“[…] I made up my mind definitely on one or two fundamental points. I determined: First, that I should at all times be perfectly frank and honest in dealing with each of the three classes of people that I have mentioned; Second, that I should not depend upon any “short-cuts” or expedients merely for the sake of gaining temporary popularity or advantage, whether for the time being such action brought me popularity or the reverse. With these two points clear before me as my creed, I began going forward.” -Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education,” (1911)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
While one may have great difficulty in successfully appealing to multiple constituents and interests, the surest way to fail at doing so is pandering to the opinions of all. And there is no better blueprint for negotiating the pitfalls of paltry politics and partisanship than to follow Booker T. Washington’s two-part course of action throughout his 34-year Presidency (1881-1915): 1. Speak clearly, frankly and honestly at all times. 2. Though laborious-and often painstaking-let your work speak for itself. “Integrity,” the single greatest 9-letter word, speaks to the former. Consistency in communication across constituencies produces confidence. (For conversations spoken in one arena are bound to be communicated to other arenas, and multiple constituencies will quickly discover inconsistencies and inequity when conversations are compared to one another.) “Purpose,” the single greatest 7-letter word, speaks to Washington’s latter formulation. Persons consumed with purpose have little time for pandering and cronyism because they are consumed with performance. (For, in the end, performance and accomplishment-not political expediency-is the primary currency needed in communication across constituent groups.) Mr. Washington’s signal accomplishments-best evidenced in the past, present and future testament of Tuskegee University-provides the clearest telltale signs of his philosophy’s success. And it was no “short cut.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University