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on March 20, 2015
Bennis offers some great, timeless advice on how to be a better leader and the qualities leaders possess. His overall thesis is that true leadership is really about self-expression, and that a leader strives to fully express himself rather than striving simply to be in charge.

The format becomes a bit tedious, and some of the examples he uses are very weak in making his point about leadership. He seems fixated on the idea of reinvention, and that one must reinvent himself in order to truly find himself and thus truly be a leader. He gives the impression that only those who suffered sad, insular childhoods are good leaders because they've developed an inner strength and sense of self upon which to draw. People who have relatively easily assimilated into society and a profession are, in contrast, just living out the desires of their parents and society and so they are not truly expressing themselves or deploying themselves to the fullest. This part of the argument is a bit over the top.

The other part of the book that comes off the rails is when he essentially asserts that any education other than a liberal arts one is devoid of creativity and a waste of your time. But don't worry all you doctors, engineers, scientists...there's hope for you because you can still learn the arts on your own to unlock your true creativity. This is obviously complete nonsense, and I'm surprised it made it through editing. Creating novel, elegant solutions to problems in the fields of science, engineering, and medicine are some of the most creative feats of human history. To cast them aside as useless compared to courses in art history is incredibly myopic.
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on September 6, 2016
 “On Becoming a Leader is based on the assumption that leaders are people who are able to express themselves fully. By this I mean that they know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and support. Finally, they know how to achieve their goals. The key to full self-expression is understanding one’s self and the world, and the key to understanding is learning—from one’s own life and experience.

Becoming a leader isn’t easy, just as becoming a doctor or a poet isn’t easy, and those who claim otherwise are fooling themselves. But learning to lead is a lot easier than most of us think it is, because each of us contains the capacity for leadership. …

At bottom, becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult. So let’s get started.”

~ Warren Bennis from On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership.

This is, as Peter Drucker puts it, his “most important book.”

I initially read this book nearly 20 years ago when I first became a leader. As a 25-year-old founder/CEO who raised $5 million as part of the dot com boom of the late 90’s, I led a startup that went from 2 to 45 employees in less than 9 months (and then, after hiring the CEO of adidas to replace me as the young CEO, when the market crashed in 2000, we went from 45+ to 15 employees as we worked with an investment bank to sell the business to one of our two competitors who had raised 10x the money we had). My learning curve was nice and steep.

I'm excited to share some my favorite Big Ideas:

1. Leadership Basics - V + P + I + T + C + D.
2. Self-Invention - Is the key to leadership.
3. Blessed Impulse - You trust it?
4. What Will You Express? - Expressing vs. proving yourself.
5. Trust - The four ingredients.

Let us be called forth as we each become the leaders we are capable of becoming!

More goodness— including PhilosophersNotes on 300+ books in our ​*OPTIMIZE*​ membership program. Find out more at brianjohnson . me.
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on May 23, 2015
I disliked this book. It is clear that the author has a lot of experience, contacts, and knowledge, so he may be a good coach or advisor, but this is a book that didn't need to be published. The original layer from 1989 was unimpressive, but at least it was shorter. This new edition didn't get any better after the 2003 and 2009 revisions and additions.

The book's attempt to draw conclusions from vast overviews of social and political changes falls totally flat, as it oversimplifies everything or makes unwarranted conclusions. The rambling lack of focus makes it hard to draw any lessons from it, even though clearly the people being quoted have valuable leadership experience to share.

At times the feel is of a high school or college student's pastiche of quotations out of context, mixed together, trying to sound wise, and simply failing. It's a shame. I read the whole book to at least feel I had given it a fair shake. It never got any better. You can learn something from anything, so in that sense it's not an utter waste of time. But there are many other books on this topic that deserve our time more.

A trivia note: John Sculley became CEO of Apple in 1983, not 1977 as the book says! That's a serious timeline problem that's obvious to anyone who is familiar with Apple's history.
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on May 17, 2017
I was referred to this book by an article in HBR. After checking out the reviews I ordered it under the impression that it was a leading text on leadership and leadership traits. I couldn't make it past the first 50 pages, as found the tone patronizing and that the author spent more time diminishing character aspects of various presidents than focusing on the positive traits of leadership. I will give the author credit for being equally disparaging of both republican and democratic presidents, so at least I wasn't able to determine a bias. That at least was refreshing in this day and age. Overall, I felt this book was a complete waste of time, but I will qualify that statement by reasserting I never ventured beyond 50 pages. Maybe all the valuable context in the remainder of the book.
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on June 12, 2011
As the tile indicates, this is a book on leadership development - "the hows: how people become leaders, how they lead, and how organizations encourage or stifle potential leaders." The premise upon which this book is based is best put by Warren himself - "...leaders are people who are able to express themselves fully. By this I mean that they know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and support. Finally, they know how to achieve their goals. The key to full self-expression is understanding one's self and the world, and the key to understanding is learning - from one's own life and experience."

