“Among the most trying class of people with whom I come in contact are the persons who have been educated in books to the extent that they are able, upon every occasion, to quote a phrase or a sentiment from Shakespeare, Milton, Cicero, or some other great writer. Every time any problem arises they are on the spot with a phrase or a quotation. No problem is so difficult that they are not able, with a definition or abstraction of some kind, to solve it. I like phrases, and I frequently find them useful and convenient in conversation, but I have not found in them a solution for many of the actual problems of life.”– Booker T. Washington, My Larger Education (1911)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
We often deceive ourselves by assuming that a word fitly spoken, an opinion boldly proffered, an argument well-written or a critique loosely given is tantamount to leadership–particularly with respect to solving “the actual problems of life.” And this is the idea that Booker T. Washington explained in his observations of men and women who offer words without any accompanying works. Thomas Edison suggested that “A vision without execution is a hallucination.” To be clear, “vision”-the single greatest 6-letter word- requires words for articulating, reasoning, inspiring and motivating. Yet, this is only one half of the deal in leadership. The other half is transforming those words into works. Such works, unlike words, are never philosophical or theoretical “abstraction[s]”. These works are “solution[s] for many of the actual problems” that visionary words propose to solve. Works are the evidentiary and documentable deeds done that substantiate the words of visionary leadership. Works are what can be touched, pointed to and-most importantly-verified, substantiated and authenticated precisely like the presence of Tuskegee (Institute) University that still stands a full century since Mr. Washington’s death (1915-2015). Mr. Washington’s late 19th and early 20th century demonstration of visionary leadership is the complete expression of a leader’s love for “words” that he found “useful and convenient in conversation,” as well as his “work” achieved and completed at Tuskegee. And witnessing such visionary leadership is akin to persons upon a ship viewing an iceberg in the middle of a frigid ocean. The “words” are what sit atop the iceberg’s tip until the “works” of the impressive mass that lies beneath comes slowly into view.