On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

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.'

Roosevelt's Story

If we review the chronicle of really great leaders, those Rushmorean icons, they all--each and every one of them--not only had a narrative about their personal lives but a story that is a) congruent with their actions, symbolic and actual, and b) had a resonance with their constituencies.

Obama's Cairo speech, I would bet, had more resonance in the Muslim world than that of ours or, generally speaking, the West. One of my closest friends is a Pakistani Muslim and his response plus his co-religionists is that Obama understood them because of his Muslim background, time spent in Indonesia and his reading from the Koran.

If you consider just American presidents of this and the past century, almost all of our successful ones had a strong narrative which the public could identify with and made them feel understood. It wasn't until recently, when I read Jonathan Alter's marvelous book, The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, that I understood how Roosevelt achieved the unprecedented intimacy he inspired in those he led.

Roosevelt used his imagination to project himself into our living rooms. He once recalled: "I tried to picture a mason at work on a new building, a girl behind a counter, a farmer in his field." So despite his upper-class background--and partly because of it--he was able to communicate with those of us, like myself, who wasn't old enough to vote for him until 1944. His story wasn't just about being rich and Harvard trained, it was his battle with overcoming polio that endeared him through his four terms of office.

By Warren Bennis

 |  June 9, 2009; 6:28 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Personal With a Purpose | Next: On Being "Path Dependent"

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company