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Booker T. made self-education his ally

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

The career of Booker T. Washington began with two basic desires: an education and the means to get it.

From there, all his later ideas about financial success — many of them a century ahead of their time — flowed. A few core principles from Washington’s early life:
  • Keep learning. Washington describes a fervent desire for education in his community after the Civil War, recalling “this experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time.” Families would split the cost of an itinerant teacher.

  • Don’t waste time. Employed in a salt furnace, Washington’s earning power was too important to the family to let him attend a community school. Bitterly disappointed, Washington nevertheless kept working at his spelling book, plotting how to study at night.

    After securing a teacher, he progressed quickly in night school and kept at it through college.

  • Avoid debt. During a brief attendance at day school,Washington found himself the only boy without a cap. When he put the problem to his mother, she explained that she couldn’t afford a “store hat” but instead sewed him a cap out of homespun.

    Washington was proud that his mother refused to incur debt for something she couldn’t afford.

  • Become self-reliant. Washington worked at seeing the bright side of everything. He said he sometimes felt lucky not to have inherited a surname, money or a home, because, “If I had inherited these, and had been a member of a more popular race, I should have been inclined to yield to the temptation of depending upon my ancestry and my colour to do that for me which I should do for myself.”

  • Honor hard work. Rising to the expectations of the strictest taskmasters suited Washington’s perfectionist nature. It paid off during his lifetime as he ultimately headed two higher education institutions, achieved national prominence and received a degree from Harvard University “for the wise leadership of his people.”
—Adapted from Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington, Harlem Moon.

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