Meet Warren Bennis

A man speaks to a group of people.

Warren Bennis was the 22nd president of the University of Cincinnati, serving UC from 1971-77. Bennis, who received an honorary doctorate from UC in 2007, left behind a transformational legacy of impact and leadership — both inside and outside of UC's domain — until his death in 2014. Nicknamed "The Father of Leadership," Bennis dedicated his life to the study of human behavior and interactions.

In his memoir "Still Surprised," Bennis said he “wanted to lead with the passion and skills of a change agent and create a University of Cincinnati that would reflect all the social sciences that had taught us about human dynamics since World War II.”

Bennis arrived in Clifton in constant motion, rushing from one meeting to the next and attending endless social gatherings required of a university president — all the while weighing ideas that would make the university more innovative and inclusive. For a period of time, Bennis opened his office for three hours each day to anyone on campus. These ‘office hours’ quickly attracted massive crowds and continued into the evening, and Bennis noted while he learned much from these meetings, he eventually had to end them.

A man sits in a chair surrounded by listening students.

Bennis holds court during a discussion with UC students.

In "Still Surprised," Bennis said that by 1975 it was clear that the only way for UC to grow — or even survive — was to acquire additional funds on an ongoing basis. Bennis noted that UC needed an “immediate infusion” of $15 million from the state to survive, but at the time, UC was the sole municipally owned university in the state system, limiting its funding. Bennis assembled a team, primarily comprised of young, intelligent, high-energy cohorts, to assist him in convincing Cincinnati residents and state legislators to vote for the university to join the University System of Ohio.

“Our pitch throughout Ohio was that the entire state would suffer without a thriving University in Cincinnati,” Bennis wrote. “At home, we had to sell the idea that the university would retain its close relationship with the city.”

On June 8, 1976, the people of Cincinnati voted for UC to become a state institution. Bennis called it a “great collective victory and one we believe saved the university and helped make it the thriving institution it is today.”

Thus, Bennis is credited with transforming UC into a major research-oriented institution after spearheading the effort to get UC into the University System of Ohio. A history of the university published in the 1990s equated this accomplishment to the importance of the university’s founding in 1819. This momentous movement to a state-funded institution has helped raise more than $3 billion in the time since.

In 2012, Tom Humes, Bus ‘71, A&S ’77, flew to the University of Southern California to interview Warren Bennis about his time as president of the University of Cincinnati. Bennis reflects on his life’s work and proudly claims he would not have been the scholar he was if it were not for his years at UC. “They were the most important learning years of my life,” he said.

Jack FitzGerald, co-founder of the Warren Bennis Leadership Experience; Kate Bennis, Warren Bennis Leadership Advisory Council Chair and daughter of Warren Bennis; and WBLI Senior Advisor Betsy Myers interview leaders who knew, were influenced by, and were students or mentees of Warren Bennis, as well as Bennis family and friends.

In this episode of Bennis Stories, Kate Bennis and Betsy Myers speak with Doug Conant, a renowned business leader and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Conant, the former President of the Nabisco Foods Company, CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and Chairman of Avon Products, founded ConantLeadership in 2011.

Influential works

A man in a blue shirt holds a book.

Tom Humes (BUS ‘71, A&S ’77, HON '16), a former chair of the UC Board of Trustees who worked for Bennis during the campaign to get UC into the University System of Ohio, holds a copy of Bennis' book "On Becoming A Leader."

Bennis authored nearly 30 books in his lifetime, including two during his tenure as UC's president. He also wrote the foreword, preface or edited countless other leadership-based works, including those for the 'Warren Bennis Signature Series,' a collection of books penned by a variety of leadership scholars.

What follows is a list of Bennis' most influential works, and is not a complete archive of Bennis' published creations, which also includes countless contributions to periodicals, book chapters, journal articles and more.

  • "An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change" by Warren G. Bennis
  • "Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders" by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
  • "Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Winning Calls" by Warren G. Bennis and Noel M. Tichy
  • "Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge" by Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus
  • "On Becoming a Leader" by Warren G. Bennis
  • "Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration" by Warren G. Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman. Foreword by Charles Handy
  • "Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership" by Warren G. Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
  • "The Art and Adventure of Leadership: Understanding Failure, Resilience and Success" by Warren G. Bennis, Steven B. Sample and Rob Asghar. Foreword by Bill George
  • "The Leaning Ivory Tower" by Warren G. Bennis
  • "The Essential Bennis: Essays on Leadership" by Warren G. Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman
  • "The Temporary Society: What is Happening to Business and Family Life in America Under the Impact of Accelerating Change" by Warren G. Bennis and Philip E. Slater
  • "Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor" by Warren G. Bennis, Daniel Goleman and James O'Toole

Contact Us

Warren Bennis Leadership Institute 
1819 Innovation Hub
Suite 350D
2900 Reading Road
Cincinnati, OH 45206