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Leadership: the greatest performing art of all?

Writing in the absence of Jack and Suzy Welch, The Essential Bennis author Warren Bennis highlights an actor and a President in his BusinessWeek (September 21, 2009) article. The actor is Orson Welles and the President is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The President's unique leadership style inspired the term "imperial presidency" and what he shared with the actor, Warren says, was actorly attributes.

I do not know if you'd agree with Warren that leadership is a great performing art, but have a look at a related topic called Leadership Presence. In Columbia Business School's Essentials of Management program (spring 2008), we had an exciting day on Leadership Presence. Our coach, Greta Cowan (from The Ariel Group), covered the following competencies:

  • Present: Being completely in the moment and flexible enough to handle the unexpected
  • Reaching out: Building relationships through empathy, etc
  • Expressive: Conveying feelings and emotions
  • Self-knowing: Accepting himself/herself, being authentic, and reflecting personal values in decisions/actions 
Greta's own "performance" was worth watching -- and learning from.

What are your views on leadership and "acting"?


  1. Interesting...

    I have experienced something similar meeting with customers. If you are truly present (hearing everything said and unsaid), reaching out to them(by being more interested in them than in yourself), expressive (showing you care about things), and self-knowing (not bluffing, being able to admit your limitations, giving them the bad news), then indeed you are showing your leadership.

    As for how it is similar to a performance, I allude to this connection in my recent blog post:


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