Warren Bennis was synonymous with leadership.
Unfortunately, we lost Warren earlier this month but his leadership lessons and principles will live on for years. He wrote more than 30 books on leadership, including his landmark work, “On Becoming a Leader.” He advised U.S. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Ford and Reagan.
I got to know him during his 30 years at the University of Southern California where he was a Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and headed The Leadership Institute. I had the privilege of serving on Warren’s board.
About two years ago, when I interviewed Warren for a group I was mentoring, he said, “I don’t know of a time when leadership is more of an issue.
“To survive in the 21st century, we’re going to need a new generation of leaders, not managers,” he said. He clarified that leaders are strategic thinkers, while managers are tacticians.
Warren prophesied that managers had to change their way of leading. “Move to maestro from macho in the way we’re thinking,” he challenged. That means to shelve “command and control” thinking. Be a real leader who both listens and guides people to get the job done.
I asked Warren to prioritize, as best he could, the skills of a corporate leader today.
The first thing he mentioned was contextual intelligence. In other words, CEOs and their teams have to know “what is going on in the world that could inflect, deflect or influence their organization.” He warned that CEOs and top teams today get too isolated and insulated and ultimately fail.
He said the first and primary task of a leader is to define reality and to give people perspective of where we are and provide the big picture of what’s going on. The next steps are to align the troops and get the team in place.
In “On Becoming a Leader,” he wrote that all leaders seem to exhibit some, if not all, of the following ingredients:
For a long time, Warren worked hard to achieve a key ambition: to become a university president. When he finally achieved his goal as president of the University of Cincinnati, he came to an unsettling realization. He liked having the prestige of being a university president, but he didn’t enjoy doing the work it required.
That’s when he started developing what ultimately became a four-question test for people seeking success in life. Those four questions are:
“If you can,” he wrote later, “then success will be yours. In a nutshell, the key to success is identifying those unique modules of talent within you and then finding the right arena to use them.”
Mackay’s Moral: Warren Bennis brought new meaning to “follow the leader.”
By Harvey Mackay