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? 

  • Lewana Harris

    A leader must also obtain and maintain a sense of resiliency, which is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or obstacles. Failure is only failure when you fail to move forward after a setback. A true leader will see the obstacle as a learning experience.

  • Developing leaders and getting results are in my opinion the two most important. Great post!

  • ENetArch

    While the article is asking respondents to provide additional characteristics, I would like to address two critical errors in this article.

    First, let me provide some key definitions that are needed to understand my answer:

    1) Leadership is “Guiding Intent with Integrity” toward a goal.

    2) Organizations are formed to solve a personal or business problem.

    Now for the Critical Errors

    1 – What happens when an organizations forgets their reason for existence?

    When organizations forget their reason for existing, (Their CAUSE) they create mission and vision statements that are not related to the personal or business problem that they are trying to solve. How are all these resources that the organization is amassing going to be leveraged to solve, “The eradication of Polio?” Many factors contribute to this, least of which is that individual employees don’t understand their role in helping study, debate, and build solutions for the personal or business problem trying to be solved.

    2 – How do leaders identify, encourage, motivate, excite and push their followers?

    If you don’t have an understanding of the first critical problem, then you will never understanding this issue. People get behind causes. They are energized and motivated to “FIGHT for INJUSTICE”, “SAVE CHILDREN”, or “HELP DURING DISASTERS”. Where is this same energy when people are droning away at their desk day in and day out at some office high rise built by a mogul who only cares about his bottom line. To quote “The Wolf on WallStreet”, “I was pissed, I was just 2 million dollars shy of making 1 million dollars a week!”

    Leaders seek out talented, motivational, creative, excited people who want to work on causes. Managers, on the other hand, look at the field of possible candidates and find one that will “Do the job!”.

    Once these two critical errors are introduced into your article, what Warren Bennis sees starts becoming, well, common sense. The reason why leaders have these traits is based in solving a humanistic problem. The organization of people that are gathered, structured, purposed, driven, and motivated to resolve a personal or business problem flows naturally.

  • No wonder why we remember Warren with such respect. His wisdom is timeless for leaders.