Leadership Lessons from Warren Bennis

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From my perspective, one of the truly great modern writers about leadership is Warren Bennis.  Warren Bennis (March 8, 1925 – July 31, 2014) was an American scholar, organizational consultant, and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies. Bennis was University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

Excerpted from Wikipedia;

“His work at MIT in the 1960s on group behavior foreshadowed — and helped bring about — today’s headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, private and public,” management expert Tom Peters wrote in 1993 in the foreword to Bennis’ An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change.

“Management expert James O’Toole observed that Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that humanistic, democratic-style leaders are better suited to dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the leadership environment.

“The Wall Street Journal named him as one of the top ten most sought speakers on management in 1993; Forbes magazine referred to him as the “dean of leadership gurus” in 1996. The Financial Times referred to him in 2000 as “the professor who established leadership as a respectable academic field.” In August 2007, Business Week ranked him as one of the top ten thought leaders in business.

“His work On Becoming a Leader, originally published in 1989, lays the foundation that a leader must be authentic, i.e. the author of one’s own creation; a combination of experience, self-knowledge, and personal ethics. This need for an effective leader to remain true to their self-invention would be further expanded upon by others into what has become known as the Authentic Leadership approach.”

And that is the focus of my note this week, reflections from perhaps what is my favorite book on leadership, Warren’s “On Becoming a Leader” which I first read about a year after it came out for publication in 1989.  Since that time, I have read this book several other times over the past 25 years.

Some of the notable quotes from this book:

“Leadership is synonymous with becoming yourself.  It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.”

“The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision.”

“The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion.”

“The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity.”

“Two more basic ingredients of leadership are curiosity and daring.”

“Leadership courses can only teach skills.  They cannot teach character or vision…”

“What is true for leaders is, for better or worse, true for each of us:  we are our own raw material.”

“To become a leader, then you must know yourself, become the maker of your own life, don’t let ambition get in the way of your intellectual growth”

There are lots of other gems in this book….but I will close with one more:

“So the point is not to become a leader.  The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all of your skills, gifts, and energies – in order to make your vision manifest.  You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and enjoy the process of becoming.”

In August of 2011, I had the great pleasure of spending several hours with Warren at his home in Santa Monica, California.