Warren Bennis: Remembering a Leadership Sage

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Many of you are aware that Warren Bennis, a modern leader in the field of leadership studies passed away on July 31, 2014. Earlier today, my good friend Paul Sohn posted an excellent summary of some of his contributions. Rather than reiterate this good work, I share Paul’s content in a guest post.


If Peter Drucker was “the father of management,” Warren Bennis will be remembered as “the father of leadership.”

When I discovered Warren Bennis’ passing last Thursday, I remembered this man’s remarkable legacy. Bennis was truly a leader of leaders. It was Bennis who first said leadership is not a set of genetic characteristics, but rather the result of the lifelong process of self-discovery. That process enables people to become fully integrated human beings who know themselves and bring out the best in others.

The first book I read from Bennis was his classic “On Becoming a Leader” which catapulted by leadership journey. Here are my top ten quotes from Bennis which I hope will inspire you to become a leader of leaders. 

1. “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

2. “Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.”

3. “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.”

4. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

5. “Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.”

6. “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.”

7. “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.”

8. “The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

9. “No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all your skills, gifts and energies – in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You, must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.”

10. “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”

BONUS: Top 5 Leadership Books You Should Read by Warren Bennis:

1. On Becoming a Leader

2. Leading for a Lifetime

3. Still Surprised

4. Geeks and Geezers

5. Organizing Genius


Paul Sohn is an organizational chiropractor, purpose weaver, and kingdom-minded catalyst. Paul currently serves atPaul Sohn The Boeing Company as a LEAN practitioner, providing expertise in continuous improvement initiatives, building high-performing teams and processes to create effective organizations. Paul also serves as an organizational consultant and Board Director at the Portland Leadership Foundation. He is writing his forthcoming book on how to live intentionally as a twenty-something. Paul received a Bachelor of Commerce degree at University of British Columbia in 2010. Above all, Paul’s vision is to turn the world upside down by equipping, connecting, and transforming emerging Christian leaders and organizations.You can discover more about him on his website.

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