Warren Bennis on Six Competencies Exemplary Leaders Share

Warren Bennis leadership

Warren Bennis, one of the world’s leading leadership thinkers who has been instrumental in shaping my leadership worldview in the last several years. said, “Leadership is always in the air; it’s a topic that has no shelf life.” 

In Bennis’ four decades of research, observation and study of leadership, he was one of the first to identify the overall effect of leadership on organizations. Most conclude, he said, that leadership competence makes a positive difference of approximately fifteen percent in organizational effectiveness.  

Six Competencies Exemplary Leaders Share

First off, Bennis says, “Perhaps the only unperishable characteristic at the base of all effective leadership is character. It is the human connection between the leaders, the led, and the organization.” 

1. Create a sense of mission. 

  • Clear vision endowed with purpose is definitely an area in which those involved in human betterment have the advantage. Such a strong belief in vision leads to alignment to the extent in which people take ownership and are internally rewarded by the mission statement of the organization.
  • In his work with DaVita, a provider of kidney dialysis, Bennis noted that the simple, direct mission ” to give life” became the best rallying point for those who deal with patients day in and day out. What Bennis calls “The Big A” – alignment – is easily created when people share a collective vision of success. 

2. Engage and motivate others.

  • The idea of getting others behind the mission is key to organizational success. You must keep reminding people of what is important; people really can forget what they are there for. For leaders this is easier than others because leaders are in the business of helping people live better lives; that is your trump card. Part of engagement is recognizing people. No matter how brilliant you are, you need to remember the people. 

3. Build an adaptive and agile social structure

  • Change is given in today’s economy. Individual adaptability is absolutely critical. You need a hardiness in attitude that allows you to face challenges and adapt all of it in a way that results in alignment. Bennis went on to say that the many leaders that he has interviewed across four decades are “all about optimism and possibilities.” 

4. Generate and sustain trust.

  • Bennis called trust the emotional glue that no leader can do without. It is important to create a culture of candor. Every culture gives people license to talk truth – or it doesn’t. Bennis describes integrity as a tripod with ambition, competence, and a moral compass forming its three legs. However, when ambition surpasses competence or surpasses the moral compass, you are in trouble. To the extent to which these qualities are in balance, integrity can be achieved. However, when ambition surpasses competence or surpasses the moral compass, you are in trouble. 

5. Develop Leaders.

  • Abandoning your ego and developing others by drawing out their leadership qualities is the way of the true leader, said Bennis. Some winning ways to create the necessary intellectual and human capital include coaching and mentoring, developing the sense of self, and acknowledging the ideas and accomplishments of others. 

6. Get results.

  • In the end, you must get the products out of the door. Bennis recalled an interview with Jack Welch, then-CEO of General Electric, in which he said, “Getting results truly depends on customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and cash flow. If I have those three measurements, I can win.”

Question: Can you add to the list? Are there other competencies every leader must have?