Warren Bennis Leadership Summit spotlights leadership theory, practice

Regional professionals hear from local business luminaries, thought leaders

The inaugural Warren Bennis Leadership Institute Summit invited regional business leaders to hear from and engage with UC alumni, executives and thought leaders on April 8 at the 1819 Innovation Hub.

Panelists discussed their approaches to leadership in their roles and within their companies and organizations, methods for encouraging others to develop as leaders, and hard truths and obstacles faced in their personal leadership journeys.

The summit was followed by the annual Warren Bennis Leadership Experience at Tangeman University Center, completing a seminal day of leadership programming for the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute (WBLI), UC’s home for interdisciplinary leadership development.

Local, regional and national business executive and thought leaders with WBLI faculty and staff.

From left: Kate Bennis, chair, Warren Bennis Leadership Council and daughter of Warren Bennis; Doug Conant, former CEO, Campbell’s Soup and Nabisco; Pat Zigarmi, founding associate and senior consulting partner, Blanchard; WBLI Academic Director Donna Chrobot-Mason; altafiber CEO Leigh Fox; Michael Fisher, former CEO, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; Sue Simmons, principal, S&G Consulting; Lindner Dean Marianne Lewis; Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval; WBLI Senior Adviser Betsy Myers, Barbara Turner, former president/CEO, Ohio National Financial Services; UC President Neville Pinto; Raj Sisodia, co-founder, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.; and TQL President Kerry Byrne.

WBLI Academic Director Donna Chrobot-Mason, PhD, kicked off the summit with an overview of the institute’s mission and values before introducing UC President Neville G. Pinto, PhD.

“Warren Bennis believed that the process of becoming a leader is grounded in self-discovery,” Pinto said. “I know that the opportunities for that self-discovery are plentiful at the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute. I look forward to its continued growth and to the value it will provide to both our Bearcat community and to the community at large.”

What's in a leader?

Pinto introduced WBLI Senior Adviser Betsy Myers, who moderated the first of the event’s two panels. Myers prompted the panel participants with the following questions:

  • What are the vital characteristics of an effective leader?
  • Based on your experience and today’s world, what qualities do you prioritize in leaders?  
The mayor of Cincinnati addresses the crowd as his fellow panelists look on.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval (center, holding microphone) addresses the audience as (from left) Pat Zigarmi, Leigh Fox, Raj Sisodia and Doug Conant listen.

Conant said a leader needs to be able to inspire trust through three traits: character, chemistry and confidence.

“You have to be able to create an environment where you can leverage your competence and your character in a way that makes your team better.”

Fox, who earned his MBA from Lindner, spoke about constructing an atmosphere conducive to employee expression.

“I tell people, especially if they are my direct reports, that if you’re sitting next to me, the value is in your voice. If I'm not hearing their voice, I’m not making the right decision.”

After he was elected mayor in 2021, Pureval said that he reached out to former P&G CEO David Taylor for counsel.

“Because I had never worked in city government and had never really led on municipal issues, my concern was I wanted to be the smartest guy in the room. Mr. Taylor gave me a fabulous piece of advice, which was that it’s not your job to be the smartest person. It’s your job to empower others.”

Sisodia framed his answer through the four pillars of conscious capitalism: higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership and conscious culture.

“The leader you are is the human you are. Warren Bennis talked a lot about that. You have to work on the being, the person.”

Zigarmi, who spent a year shadowing Bennis during her doctoral studies, stressed that leaders should “know their pain.”

“You need to know your life story to shape your values. That’s what shows up in the moment.”

Developing the next generation of leaders

The second panel was moderated by Lindner Dean Marianne Lewis, PhD, who questioned the group on the essentials of leadership growth. Lewis posed the following questions:

  • How do we develop effective leaders?
  • What do you find as keys to leadership development?
  • How have you furthered your own leadership and the growth of rising leaders?  
Former Ohio National Financial Services Barbara Turner speaks to attendees.

Former Ohio National Financial Services President/CEO Barbara Turner (center, with microphone) answers a question from the audience as (from left) Kerry Byrne, Michael Fisher, Sue Simmons and International Leadership Association President/CEO Cynthia Cherrey look on.

As the president of Cincinnati's largest private company, Byrne recognizes the need for him to be visible to both TQL employees and the public.

“I enjoy it, but not everybody does. It’s easy sometimes to sit in your office, and that’s not the right answer, especially when there are problems to address.”

Cherrey offered the mantra “be a host, not a hero” with respect to leadership development.

“There is no leader who knows it all. It is how we encompass and become the host of ourselves and each other. As a host, you learn that you have to work with others. You have to make the world a better place.”

Fisher highlighted the importance of being intentional.

“You've got to invest in it. You’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”

Simmons spotlighted diversity — whether that be age, race or sexual orientation — as a pathway to keep leadership principles fresh.

“Today, especially with social media, we live in an echo chamber. We are fed what we want to hear. We have to go find different opinions. We need to have those people at the table in our organizations who don't agree with us, who do differently than us, who look differently than us, to make sure that we're setting the table not just for success today but for success down the road.”

Turner spoke about investing in future leaders and creating an environment where every employee understands that they have an opportunity to lead.

“When you cultivate an environment where individuals feel empowered to make decisions and to step up without having to ask permission, it is a game changer.”

Chrobot-Mason closed the proceedings by reiterating the institute’s student-focused mission. With April 8 doubling as the solar eclipse, attendees were provided eclipse glasses and invited to take in the special event just outside of 1819 Innovation Hub’s south entrance.

Featured image at top: altafiber CEO Leigh Fox (center, holding microphone) speaks as (from left) moderator and WBLI Senior Adviser Betsy Myers; Pat Zigarmi, founding associate and senior consulting partner, Blanchard; Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval; Raj Sisodia, co-founder, Conscious Capitalism, Inc.; and Doug Conant, former CEO, Campbell’s Soup and Nabisco, look on. Photos/Joe Fuqua II.

UC's home for interdisciplinary leadership

Inspired by the legacy of Warren Bennis, UC’s 22nd president and “The Father of Leadership,” the Warren Bennis Leadership Institute empowers students, UC alumni and professionals/community members to believe in their potential to lead, preparing individuals to better themselves, their workplace and their community.

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