Warren Bennis

Pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies.


Inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, 2013.


Ranked #36 in 2009.

Previous positions:

#24 (2007), #27 (2005), #13 (2003), #13 (2001).


Awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as one of the US army’s youngest infantry officers in Europe. 


From being an early student of group dynamics in the 1950s, Bennis became a futurologist in the 1960s. His work – particularly The Temporary Society – explored new organizational forms. From the 1980s, he became better known for his work on leadership – at best in Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, which was based on research examining the lives of 90 of America’s best-known leaders, from McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc to Neil Armstrong. His work On Becoming a Leader lays the foundation that a leader must be authentic: author of one’s own creation, a combination of experience, self-knowledge, and personal ethics. This need for an effective leader to remain true to their self-invention would be further expanded upon by others into what has become known as the authentic leadership approach.


There is a point in the lives of leaders, a moment when the leader makes the grade, when they leap from management to leadership, from team member to leader. For Bennis that moment came when he was the youngest infantry officer in the European theatre of operations during World War II. This experience was what Bennis later labelled a “crucible”. After the war, Bennis was an undergraduate at Antioch College studying under Douglas McGregor, creator of the motivational Theories X and Y. Later, he followed McGregor to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received his PhD in economics and social science. He went on to join the school’s faculty and was chairman of the organizational studies department.


The Temporary Society (with Philip Slater, 1968); Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge (with Burt Nanus, HarperCollins, 1985); On Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 1989); An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change (Basic Books, 1994); Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (with Patricia Ward Biederman, Basic Books, 1997); The Future of Leadership: Today’s Top Leadership and Thinkers Speak to Tomorrow Leaders (with Gretchen M Spreitzer and Thomas G Cummings, Jossey-Bass, 2001); Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (with Daniel Goleman and James O’Toole, Jossey-Bass, 2008); Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2010).


Media picks


“Warren Bennis’s pioneering work is so central in the field of leadership studies that many of us forget that he was the source of numerous foundational ideas.”

Howard Gardner

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