Book summary: ” On Becoming A Leader ” by Warren Bennis.

” On Becoming A Leader ” a book by one of the world’s leading theorists on leadership, the American writer, scholar and organizational consultant Warren Gamaliel Bennis (1925-2014). Originally published in 1989, this book answers many important questions on the fundamentals and principles of leadership and presents a number of characteristics successful leaders share.

Here is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the main ideas Warren Bennis exposed in this book.

   1. Understanding the basics:


A guiding vision: The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to
do professionally and personally. Unless you know where you’re going, and why, you cannot possibly get there
Passion: The leader loves what he or she does and loves doing it. The leader who communicates passion gives
hope and inspiration to other people.
Integrity: according to Warren Bennis there are three essential parts of integrity: self-knowledge, candor and maturity.
.Self-knowledge: until you truly know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, it is so difficult for you to achieve success. To be a good leader you should understand that “you are your own
raw material” and never lie to yourself about yourself, know your faults as well as your assets, and deal with them directly. Because when you know what you consist of and what you want to make of it, then you can invent yourself.
.Candor: based on honesty of thought and action, a steadfast devotion to principle, and a fundamental soundness and wholeness.
.Maturity: is important to a leader because leading is not simply showing the way or issuing orders. Every leader needs to have experienced and grown through following—learning to be dedicated, observant, capable of working with and learning from others.
Curiosity and daring: Leaders wonder about everything, want to learn as much as they can, are willing to take risks, experiment, try new things. They do not worry about failure, but embrace errors, knowing they will learn from them.

    2. Knowing yourself:


Listed as one of the basic ingredients of leadership in the previous chapter, W. Bennis puts the emphasis on this idea, again, by devoting a full chapter to it.
According to the writer, people begin to become leaders at that moment when they decide for themselves how to be.

    3. Knowing the world:


For Warren Bennis, to become a true leader, one must know the world as well as one knows one’s self. A variety of studies, as well as the lives of successful leaders, demonstrates that certain kinds of experiences are especially significant for learning.These experiences include broad and continuing education, idiosyncratic families, extensive travel and/or exile, a rich private life, and key associations with mentors and groups.

   4. Operating on instinct :


To seize opportunities the leader must use his/her instincts to sense it, and then follow the “blessed impulse” that
arises. “Operating on Instinct” is where our story takes us next, according to W. Bennis. Following the “blessed impulse” is  basic to leader-ship. This is how guiding visions are made real, of course without neglecting others right-brain qualities.
Operating on instinct helps the leader know what’s right and what should be done. And gives him the ability to detach himself from time to time and look, see and ask questions.

     5. Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything:


“Letting the self emerge” is the essential task for leaders. It is how one takes the step from being to doing in the spirit of expressing, rather than proving.
Leadership is first being, then doing. Everything the leader
does reflects what he or she is.
The means of expression are the steps to leadership:
. Reflection leading to resolution.
. Resolution leading to perspective.
. Perspective leading to point of view.
. Point of view leading to tests and measures.
. Tests and measures leading to desire.
. Desire leading to mastery.
. Mastery leading to strategic thinking.
. Strategic thinking leading to full self-expression.
. The synthesis of full self-expression = leadership.

   6. Moving through Chaos :

“Leaders are, by definition, innovators. They do things other people have not done or dare not do. They do things in advance of other people. They make new things. They make old things new. Having learned from the past, they live in the present, with one eye on the future. And each leader puts it all together in a different way. To do that, as I noted earlier, leaders must be right-brain, as well as left-brain, thinkers.”

Warren Bennis, “On Becoming A Leader “

For Bennis, one should learn from his experience, rather than being defeated by it. You shouldn’t simply accept failure, you should reflect on it, understand it, and use it. Leaders learn by doing, they learn where there are challenges, where the task is unprogrammed, where the job is being done for the first time. Warren Bennis call this: “learning from surprise”.

     7. Getting people on your side:


Warren Bennis claims that “charisma “is not enough to get people on your side. But the ability to inspire trust and loyalty in your team. He puts the emphasis on the importance of trust: “Trust is vital. People trust you when you don’t play games with them, when you put everything on the table and speak honestly to them. Even if you aren’t very articulate, your intellectual honesty comes through, and people recognize that and respond positively.”

In this chapter, Bennis also insisted on the importance of change. For him, a successful leader accepts change and doesn’t resist it. “Leaders not only manage change, they must be comfortable with it in their own lives.”
He invites us to believe in change (in both people and organizations) as a determining factor in growth.

      8. Organizations can help or hinder:


In today’s world, with all the continuous changes we’re living, only the organizations that have the ability to constantly embrace the change and develop theirselves and the most innovative ones can resist. And to do so organizations should encourage and stimulate learning.

      10. Forging the Future:


How does a leader learn to transmute chaos? How does a leader learn not only to accept change and ambiguity, but to thriveon it? Warren Bennis presents ten factors, personal and organizational characteristics for coping with change, forging a new future and creating learning organizations:
1. Leaders manage the dream: “A dream
that is not understood remains a mere occurrence. Understood, it becomes a living experience.” so the leader must have the capacity to create a compelling vision, communicate the vision and translate into reality.

2. Leaders embrace error: leaders are not afraid to make mistakes, and admit
them when they do, and create an atmosphere in which risk taking is encouraged, because they understand that making mistakes is just another way of learning.

3. Leaders encourage reflective backtalk: Leaders know the importance of having someone in their lives who will unfailingly and fearlessly tell them the truth.

4. Leaders encourage dissent: This is the organizational corollary of reflective backtalk. Leaders need to hire people
who have contrary views, who are devil’s advocates, “variance  sensors” who can tell them the difference between what is expected and what is really going on.

5. Leaders possess the Nobel Factor: optimism, faith, and hope: the leader communicates this optimism to the people around him. Optimism and hope provide choices.

6. Leaders understand the Pygmalion effect in management:
• What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
• A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
• Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
• Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

7. Leaders have the Gretzky Factor, a certain “touch”: Wayne Gretzky, one of the best hockey players of his generation, said that it’s not as important to know where the puck is now as to know where it will be. Same for leaders, they should have that sense of where the culture is going to be, where the organization must be if it is to grow. If they don’t have it as they start, they dowhen they arrive.

8. Leaders see the long view and have patience.

9. Leaders understand stakeholder
symmetry: They know that they must balance the competing claims of all the groups with a stake in the corporation.

10. Leaders create strategic alliances and partnerships: They see the world globally they recognize the significance of creating alliances with other organizations whose fates are correlated with their own.


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