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Geeks and Geezers Hardcover – August 8, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-1578515820 ISBN-10: 1578515823 Edition: First Edition, First Printing

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (August 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578515823
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578515820
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Successful leaders young and old share numerous qualities, say Bennis and Thomas. The authors, who bring considerable experience to the table (Bennis has written over 30 books on leadership and Thomas is a senior fellow with Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change), interviewed more than 40 leaders who they deem either "geeks" (aged 21-34) or "geezers" (aged 70-82) to evaluate the effect of era on values and success. The two groups vary in terms of their ambitions, heroes and family lives, but members of both sets share one common experience: all have "undergone at least one intense, transformational experience," which the authors call a "crucible." In some cases the crucible was an actual hardship, e.g., geezer Sidney Rittenberg spent 16 years in prison in China for speaking out against the government. For others, it was a dramatic experience, such as NYSE pioneer Muriel Siebert's entry into male-dominated Wall Street in 1967 or geek Liz Altman's stint working at a Japanese Sony factory before becoming a Motorola v-p. The authors offer interviews and statistical data as evidence for the value of the crucible experiences. Among the survey results: of the geezers, 87% had mothers who worked at home, while only 7% of the geeks grew up similarly; 8% of the geezers had divorced parents, versus 44% of the geeks, both facts no doubt reflecting their eras. As an overview, the book lacks the practical applications of some of Bennis's other works, but it's revealing and entertaining nonetheless.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From the Back Cover

"This invaluable book identifies the special qualities and experiences that help good managers become great leaders. It should be required reading for every aspiring leader."

-Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks

"Geeks and Geezers is an insightful and absorbing culling of wisdom from remarkable leaders whose ability to create meaning out of adversity is profoundly inspiring. Read this wonderful book for its useful lessons from those already at the top, but also to get to know the emerging heroes who are shaping our future and changing the very definition of leadership."

-Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School, and best-selling author of Evolve: Succeeding in the Digital Culture of Tomorrow

"Geeks and Geezers is both Warren Bennis's most important and his most enjoyable book."

-Peter F. Drucker, Professor of Social Science and Management, Claremont Graduate University

"An inspired idea, a tantalizing title, an essential book."

-Howard Gardner, coauthor of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet

"A great book for all ages and all seasons. I was humbled by the stories and inspired by the messages that Bennis and Thomas drew from them." -Charles Handy, social philosopher and author of The Elephant and the Flea

"As a geezer, I still want to understand leadership better-not just how to lead but also how to follow the best people. This book offers fresh and useful ideas from any reader's perspective."

-George P. Shultz, Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I have read all and reviewed most of the books which Bennis has authored or co-authored. My opinion is that this is the most thought-provoking as yet produced by the self-styled "geezer." His co-author is Robert J. Thomas. They are now at work on another book, entitled Leadership Crucibles, which develops in much greater depth the material they introduce in Chapter Four of this book.
In From Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that he and his 21 research associates set out to answer these questions: Is it possible for a good, mediocre or even terrible organization to become great? If so, what are the underlying variables that enable it to do so? If not, why not?. "We came to think of our research effort as akin to looking inside a black box. Each step along the way was like installing another lightbulb to shed light on the inner workings of the good-to-great process."
Similarly, what we have here is Bennis and Thomas' response to another question: "Why are some people able to extract wisdom from experience, however harsh, and others are not?" Bennis and Thomas asked successful geeks to share the secrets of their youthful triumphs and distinguished geezers to tell them how they continue to stay active and engaged despite the changes wrought by age. They selected and then interviewed a group of 43 effective leaders, ranging in age from 21 to 93. Their research also included others who were not interviewed. As many as possible of the interviews were videotaped because Bennis and Thomas knew that "taping would preserve a wealth of information that no transcript could capture.". The results of their study are presented and discussed in this book. It would be a disservice to them as well as to those who read this review to summarize all of the conclusions they reached.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By "eng_asia" on September 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What I find most thought provoking is the authors' notion of the crucible (difficult event/test such as failure, imprisonment, or any personal defining moment) as an important input towards shaping the competencies of the leader as he/she extracts wisdom after having endured it.
The bulk of this book explicates the Leadership Development Model and how it applies to leaders of all ages, both geeks and geezers. In this Model, individual factors (e.g. gender, IQ, race) and the era (with a given shared history/culture/arena) determine how the leader would interpret the crucible, which in turn impacts the development of four leadership competencies:
1. adaptive capacity - hardiness & learning how to learn is key
2. engaging others by creating shared meaning
3. voice (purpose indentified after periods of self-introspection; EQ)
4. strong moral compass or integrity.
I applaud the authors for the elegance of the Model, and its usefulness in serving as a framework for self-introspection - so crucial in the development of timeless leadership.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dave Kinnear on September 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Geeks & Geezers by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas is about how Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders. And it does an excellent job of pointing out the differences between our generations. This Harvard Business School Press publication is definitely useful in understanding the way folks in my parents' generation (the Geezers) react to those in my children's generation (Geek) . Based on their definitions for Geeks and Geezers, I am in between the two, yet most of my acquaintances put me in the Geek category due to my love of and work in the world of technology.
The basic premise of this book is that all leaders must go through a "crucible" of some kind. The kind of leadership characteristics we have may be different because of our environments (Geezers defined by WWII, Parental fallibility, etc. and Geeks by abundance, opportunity, technology and globalization), but every leader is tested somehow. The different environments and experiences affects the needs, wants, character and maturation process for these people and therefore define the differences in leadership style.
After exploring historical experiences and interviewing both groups, the authors complete their leadership model with Era and Individual factors feeding into the crucible of Experiences. The crucible heats up experiences and organization of meaning that develops Leadership competencies. The crucible might be military service in the case of the Geezer of business failure in the case of the Geeks, but whatever that life changing crucible is, it is the one thing that is common to leadership. This book is worth your time and consideration if for no other reason than to understand the value of the crucible we may now be going through in our contracting economy - this so called job-loss recovery.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By CG Jones on April 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Geeks & Geezers makes for an enjoyable read but is a little short on substance and practical application. The distinction between Geek leaders and Geezers leaders isn't half as interesting or applicable as the notion of the crucible (life changing moments that create leaders) or the four-point model of leadership comprised of adaptive capacity, engaging others by creating a shared meaning, voice and integrity.

The discussion on Geeks versus Geezers isn't anything new. There has already been research on Baby Boomers versus Generation Xers and the observations here don't break any new ground. It is a shame that the entire group of leaders between the ages of 35 and 70 is completely ignored in the process. Even Warren Bennis, in a separate interview, acknowledged that "it is the people who are in the middle group between the geeks and the geezers who are comfortable with the technology but a little wiser and older who have to be the articulating point."

If you do decide to read the book, the best way to get something out of it is to spend some time reflecting on what your own crucible moments have been, how they changed you and what you gained from the experience. At the very least, it might help you create your own story and find your voice.

If the authors' model of leadership is an indicator of who succeeds and who doesn't, it would also be worthwhile to reflect on how you fit in the four-point model. For example, I'd rank myself pretty high on adaptive capacity (willingness to learn, to change and be flexible) and integrity but need to develop more in the areas of engaging others and developing a voice.

In terms of real world applications, one of the suggestions made by the authors focused on national service (i.e. volunteering).
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