The book then goes on to further elaborate on each of the areas highlighted above. The key differentiator between this and other leadership books is that this one promotes unleashing leadership from within, rather than describe what a person should strive to be. To me, this is the only way to develop sustainable authentic leaders. Another area of focus is that of experience. Warren stresses the importance of experience as the primary and ultimate development vehicle for leaders. Education is all its forms is important - but does not substitute the need for experience whether successes or failures. The book brings to life all of the aspects discussed through the stories of many successful leaders from a variety of sectors.

A must read in the area of leadership and personal development!

Below are some excerpts I found particularly insightful:

1- "Becoming a leader isn't easy, just as becoming a doctor or a poet isn't easy, and anyone who claims otherwise is fooling himself. But learning to lead is a lot easier than most of us think it is, because each of us contains the capacity for leadership. In fact, almost every one of us can point to some leadership experience."

2- "There are three basic reasons why leaders are important. First, they are responsible for the effectiveness of organizations...Second, the change and upheaval of the past years has left us with no place to hide...Third, there is a pervasive, national concern about the integrity of our institutions."

3- "There are four steps in the process behind Norman Lear's success in mastering the context: (1) becoming self-expressive; (2) listening to the inner voice; (3) learning from the right mentors; and (4) giving oneself over to a guiding vision."

4- "If most of us like Ed, are creatures of our context, prisoners of the habits, practices, and rules that make us ineffectual, it is from the Norman Lears, the people who not only challenge and conquer the context but who change it in fundamental ways, that we must learn. The first step toward change is to refuse to be deployed by others and to choose to deploy yourself. Thus the process begins."

5- "Leaders come in every size, shape, and disposition...Nevertheless, they all seem to share some, if not all, of the following ingredients: The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision...the second basic ingredient of leadership is passion...The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity...Two more basic ingredients of leadership are curiosity and daring."

6- "All the leaders I talked with agreed that no one can teach you how to become yourself, to take charge, to express yourself, except you. But there are some things that others have done that are useful to think about in the process. I've organized them as the four lessons of self-knowledge. They are -One: You are your own best teacher. - Two: Accept responsibility. Blame no one. - Three: You can learn anything you want to learn. - Four: True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience."

7- "Self-awareness= self-knowledge = self-possession = self-control = self-expression. You make your life your own by understanding it."

8- "So innovative learning must replace maintenance/shock learning. The principle components of innovative learning are: -Anticipation: being active and imaginative rather than passive and habitual - Learning by listening to others - Participation: shaping events, rather than being shaped by them"

9- "Leaders, then, learn from their experiences. Learning from experience means - looking back at your childhood and adolescence and using what happened to you then to enable you to make things happen now, so that you become the master of your own life rather than its servant. - consciously seeking the kings of experiences in the present that will improve and enlarge you. - taking risks as a matter of course, with the knowledge that failure is as vital as it is inevitable. - Seeing the future - yours and the world's - as an opportunity to do al those things you have not done and those things that need to be done, rather than as a trial or a test."

10- "No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders."

11- "...Having measured the differences between what you want and what you're able to do, and between what drives you and what satisfies you, and between what your values are and what the organization's values are - are you able and willing to overcome those differences?"

12- "Entrepreneur Larry Wilson defined the difference between desire and drive as the difference between expressing yourself and providing yourself."

13- "The means of expression are the steps to the leadership: 1- Reflection leading to resolution 2- Resolution leading to perspective 3- Perspective leading to point of view 4- Point of view leading to test and measures 5- Tests and measures leading to desire 6- Desire lending to mastery 7- Mastery leading to strategic thinking 8- Strategic thinking leading to full self-expression 9- The synthesis of full self-expression = leadership"

14- "There is magic in experience, as well as wisdom. And more magic in stress, challenge, and adversity, and more wisdom. And the letters JOB after one's name mean infinitely more to the wise than all rhe BAS, MBAS, and PHDS."

15- "There are four ingredients leaders have to generate and sustain trust: 1- Constancy. 2- Congruity. 3- Reliability. 4- Integrity."

16- "...When they asked top executives what advice they would give to younger executives, there were three basic themes: 1- Take advantage of every opportunity. 2- Aggressively search for meaning. 3- Know yourself."

