“Mrs. Bond: Your communications have been considered. With your present feelings toward the official head of the institution I cannot see how you can be of that service to the institution that a teacher should be and am surprised that you even thought of remaining in your present condition of mind. You say in so many words that you have no confidence in the institution yet you are willing to use it as a convenience for the time being. As above stated it seems to me that with your present feelings it will be best for all concerned for you not to be connected with the institution. Respectfully, Booker T. Washington.” “February 16, 1895,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
While we do not have in our possession Mrs. Irene Bond’s communication to the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), it is clear in Mr. Washington’s response to her that she was none too pleased with the present direction of the institution under his leadership. To be crystal clear, no man or woman in leadership will ever be free from detractors-especially when their leadership implements change in areas of institutional culture that have proven beneficial to such detractors while being detrimental to the institution as a whole. All the same, the surprise here is not that Mr. Washington possessed critics within Tuskegee Institute (University) or beyond, the surprise related to Mrs. Bond was as follows: “[I] am surprised that you even thought of remaining in your present condition of mind.” Whether in the 19th, 20th or 21st century, the very real need for “bread” or salary, often leads individuals to remain in organizations where they would otherwise leave, and such decisions often create a toxic work environment for other employees who not only remain for the bread, but remain because they believe in the institution’s mission and vision-its tradition and trajectory. And Mr. Washington’s “surprise” at a person remaining who thought so harshly of the institution or its leader speaks to the notion of vocational integrity. “Integrity,” involves harmony and union between one’s word and one’s work. When applied to one’s job, career or “vocation,” it means that there is an implicit understanding between employer and employee that the commitment to the institutional cause is something higher than the opinion of a singular individual-including the leader or the employee. Where there is no integrity in leadership or followership, there can be no trust, and where there is no trust, there can be no organizational success. Thus, trusting an institution’s tradition and trusting an institution’s trajectory requires integrity, and “integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.