"Who the heck is Warren Bennis?" I muttered to no one in particular. The year was 1980 and I was headed back to my office at USC after having lunch with Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy. Several times during the course of our lunch meeting, Marilyn had quoted Warren Bennis. "Warren Bennis says this..." or "According to Warren Bennis...," she said repeatedly.
She wasn't the only one. People all across campus were quoting Warren Bennis. I'd been at the University of Southern California since 1974 - first as an undergrad, then as a grad student, and finally on staff as a program administrator - and thought I knew pretty much everyone. But suddenly, people were buzzing about this guy Warren Bennis.
When I got back to my office I called the campus operator and asked for Warren Bennis's office. She gave me the number for future reference and put me through to his office at the business school. He answered his own phone.
"Hi there," I said. "My name is BJ Gallagher and I work for the College of Continuing Education. You don't know me but I'd like to buy you lunch at the faculty center one day next week."
"Sure," Bennis chuckled. "Any particular agenda for the lunch meeting?"
"Well, yes," I replied. "Everywhere I go lately, people are quoting you. So clearly you're famous but I don't know why. I thought I'd invite you to lunch and find out."
He laughed heartily, and then gave me a date that worked for him.
We met at the faculty center on the appointed day and were ushered to our table. We ordered our food and once that was out of the way, I got down to business.
"Thanks for agreeing to meet with me," I began. "So now tell me why you're famous. I know that you were the president of the University of Cincinnati, but that's not enough to have people quoting you all the time. So... why are you famous?"
A bemused smile animated his handsome face and his Paul Newman blue eyes twinkled mischievously as he paused for a moment before answering. Then he leaned in, and with a conspiratorial tone, replied, "Oh, I think you know."
Now it was my turn to laugh. The quest to find out what made this guy so special wasn't going to be as easy as I had thought, but I could tell it was going to be a fun lunch - and interesting. There was something about his presence, his energy, his charisma, that made people take notice when he walked into a room. I knew right then and there that Warren Bennis was more than just another pretty face.
Fast-forward thirty years...
By now, everybody who is anybody - in business, in government, in the military, and in the non-profit world - knows who Warren Bennis is... and why he's famous. But if by chance you don't know (because you're a junior manager working on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean with no books or Internet or cell phone access, or you've been in a coma the past thirty years), Bennis's new book, Still Surprised, is a great place to catch up on your leadership development.
The book is a series of stories - inspiring, engaging, touching, uplifting, enlightening, and illustrative of how a leader learns. As the chapters unfold, we see how Bennis grows, stretches, struggles, overcomes, and walks his personal path through life, love, and leadership.
Like all great teachers, Bennis knows that stories are powerful teaching tools. People forget facts and figures, but they remember good stories. It is no accident that the Bible is written in parables, that we read bedtime stories and fairy tales to our kids to teach them values, and that culture, history, and traditions are passed down through the ages in the form of stories, fables, tales and parables. Bennis understands this; he is a master storyteller/teacher.
In reading Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership(Jossey Bass) it's also clear that Bennis knows "that which is the most personal is also the most universal." The reader can identify with Bennis because he shares himself so authentically. He knows that there is strength in vulnerability - he allows us to witness his ambitions, mistakes, hopes, desires, adventures, frustrations, successes and surprises.
If you haven't had the good fortune to meet Warren Bennis in person, his new book will make you feel as if you've known him his whole life. You'll learn from him and you'll like him, too. You'll admire and respect him. And... you'll see why he's famous.
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