17- "There are ten factors, ten personal and organizational characteristics for coping with change, forging a new future, and creating learning organizations. 1- Leaders manage the dream. 2- Leaders embrace errors. 3- Leaders encourage reflective backtalk. 4- Leaders encourage dissent. 5- Leaders possess the Nobel Factor. 6- Leaders understand the Pygmalion effect in management. 7- Leaders have what I think of as the Gretzky factor, a certain touch. 8- Leaders see the long view. 9- Leaders understand stakeholder symmetry. 10- Leaders create strategic alliances and partnerships. "
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on September 4, 2014
This book was the rage in management back in my early days, but somehow I never got around to reading it. Was prompted to pick it up when I read an obituary for Mr. Bennis. There are a few timeless nuggets in here (i.e., Leaders must set the context for effective decisions to be made). But much of this is glory stories of what successful leaders of long ago have done. The updates from the 199x and 2008 don't bring in many of the radical changes that have occured in the world, post, 9/11, etc.....What does it take to be a leader in the current world, where political mudslinging and 7 x 24 x 365 digial exposure us the the norm. My impression is that this book is about 90% American in its orientation and messaging, so I'd expect that many of the examples used will not be fully understood by non-Americans. Finally, stories I felt that Mr. Bennis was unrealistically harsh on President Bush's leadership and political agenda. Time will provide a full judgement of Mr. Bush's legacy. Admitedly, he made mistakes, but the challenges he faced were enormous.
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on December 27, 2014
Takes on more of an introspective approach to leadership. Know thyself first. With lots of good advice:
- being comfortable with change, conflict, chaos.
- trusting your gut
- surround yourself with people who will challenge your way of thinking, diverse opinions expand perspective.
- learn to make decisions with limited information. Take risks. Learn from failure and don't punish others for failing.
- leaders have courage to learn from their upbringing by not adopting behaviors they don't agree with, even from those they look up to.
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on June 18, 2012
I chose to read this book "On becoming a leader" because I wanted to understand the leadership qualities that are often called to have the leaders and entrepreneurs of different innovative businesses, companies, corporations, institutions, organizations and nations. On the foremost of the book content Bennis characterizes leaders by guiding vision, ability to inspire others and ability to bring integrity, which he calls the most important character, to lead effectively the organizations. He defines leaders as people who are interested and capable to express themselves fully, meaning "they know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and support. Finally, they know how to achieve their goals. The key to full-self-understanding one's self and the world, and the key to understanding is learning one's own life and experience". Great leaders always listen to followers who speak the truth; they are always undertaking creative collaboration with their followers.
Bennis anticipates "on becoming a leader" emphasizing that a leader must understand the situations he is in which he calls "mastering the context" and be able to change it instead of being a prisoner of it or habits. With two role models including the successful leader Norman Lear and the failing leader Ed, Bennis explains the process of mastering the context. It includes expressing oneself, listening to inner invoice, learning from the right mentors, and giving oneself over to a guiding vision. Lear mastered the context and utilized it but Ed failed because of he lacked "vision and character".
Leaders share common ingredients of leadership including guiding vision; passion which built the ability to inspire others, knowing yourself, candor, maturity, Integrity and trust, curiosity and daring. He also argues that true leaders are made not born and usually self-invented. Developing character and vision is how leaders invent themselves. It requires "full deployment, engagement, hone and sharpen all of one's gifts, and ensure that one be an original, not a copy".
He identifies the differences between leaders and managers as the differences between mastering the context and surrendering to it. Those include "The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager is a copy; the leader is an original; the manager maintains; the leader develops". The leaders learn from education but managers learn from training. Education is different from training as respective difference between understanding and memorizing, ideas and facts, long- term and short term, active and passive, broad and narrow, change and stability, process and content, etch. Leaders use whole brain- left and right brain as opposed to managers who use only left brain. He then identifies leaders as people who know how to find problems and think non-traditionally. Leaders work with nothing than themselves reflecting the life paradoxes that "good leaders rise to the top in spite of their weakness, while bad leaders rise because of their weakness". For leaders it is true that "we are our own raw material. Only when we know what we are made of and what we want to make of it can we begin our lives-and we must do it despite an unwitting conspiracy of people and events against us."
