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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.'

Deep pockets to fire as he pleased

Q: George Steinbrenner violated just about every rule of the leadership handbook, yet he brought tremendous success to the NY Yankees, both on and off the field. What does this say about the conventional wisdom on leadership?

Steinbrenner's "success" highlights two seminal things about that mythical "handbook" of leadership rules:

1)The famous and most quotable British physician, Sir William Osler, once said that medicine could be a science if every patient were identical. The same can be said about leadership. (Oh, if every leader and every organization were identical, there might even be a science of leadership.) That's why outliers like Steinbrenner (or a Henry Ford or a General George Patton) can turn up as successes.

George Steinbrenner's success can be summed in one word: Dollars. Hiring and firing managers at will can only be done with Steinbrenner's personal wealth plus Yankee fans wiling to pay any price to see the Bronx Bombers win or lose. Steinbrenner's leadership was costly. Someon -- anyone! -- with his Croesus-like fortune plus just one piece of conventional leadership wisdom would have won more series with less dough.

2) One example of "leadership rules" that could simply be called "grown up" manners is that exemplary leaders never publicly criticize their direct reports.

By Warren Bennis

 |  July 15, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Details, details. Osler was Canadian. What does that say about your research and commentary? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.

Posted by: marcolius | July 15, 2010 6:55 PM
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