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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.'

The West Point effect

Having followed the Harvard National Leadership Index since its inception in 2005, I have two interpretations of the "high level of trust in military." The first and perhaps most important is the quality of leadership development programs, especially in the three largest military academies, which provide the best leadership development programs in the country. By far. Their four years of training places leadership as central to their curriculum.

My first-hand experience, which lasted only four months, not the four years of the military academies, took place in late 1944 at Fort Benning, Georgia, at the Officer Candidate School for the infantry. Even that four-month program was superior to all the corporate management training programs I've observed and consulted for over the last 25 years.

As to the second reason, I pose the question: compared to what? For almost every institution, over the past five years, confidence, including medicine, has declined. The 2009 survey suggests that with the finding, "87% of Americans professed confidence that with the right leaders, the nation's problems can be solved."

So it isn't only because the military has the most effective leadership development programs. It's got more to do with its comparison to the parlous leadership defects -- take Wall Street as an example -- so visible in most of the other institutions surveyed.

By Warren Bennis

 |  November 3, 2009; 9:55 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Dr. Bennis,
I don't have an opinion, but I do have a question. What military branch did you do the four month training? Was it the Navy? Also, how does a professional get in touch contact with their training "people". You are one of many people in the last year or so that has mentioned exceptional leadership training within our military. I'm wondering how I can get a glimpse of it whether on paper or in person.

Thanks for your post.


Posted by: StrategiesforLifeandBusiness | November 4, 2009 7:51 PM
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I believe that Dr Bennis is more correct than you give him credit, Claytonrosa. While there is distrust in other institutions, there is the sense that military leaders are in this for selfless reasons while the majority of other institutions are at least partially out for personal gain. Recession is nothing compared to war - at least when you have someone that you care about actively participating in it.

Now, whether it is 'military leadership' that has earned that respect, or the efforts of the average soldier/sailor/airman/marine remains to be seen. There is definitely some case to be made that early in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the leadership that showed the most fortitude for their beliefs were swept aside and the leaders that were most willing to be the 'good soldier' were rewarded. That doesn't appear to be the case now, but it is remarkable that respect for military leadership has survived its temporary politicization.

Posted by: michael26 | November 3, 2009 3:49 PM
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Dr. Bennis, what you highlight in your last paragraph is key. I do not believe the high trust in military leadership is solely caused by having the "most effective leadership development programs," as you have pointed out.

This high level of trust in military leadership is best explained by the distrust in the rest of society. Even the bad, unresolved conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, looks really good when compared to the really bad, economic recession. And frankly, it does not matter what military leaders are getting right when everyone else is getting it wrong.

Posted by: claytonrosa | November 3, 2009 11:44 AM
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