Warren Bennis: Collaboration and Democracy Are Key to Leadership in a Post-9/11 World

Freedom and the spirit of inquiry are U.S. strengths.


Warren Bennis helped invent the notion that leadership is a skill that can be studied and developed. As a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s, Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom favoring authoritarian CEOs and corporate hierarchies by showing that collaborative, democratic leaders are better at dealing with the complexity and rapid change of modern life.

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USC Leadership Expert Warren Bennis

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That need for collaboration has never been more critical than it is today, says Bennis, given globalization and the difficult choices that business and political leaders face in a post-9/11 world. And the United States has unique strengths for tackling those challenges. "We do understand something about freedom; we do understand something about entrepreneurialism," Bennis says, as well as "a spirit of inquiry and freedom. I don't think anything but democracy nurtures that. I think that's our one big advantage over the rest of the world. I believed that in '64; I believe that even more strongly today."

Bennis has experienced the challenges of leadership firsthand, from serving as a 19-year-old infantry officer in Germany during World War II to becoming president of the University of Cincinnati in 1971. Bennis joined the faculty of the University of Southern California in 1979 and has written some of the most enduring analyses on the art of leadership, including the bestsellers Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge and On Becoming a Leader.

Bennis serves as chairman of the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School, which collaborates with U.S.News & World Report on America's Best Leaders.

The U.S. News podcast series, Leadership for the Next Decade, explores the ideas, innovations, and solutions that will inspire America for the future. Moderated by U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly, the podcasts feature exclusive interviews with leaders across the spectrum, from education, business, art, science, and medicine to government, public service, and philanthropy.