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Beware the McLeader: Insights from the Dean of Leadership

The Financial Times says Warren Bennis virtually invented leadership as an academic discipline. The author of 27 books on leadership and business, he has been dubbed The Dean of leadership.

I interviewed Professor Bennis and then chaired a session he gave at a conference. We struck up an email relationship afterwards, where I asked his advice to help develop my thinking on a number of leadership issues. He impressed me as a courteous, warm, wise man, generous with his time and insights; a great teacher.

Here are three ten-second insights of his on leadership that I’ve just re-found in my notes and that I like in particular. It’s a quick preview of the section on Prof. Bennis I am working on for The 60 Second Leader book:

1. Leaders evolve
“Leaders don’t emerge like Venus out of the sea. If you want to create leadership at every level, leaders at the top have to create the systems and culture that allow that to happen. You can’t put a person in a microwave and out pops the McLeader. It doesn’t happen like that. Leadership is something that evolves.”

2. First enlightenment, then the laundry
“As the Zen master says, ‘first Enlightenment, then the laundry’. Leadership is about both. It’s not just about vision and guidance from on high. It’s about delivering results.”

3. Be like Disraeli
“It was said of Queen Victoria’s great Prime Minister Gladstone, that when you had dinner with him you came away thinking he was the wittiest, most intelligent, most charming person you ever met. When you dined with the other great Prime Minister of Queen Victoria’s reign, Disraeli, it was said you came away thinking YOU were all those things. If you can do that while maintaining integrity and truthfulness, you release the greatness in people. That’s a great leader.”


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