Throughout his distinguished career, leadership expert Dr. Warren Bennis has strived to close the gap between theory and practice. His experience has taught him how to combine personal satisfaction with an eye toward civic responsibility. This ambition has led him as an Army lieutenant serving in World War Two, as a G. I. student at Antioch University, a doctoral student at MIT, Provost at SUNY – Buffalo, President of the University of Cincinnati, and founding Chairman of the University of Southern California’s Leadership Institute. This brief summary will outline Dr. Bennis’ praxis; his theories in the context of his practical applications.
Dr. Bennis the academic and theoretician cannot be separated from Dr. Bennis the author, Chairman, and Professor. His education has become his work and his career has constantly adapted itself back into his educational framework. As a general foundation for his beliefs about leadership, Dr. Bennis has laid out four main guidelines for effective leading: The first is to act in an adaptive capacity. By this he is aiming at the need for leaders to be flexible in today’s atmosphere of ‘complexity and turbo change’ (Biography). The second guideline is to engage followers in a shared meaning and path to achieve the desired goals.
Thirdly, Dr. Bennis argues for leaders to continually be ‘learning their own voice, learning how they affect other people, learning a great deal about emotional intelligence’ (Biography). Lastly is the necessity for leaders to adhere to their own moral convictions in the realm of their belief systems and principles. This is a continuous process that should evolve in the outlined vision that is sustained by action. This is a fact that all leaders will face, and the best leaders will learn from and capitalize upon. Dr. Bennis went through this firsthand while struggling with his position as the President of the University of Cincinnati.
In an interview with Management and Skills Magazine’s Stuart Crainer, Dr. Bennis speaks about why he was having trouble applying his theories, “I realized that I was seeking power through position, by being President of the university. I wanted to be a university president but I didn’t want to do it. I wanted the influence” (Crainer). Through this experience, he learned that the best leadership acts through a position of power, and not because of simply being in a position of power. It was at this time that he came up with the ‘executive constellation’ system to leadership (Bennis).
This structure basically established a cabinet that allowed him to delegate the work so that he would not have to try to be everything to everyone. Currently, Dr. Bennis is parlaying his extensive experience as an academic, prolific author, and leadership expert into his founding position as Chairman of USC’s Leadership Institute. In this post he is hoping to extend his knowledge by transforming the constricting paradigm that business schools have adopted. His position allows him to help open more doors for more people with the goal of leading by example. If his past is any indication, Dr.Bennis’ aspirations will surely be met by a sustained vision of applied action.
Bennis, Warren. (2003). Antioch University. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from http://www.phd.antioch. edu/Pages/APhDWeb_Program/bennis Biography – Warren Bennis (1925 – ). (2009). Western Libraries of the University of Ontario. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from http://www. lib. uwo. ca/programs/generalbusiness/WarrenBennis. html Crainer, Stuart. Interview with Warren Bennis. (1997). Management Skills and Development Magazine. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from http://www.managementskills.co.uk/articles/ap98-bennis.htm