The Legacy of Warren Bennis 1925-2014

The father of leadership, Warren Bennis passed away Thursday, July 31 at the age of 89.

Dr. Bennis has served as a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business for the last 35 years. He wrote nearly 30 books and even claimed a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

I remember meeting him in Atlanta in the late 1999 and was absolutely full of charisma and knowledge. Of course, this was great for me as I was like a sponge. I still remember his words speaking of entrepreneurial vision, genuine leaders usually being nonconformists, and the importance of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you. Even during the short time I did get to visit with him, I noticed that Dr. Bennis was always willing to take the time to see what you were thinking; and he even would bounce some ideas off of you to get you thinking. Real leaders will always take the time to help shape other’s thinking. Even more so, his words that day and his writings have helped to shape my own thinking in the realm of leadership and the arena of application.

Bennis, who is dubbed the “father of modern leadership,” understood that leaders are managers, but spend too much time managing. Bennis put forth that “Leaders wonder about everything, want to learn as much as they can, are willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. They do not worry about failure but embrace errors, knowing they will learn from them.”

Bennis also understood the modern organization to have been “afflicted with a threefold sense of loss: loss of community, loss of purpose, and loss of power.” The reason why is because our leaders are still not leading, they are “consulting, pleading, temporizing, martyrizing, trotting, putting out fires, either avoiding or taking the heat, and spending too much energy in doing both.”

Bennis left a legacy and will be missed.

Remember this: As Bennis so effectively presented, “Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents. Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do.

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