Know Yourself: While all the wisdom traditions establish self-awareness as essential to life, effectiveness and fulfillment, Warren Bennis was the pioneer, who linked self-awareness to leadership effectiveness. Since his ground breaking work and his ability to clearly articulate it, there has been abundant scientific research and practitioner experience validating this essential leadership principle. Our own work has shown that a 720° infinity loop of inside-out and outside-in awareness is the core meta-competency that distinguishes leader, team, and organizational success. As Warren put it, “The model of progress is not linear; success is completing the full circle of yourself.”
2. Live and Lead as an Integrated, Whole Person: Bennis posited that leadership is essentially a human endeavor, and that “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being,” aligned in all aspects of our lives. We do not separate parts of ourselves as we move from the breakfast table at home to the boardroom. Despite the hat we are wearing, we cannot leave behind a part of ourselves and still be authentic. We can’t take out a knife and carve out one belief or another to suit the situation. We can’t leave our values, character, even our deep sense of purpose behind, then pack it up again like baggage as we move through our lives and our leadership. To be truly effective and transformative, we must be whole, authentic…fully integrated. This leadership lesson has been foundational to our “grow the whole person to grow the whole leader” guiding principle.
3. Values-based leadership: The conscious comprehension and embodiment of values determines a leader’s ability to connect to vision, mission, and strategy. Bennis distilled the leader’s responsibility in establishing values-based organizations in the following: “Leaders remind people what is important.” In our hearts and our guts we have to know what is important, and we need to continually remind ourselves and others in order to cut through the noise and the “VUCA” all around us. When performance is the purpose, the values of the leader are largely unexpressed; however, when purpose drives performance, the values of the leader are more fully expressed.
4. Master Context: Managers focus on content to be experts and to be accurate; leaders master context to be excellent and to be visionary. How do you go from the small and transactive to the big and transformative? Warren Bennis made the argument that while cognitive and analytical skills were necessary, they are not enough, since it is character that informs content. “Character is as vital in a leader as drive and competence.” Warren urged business schools to develop curricula that not only defines, but explains and explores character development. He was deeply concerned about its absence. In a Bloomberg Businessweek blog, Bennis wrote, “Without including character as an integral part of management education, we will not produce the masters of business our society, especially today, requires. Maybe good and competent managers are fine; you know, fine. …But if we want to educate ‘masters,’ attention must be paid to character.” Managers master content by virtue of their expertise; leaders master content by virtue of their character.
5. Head and Heart: As leaders we have the responsibility to develop more than our technical expertise, laser focus, and strategy. We need emotional intelligence, the capacity to be self-aware, aware of others, and the world around us. These connections enable leaders to fulfill what Bennis articulated as the essential role of leaders: “to bring hope and clarity.” By combining the intellectual and the affective, the head and the heart, the cognitive and the non-cognitive, we become more integrated, impactful, inspired leaders. The head of leadership brings clarity, and the heart of leadership pulls us into a compelling future, despite the current challenges.