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Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership

ISBN: 978-0-470-43238-9
272 pages
August 2010, Jossey-Bass
Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (0470432381) cover image


An intimate look at the founding father of the modern leadership movement Warren Bennis is an acclaimed American scholar, successful organizational consultant and author, and an expert in the field of leadership. His much awaited memoir is filled with insights about the successes and failures from his long and storied life and career. Bennis' life and career have traversed eight decades of first-hand experience with tumultuous episodes of recent history-from Jewish child in a gentile town in the 30's, a young army recruit in the Battle of the Bulge to a college student in the one of the first progressive precursors to the civil rights movement to a patient undergoing daily psychoanalysis for five years, and later a university provost during the Vietnam protests.
  • Reveals the triumphs and struggles of the man who is considered the pioneer in the contemporary field of leadership studies
  • Bennis is the author of 27 books including the bestseller On Becoming a Leader

This is first book to examine the extraordinary life of Warren Bennis by the man himself.

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Table of Contents


1 The Crucible of War.

2 Launch.

3 Rites of Passage.

4 Great Groups.

5 Fighting the Bull.

6 Going State.

7 A Year at Sea.

8 Coming Home.

9 The Crucible of Age.


About the Author.


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Author Information

Warren Bennis is distinguished professor of business administration at the University of Southern California. He is chairman of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School. He has also served as president of the University of Cincinnati and provost of SUNY-Buffalo. He lives happily in Santa Monica with his wife, Dr. Grace Gabe.
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"As a wonderfully honest reporter, Warren does not hesitate to discuss his disappointments and his mistakes, personal as well as professional. Yet this book has an excitement, an energy, a joie de vivre that is inspiring. As an essentialist, I suspect that Warren was born with an ebullient temperament. And yet at the same time, I must acknowledge that Warren is at the happiest point in his life right now, because the roles that he assumed in the last twenty years-- master teacher, mentor, writer, pundit, and, yes, guru--are the ones into which he has grown. And they have made him what he is, just as surely as he excelled in them because of who he is." (Howard Gardner, The Washington Post, August 11, 2010)
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Press Release

August 23, 2010
Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership

Warren Bennis, a giant in the leadership field, has written his definitive autobiography—his last word on his 50+year career in life and leadership.  This first and only memoir by Bennis is a fascinating read of a compelling life that parallels a rapidly changing time in American history over the past century. As you will see, he was involved in many key events and turbulent periods from serving as a 19-year-old second lieutenant in Germany during the final days of World War II, to participating in the early days of T-group sessions and befriending social psychologists Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson, to being acting executive vice president at the State University of N.Y. at Buffalo during violent student anti-Vietnam-war protests there in 1970.  In addition, Bennis gives a peek into his personal life and his social community of well-known key influencers.  

Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (written with Patricia Ward Biederman, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 978-0-470-43238-9, August 23, 2010, Cloth $27.95) traces the developing study of leadership through Warren Bennis’s role as one of the world’s leading practitioners in this crucial field.  In college, his mentor, Antioch president Doug McGregor, “whetted my appetite for social science” and encouraged him to attend graduate school at MIT.  Those days in Cambridge as a student and then on the faculty of MIT, read like a Who’s Who of academia and forward thinking, including his economics professor Paul Samuelson who would go on to win a Nobel prize.  While on the faculty at MIT, Bennis was invited to spend a year abroad teaching at IMEDE in Switzerland, one of Europe’s pioneers in executive education.

After stints in teaching organization studies and social sciences, Bennis decided to try his hand at the practice of leadership and became president of the University of Cincinnati in 1971.  “I was still hungry to do what Doug (McGregor) had done at Antioch.  I wanted to lead with the passion and skills of a change agent and create a university that would reflect all the social sciences had taught us since World War II about human dynamics.”  His biggest project at Cincinnati was spearheading the successful campaign to make it a state university (so it would receive crucial additional funding to remain viable). 

Bennis is widely regarded as the thought leader who defined what it means to be a leader.  He predicted the huge shift from hierarchical, top-down leadership to today’s more team-oriented approach, and he helped move the field of leadership from where it first began in theory to where it is today.  In the last three decades, Bennis has continued to spearhead the evolution of the practice of good leadership through his work at USC, his consultation with CEOs of major companies (like Howard Schultz at Starbucks) and political figures (including then Vice President Al Gore), and his numerous books and groundbreaking essays in major publications.  

Throughout Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership, Bennis includes the telling anecdote that brings the story to life and ties it in with current thinking and events.  He wrote, “(We) tell our stories most compellingly when we limit ourselves to the high points—not telling all, but telling a well-chosen some.  Alfred Hitchcock said that ‘drama is life with all the boring parts cut out.’  I think that’s what a good memoir is as well.”  This thoughtful and exhilarating memoir should be a ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in the art and practice of leadership. 

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