Depth and breadth is the greatest 5 and 7-letter word combination. Mr. Washington needed an employee who had more than a passing familiarity or cursory knowledge of household science; he needed someone who can both identify problems and implement the necessary changes needed to bring departments in compliance. Secondly, he desired someone who could be “frank in all her criticisms.” (Hear again, frankness and directness is the surest way to ensure transparency when instituting change where it is needed, and a new employee arriving in an environment where such change is needed can ill-afford to be something other than “frank.”) Third, she absolutely must have “executive ability.” Try as one might, there is no way to be an effective and efficient administrator or leader without “executive ability.” Whether these talents are inherent or learned through the crucibles of experience, this trait is a combination of many things but is summarily described as effectiveness. (Busyness is not the same as effectiveness. For the true sign of efficiency and effectiveness in leadership is getting deeds done without direction.) And finally, this new employee must be committed to remaining at it “long enough” to see the transformation to its completion. Possessing the appropriate fortitude, endurance and perseverance in seasons of both success and disappointment requires patience. It would be no quick work to turn around “household departments” that have long been stagnant or unattended to. This new employee would need the same patience and long-term service that her future employer had exhibited in his very long and very impressive 34-year long presidency of Tuskegee Institute (University).
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.