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Warren Bennis
Scholar

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.'

Surprising Student Votes

Undergraduate students in Warren Bennis's course, "The Art and Adventure of Leadership" at the University of Southern California, co-taught with USC president Steven Sample, weigh in with their nominations. -- Ed.

Leadership Starts At Home with "Soul Food"

Because my family relationships have shaped my own understanding leadership, I was captivated by the leadership insights in the 1997 film, Soul Food. The movie is about the trials of a close-knit family and its matriarch, Mama Jo, who manages talents, settles conflicts, offers guidance, and, above all, brings people together with her charismatic spirit. When Mama Jo falls ill, however, the family struggles to stick together. Through this crisis viewers discover what happens when a leader tries to be everything to everyone. When a young family member steps in to fill the vacuum, that character is thrust into a leadership position out of necessity -- an example of what Warren Bennis calls a leader's "crucible moment." The survival of a family, though seemingly trivial in comparison to winning a war or governing a country, is still a cause and one from which some of the greatest lessons in leadership can be learned. -- Juontel White

Steve Jobs & The "Chocolate Factory"

One of my earliest introductions to the power of leadership was watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the story of an eccentric candy maker that opens up his secretive factory to the winners of five golden tickets hidden in his candy bars. Wonka can be described as what Dr. Warren Bennis calls a "twice-born," choosing to re-invent himself as a candy confectioner after suffering at the hands of his terrifying father, a dentist who banished candy and forced Willy to wear enormous orthodontic headgear. A reclusive, slightly chilling character, Wonka is a charismatic leader of sorts who hypnotizes his guests with the facade of mystery. Much like Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, Wonka's leadership is aggressive and exacting, bordering on dictatorial, demanding excellence in his products and being on the cusp of innovation and technology. -- Andrea Penagos

The Reluctant Leader: Harry Potter

What so often ruins would-be great leaders? Greed for power and a forfeiting of the values that made them good leaders in the first place. The greatest example of a leader who maintained integrity despite being granted immense power is Harry Potter, the subject of five (and soon to be six) movies. The young wizard is a prime example of a reluctant leader, one who is called to duty, as opposed to one who pursues it. Harry is perpetually in danger of being seduced by power throughout the entire movie series; from the temptation to join Slytherin House to being Master of Death, from possessing the Sorcerer's Stone of eternal life to his reluctance to ever use a forbidden curse, Harry always acted in a way that he believed was right. However, Harry was not without struggle in his decisions. Every time that he was tempted by the glow and glimmer of power he wanted to give in; he wanted to relinquish morality and integrity for power and glamour, but there was something inside of him that told him it was the wrong thing to do. Today's leaders could take a page from young Mr. Potter. From Madoff to Blagojevich, from Spitzer to Catholic Priests, there are far too many examples of a simple lack of ethical conduct. I am sick and tired of hearing excuses about a fluid morality where everything is relative. In your heart of hearts, you know what is right and what is wrong. As a leader, it is your God-given responsibility to not only act ethically yourself, but to set the bar higher for others to follow. I have yet to see a leader live up to the ethical standards of one Harry James Potter. -- Conor Flaherty

By Warren Bennis

 |  February 18, 2009; 11:22 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So the democrats that draw their scandal-plagued "leaders" from chicago are a better choice...guess their playbook comes from The Sopranos?

Posted by: CheleFernandez | February 19, 2009 2:43 PM
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The picking of a vice-presidential candidate is very much a "golden ticket." Most candidates are hoisted to a position where they can conceivably become President of the United States.

Moreover, where do you think the average person gathers their beliefs on leadership or morality? There aren't many people still reading the Greek philosophers. The point is not where the lesson is coming from, but whether an individual can correctly view the leadership lesson through their own moral lens.

Posted by: srpinpgh | February 19, 2009 2:27 PM
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OK. now you're starting to scare me a little. The next generation is drawing its leadership philosophy from Willy Wonka, Harry Potter, and Mama Jo in 'Soul Food'?

Can we expect the Republican Party to one day select a VP candidate through a Golden Ticket promotion? Or a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who thinks he's mastered the patronus charm?

Posted by: Samson151 | February 19, 2009 9:23 AM
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