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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

Reaching the Millennials

I was impressed with the ways Obama managed expectations in his inaugural address, given the apparent disconnect between the harsh realities of our economic problems and the global sense of hope and inspiration.

One thing he did was avoid the vertical pronoun -- "I" -- instead using "we" and "our" so often that I lost count. This choice of words reflected his emphasis on our "collective responsibilities." During the campaign Obama said "It's not about me!" so frequently that I thought it became a tiresome cliche, yet now I see we was telling us bluntly: If we want change for the better, we're ALL going to have to pitch in. That emphasis in his Tuesday speech on how our fates are linked together was uplifting without providing a falsely lulling picture of how easy or rotten it's going to be.

What also impressed me was the special resonance Obama's speech had for the technologically savvy demographic. As one of my 21-year-old students said this week, "Obama will be right there with the people, on their computers, their cell phones, talking to us in the most democratic form of visual media, and the best part is that we can all talk back using YouTube. Obama is a great leader because he wants us to listen and talk, not just to government, but to each other."

I posed this week's leadership question to students of my undergraduate class, "The Art and Adventure of Leadership," which I co-teach with University of Southern California president, Steve Sample. I include some of their notable comments here:

The nature of history is that we're always moving forward to places we've never been before. Nowhere is this more true than in economics and finance today: Who knew that subprime loans and mortgage backed securities would melt down in 2007? Not many. In such times, we can rely only on our most basic, tried-and-true pieces of wisdom; for example, spend less than you earn. If every American followed this piece of advice, the consumer (and municipal, and federal, possibly) debt loads would be far more manageable. Barack Obama has essentially called Americans to adhere to simple, time-honored advice of "toughing out" the difficult times through personally responsible spending habits. -- Matthew Potter
Perhaps what I most appreciate about Obama is that he has been able to change the tone of his speeches from idealistic to realistic, even somber, while still embodying the themes of "hope" and "change" in his message. -- Nicole O. Omoile
The goal of Barack Obama's inaugural address was to inspire hope in a population discouraged by fear, and for some, apathy. His objective was not to prescribe the solution to our problems, but to encourage us to realize how far we have strayed from our traditional values, and how this has impeded the "quiet force of progress." The economic crisis we're in wasn't caused by mortgage-backed securities, but rather by an all-consuming greed and abandonment of the traditional principles of hard work and sacrifice. -- Sid Ramakrishnan

Note: These answers were compiled with help from teaching assistants Sadie Moore and Andrew Wilhelms.

By Warren Bennis

 |  January 22, 2009; 10:40 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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