Warren Bennis, Safety, Labor Relations and Leadership

 

I love reading the Economist and they justified my appreciation with an August 9 Obituary on Warren Bennis, who they rightly described as “the world’s most important thinker on the subject that business leaders care about more than any other: themselves.”

I cannot do a better job than this article in describing this thoughtful and ethical man’s contributions to business theory, to leadership and to the question of “what matters the most?”

I’m also a fan of Peter Drucker, and the Economist contrasts their focuses:

If Peter Drucker was the man who invented management (as a book about him claimed), then Warren Bennis was the man who invented leadership as a business idea.

Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second. People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that “failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led”.

Mr Bennis believed leaders are made, not born. He taught that leadership was a set of skills—that can be learned through hard work. Bennis’ autobiography was so appropriately titled: “Still Surprised.” Yep. Never stopped learning and evolving.

As the Economist explained, Bennis believed that “what constitutes good leadership changes over time:”

Mr Bennis was convinced that an egalitarian age required a new style. Leaders could no longer crack the whip and expect people to jump through hoops. They needed to be more like mentors and coaches than old-fashioned sergeant-majors. Top-down leadership not only risked alienating employees. It threatened to squander the organization’s most important resource: knowledge. There is no point in employing knowledge workers if you are not going to allow them to use their knowledge creatively.

A Management Labor Lawyer should love Bennis’ approach to so called business leaders over the last 25 years.  If business leaders heeded his advice, there would be few employee lawsuits, even lower union activity, and a safer workplace culture.  The Economist explains:

The last quarter of the 20th century often saw Mr Bennis in despair. He loathed the Masters of the Universe who boasted about how many jobs they had nuked and how much money they had made. “On Becoming a Leader” is full of prophetic warnings about corporate corruption, extravagant executive rewards and short-termism. He also lamented the quality of leadership in Washington, DC.

But he became more optimistic in his last few years, at least about the corporate world. The Enron, WorldCom and Lehman disasters taught businesses the danger of hubris. And a new generation of CEOs, whom he dubbed “the crucible generation” and compared to his own second-world-war generation, were more impressive than their immediate predecessors, characterized not merely by tolerance of other people, but respect for them.

I’ll conclude my post with the Economist’s fine ending:

When Drucker came to a party at Mr Bennis’ post-modern house on Santa Monica beach in California, in the late 1990s, the two men were a study in contrasts: Mr Bennis, thin, tanned and dressed in a light suit; Drucker paunchy, pale and encased in black. Mr Bennis talked animatedly about leadership. Drucker growled that what mattered was followership. But in fact the men were brothers under the skin and worthy counterweights to each other: big thinkers who took subjects too often synonymous with platitudes and gobbledygook, and, by dint of a lot of hard twisting, wrung some sense out of them.

I’ll leave it to the reader to ponder the implications of Bennis’ teachings to an employer’s role in workplace safety and HR.  For more information on Warren Bennis.

 

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
This entry was posted in attitude/culture, management and leadership, supervisor development. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Warren Bennis, Safety, Labor Relations and Leadership

  1. Ray hudson says:

    I continue to enjoy your postings. I’ve always had interest in leadership (ever since my OCS training) but didn’t know of Bennis until this article. Thanks again

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s