A Tribute to the Amazing Warren Bennis
In 2011, Warren agreed to write an “Editor’s Note” for my book TouchPoints, which I co-authored with Mette Norgaard. While he was modestly aware of our work, he became intrigued with our material. This intrigue led to a series of breakfast conversations at one of his favorite breakfast spots, the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, California. These meetings, in turn, led to a friendship that, sadly for me, was just hitting stride when Warren recently passed away.
Our breakfast conversations covered the leadership “waterfront.” As one would expect, he was remarkably fluent on the subject. Indeed, if there were to be a Mount Rushmore of 20th century experts on the subject of leadership, Peter Drucker and Warren would receive my first two votes. However, his expertise, while unmistakable, was not the first thing that struck me during our conversations. What struck me most forcefully were the quality of his questions and the gentle but thoughtful intensity of his listening. His probing desire to understand one’s perspective led to deep and meaningful discussions on everything from the challenge of leadership in the 21st century to more granular discussions about the everyday practice of leadership in the week ahead. To me, this is where Warren could really shine…applying his voluminous knowledge of the craft of leadership in the 20th century in a nuanced way to the challenges of leadership in the here and now. What an amazing gift!
I learned so much from just being around him.
As if that gift was not enough, I found Warren to be a deeply caring and sensitive soul, as well. He was always remarkably alert to the people around him. He hungered to understand their situation and to be helpful in their pursuit of a full life. This was evident in interactions with his graduate assistants who would join us for breakfast and with the wait staff that would serve our meals; he invariably he knew a great deal about every single one of them, was genuinely curious about their histories and interests, and cared noticeably about them as people. Few people with whom I’ve spent meaningful time so wholly embodied the ideals of helping those around them. Indeed, in his later years, his dedication to giving back was inspiring. I learned so much from just being around him.
Warren Bennis was an amazing man. He had so much to offer and he offered it to all in a wonderful and unassuming fashion. Our breakfast conversations at the Viceroy will be with me forever. Thank you, Warren.