On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis

On Becoming a Leader is a business and management book written by Warren Bennis in 1989. In this book, the author discusses how we can make leadership a personal habit. It stemmed from more in-depth dialogues with a small number of people which includes the likes of director Sydney Pollack, author Betty Friedan, and A&M Records founder Herb Alpert. Robert Peter Janitzek gives an overview of this book.

The Definition of Leadership

On Becoming A Leader offers a wide range of insights about leadership. Bennis believes that one of the key insight is that true leaders have no interest in proving themselves but above all they want to fully express themselves. According to the author, when you prove yourself, you give yourself a static view of yourself. Robert Janitzek explains that seeking full expression allows leaders to engage in periodic reinvention.

A leader, according to Bennis, considers life not as a competition but growth. For him, leadership involves engagement with life itself. By saying that they cannot lead or by refusing to lead, they are seeing leadership as managing and giving speeches. However, leadership may be varied as people. The important thing is your ability to respond to the challenge of escaping mediocrity and conformity and really take the lead.

Qualities of a Leader

Leadership for Bennis involves the following characteristics:

    • Continuous learning and never-dying curiosity;
    • A compelling vision; leaders first define their reality (what they believe is possible), then set about ‘managing their dream’;
    • Developing the ability to communicate that vision and inspire others to follow it;
    • Tolerating uncertainty and taking on risk – a degree of daring;
    • Personal integrity: self-knowledge, candour, maturity, welcoming criticism;
    • Being a one-off, an original. “Leaders learn from others, but are not made by others”, Bennis notes;
    • Reinvention. To create new things sometimes involves re-creating ourselves. We may be influenced by our genes and environment, but the leader takes all his or her influences and makes something unique;
    • Taking time off to think and reflect, which brings answers and produces resolutions;
    • Passion for the promises of life; a belief in the best, for ourselves and others;
    • Seeing success in small, everyday increments and joys, not waiting years for the Big Success to arrive;
    • Using the context of your life, rather than surrendering to it.

The author believes that business in the 20th century involved managing rather than leading as people focused on small matters and short term results.

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