The following thoughts are extracted and inspired from Warren Bennis’ New York Times obituary by Glenn Rifkin printed on August 2, 2014.
The world lost what Harvard Business School Professor Bill George called the “father of leadership” when distinguished author, consultant, and professor Warren Bennis died on July 31.
A distinguished professor of business administration for more than 30 years at the University of Southern California, and author of over 30 leadership books, Bennis believed in the adage that great leader are not born but made. Indeed, great leaders, whom I call Chiefs, are made by their choices. Warren Bennis was a real Chief. “The process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being,” Bennis has stated. He was also among the first who believed in leadership tenets that are now widely followed, including the following:
We need leaders who can connect what they do to who they are. Bennis has said, “The leader never lies to himself, especially about himself, knows his flaws as well as his assets, and deals with them directly.” It takes insight to be able to know oneself in this way, and it makes for outstanding leadership.
We need leaders to face corporate corruption by building trust from the inside out. Creating a culture of individual accountability—again, through the development of insight—is the key to rebuilding trust.
We need high-quality training at the nation’s business schools. While ethics training in school is a good start, leaders must double-down on the job as well, with consistent actions to ensure that a culture of ethical behavior is the most visible attribute in an organization.
Warren Bennis also remained optimistic about the next wave of business leaders, labeling it “the Crucible Generation.” Because the incoming leaders are inheriting a complex global environment, they will better understand the territory in which they lead, Bennis thought. These young leaders are just in time, as the world faces challenges that will put them to the test.
If more leaders follow the advice of Warren Bennis, I, too, remain optimistic about the future of business. Bill George put it best, “Warren’s legacy will be found in the leadership of the people he touched personally with inspiration, kindness, and thoughtful mentoring.” Luckily, he has also left a large body of work for new generations of leaders on how to succeed. Warren will be missed.