Warren G. Bennis revolutionized good leader techniques in American industry. He was the U.S. Army’s youngest infantry officer in the European Theater of Operations during World War II, and he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Management expert Tom Peters has written of Bennis, “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, both private and public.”1
Bennis was an inspired innovator who took his vision to institutes of higher learning, such as Cincinnati University and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership. He challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that leaders with a personal approach who are willing to share authority and responsibility are better suited for dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the modern business environment.
Bennis’s impact on the fields of leadership and management theory is significant. His career spans many years. The Wall Street Journal named him as one of the top ten speakers on management in 1993; Forbes magazine referred to him as the “dean of leadership gurus” in 1996. The Financial Times referred to Bennis in 2000 as “the professor who established leadership as a respectable academic field.”
In 2007, Bennis was voted in an independent Internet study as the fourteenth most influential leadership professional by Gurus International. He has spent time as an adviser to four U.S. presidents and several other public figures, and he has consulted for numerous Fortune 500 companies. Bennis has served on the faculties of Harvard and Boston universities and taught at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta.
So here we have a man who changed leadership techniques and revolutionized the industry. This is what he says about leadership: “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.”2
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key words in that statement:
“The very heart of things”
“Makes a difference”
We could phrase this another way: A strong leader brings his staff to the very heart of a project and centers them, letting them know that they make a difference and that their contribution is meaningful and essential. He shows them that he cares about what they do and who they are.
You know what that is? That’s being not just a boss, but a good leader. What’s the difference? We can put it very simply. A boss says, “Do that.” A leader says, “Let’s do this.”
Adapted excerpt from: “Inspired People Produce Results” – Jeremy Kingsley, McGraw-Hill (2013)