“I have great faith in the power and influence of facts.” -Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Men and women who possess leadership responsibilities beyond their own persons would be hard pressed to find any better ally or supporter than facts. And men and women of the ilk of Booker T. Washington, founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University, marshaled both favorable or unfavorable facts to similar ends. It is simply not true that one should keep one’s eyes open to favorable facts while closing one’s eyes to unfavorable facts. Mr. Washington’s penchant for earnestness, frankness and directness in his communications to donors and external constituencies always commingled both favorable and unfavorable facts. As to favorable facts, one ought always communicate what the organization does well in a clear, documentable and evidentiary fashion. (An outcomes-oriented organization need not rely upon fables when facts are present.) On the other hand, communicating unfavorable facts is equally important. Whether one concedes it or not, everyone knows when something “is not right.” A plain statement and admission of an organization’s current environment is one of the clearest telltale signs of organizational integrity. (Hear again, “integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word.) For Mr. Washington did not merely state that all things were always favorable. (Why would anyone seek outside help if all things, as they currently exist, are favorable? Any petition for aid immediately pronounces the opposite. For no one asks for help when there is no need for it.) Instead, he oft-times made a plain statement of the organization’s current environment while positively projecting its target environment. In this regard all successful outside entities have empathy towards such an organization because a right understanding of one’s current environment with a view towards its target environment necessitates a commingling of both facts that are favorable and unfavorable.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University