Takeaways from Warren Bennis

Guest post by Jeff Okita
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my role models, Dr. Warren Bennis. As an established author and widely regarded as a pioneer of leadership studies, he is truly a remarkable person. Here are some takeaways from my interview.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson used to ask people he hasn’t seen in a while – “What has become
  clearer since we last spoke?”

– Dr. Bennis intellectualizes as defense. People who intellectualize tend not to get
  emotional/visceral.

– Freud wrote about 6 methods of defense. A great leader has a great repertoire of defense
  mechanisms.

– Know who you are, the effect you have on others and what roles call on you.

– The boundaries of authenticity – one is a limit of the norms of the culture, but also a
  personality factor.

– Be authentic to your role.

– An increase of sources of news will make transparency easier

– On what advice you would give the current administration – “Obama has to call on shared
  sacrifice; there is a hunger for it from people who live in this generation. Be specific. Ask  
  for sacrifice”

– Bennis thinks that the people need the voice that FDR provided through fireside chats.

– How do you mobilize communities? Through groups or individual leadership? Both.

– Any structure will work if the people want it.


Bennis is a caring person. He makes eye contact with every person in the room, for an extended period of time, as if looking into your very soul. Bennis ponders and remembers intricate facts about his childhood, people he’s meet and passages he’s read. After our conversation, I thought “this man is exceptional, and different than anyone else I’ve ever met.” What a truly great experience that I’ll never forget.

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