Bennis argues and describes how self-knowledge is a very important process for self-invention. Knowing yourself means "separating from who you are and who you want to be from what the world thinks you are and wants you to be". He argues that this process can start at any stage in life, reflecting on your own experiences and testing yourself and if you don't like who you have been and what you have been doing you seek to change because if you go on what you have always been doing you'll get the same things you have been getting which may be less than what you want. All leaders agree on four lessons to become yourself: 1) be your own teacher.2) Keep in mind you can learn anything you want to learn; one of the leadership ingredients is the passion for life promises which in turn needs full deployment, which in turn is another definition of learning. "You are not afraid of failure". 3) Accept responsibility and blame no one. 4) True understanding comes from reflecting on one's experience; "not until we see the past and understand it-can we successfully navigate the future"; "we must free ourselves from the habit". In summary, "You make your own life by understanding it".
Bennis describes the modes of learning the world for leaders: innovative learning, broadening experience by travel, learning from friends and mentors, and learning from adversity such as study, travel, people, work, play and reflection. He underscores maintenance/shock learning that tend develop managers rather than leaders as opposed to innovative learning to develop leaders.
For leaders to be more effective they must trust "the blessed impulses" that lead to their vision, by following "the inner voice" which is from whole brain thinking. Bennis discusses with other corporate leaders the right-brain characteristics of leaders: encouraging diversity of opinion, figuring out how diverse people and elements work together; imagination and perseverance, steadfastness of purpose, ability to trust ideas once you have them, even though they may break certain rules. They also describes the importance of luck and how it comes out: "luck is a combination of preparation and opportunity", "The general advice I would have for people about leadership is to find out what is truest in yourself and stick to it".
The process of deploying yourself is explained. "Strike hard, try everything, do everything, render everything, and become the person you are capable of being". In this process the procedure of reflection and resolution come first. Leaders reflects the past experiences including mistakes, triumphs, current feelings and process all of them to come up with useful resolution of the conflicts inheriting from reflection. This procedure leads to perspectives and in turn to taking a point of view. Then this leads to taking tests and measures including to best express yourself but avoiding to prove yourself. The tests and measures lead to the desire to achieve and then in turn to the mastery. Mastery implies competence and ability to articulate. The mastery leads to strategic thinking. This includes knowing where you are going to end up, figuring out the ways, elaborating, revising and mapping the ways, concluding possible pitfalls, traps and rewards, and examining the map and setting out to move. In this procedure there are risks but "unless you are willing to take risks, you will suffer paralyzing inhibitions, and you will never do what you are capable of doing. Mistakes-missteps-are necessary for actualizing your vision, and necessary steps towards success." After this come synthesis of full self-expression which is leadership.
Leaders are innovators; they do new things that have not been done before. Leaders do not think about of failing of what they are doing instead they do it and that how they succeed.
Bennis argues that leading by getting people on your side doesn't necessarily need charisma. He explains the way it works to some leaders who do not have charismatic character. They use inspiration through empathy, trust, census leadership, and voice. Leaders should be in a very good balance of competence, knowledge, and virtue to do so otherwise they are either ideologues, or demagogues, or technocrats. Leaders have to build "values, commitment, and conviction in organizations". Integrity is the basis of trust. He also points out that the new model of leadership consists of "ideas and information intensive". Through this model leaders use their voice to bring a change. Using honesty helps to bring people on your side. Creating many units and decentralization helps people to learn leading and getting things done. Leaders should embrace change in their organizations so that are able to control it.
Finally, the author discusses the importance of organizations to develop leaders. For organizations to do so they should embrace change and hence they should be aware of the major forces that govern the world: technology, global interdependence, demographics and values. They should offer opportunities to "all would-be leaders early in their careers" to empower them. They should serve as mentors. Organizations must find and provide for the growth and development of their members.
The author ends up by describing who leaders of the future should be. "The leaders of the future will be those who take the next step to change the culture". The common things of leaders of tomorrow are: "broad education", "boundless curiosity", "boundless enthusiasm", "contagious optimism", "belief in people and teamwork", "willingness to take risks", "devotion to long term rather than short term profit", "commitment to excellence", "adaptive capacity", "empathy and authenticity".
This is a must read book. The book is really readable and inspiring. The explanations are followed by tangible examples and case studies of different leaders. As someone who wants to become an entrepreneur by reading it I come to the understanding of not only how I can self-invent into a leader and be able to lead effectively my businesses but also the best qualities our leaders should have to be called the good leaders.
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on May 8, 2017
They came exactly what I expected, there isn't anything to be upset with. Thank you for shipping so quickly, I am happy!
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Note: The review that follows is of the fourth ("Twentieth Anniversary") edition that was published on March 2, 2009.

Where have the 20 years gone since this book was first published? It remains among the most valuable and most influential primary sources on the subject of effective leadership at a time when the need for it has never been greater. However, although the core principles and the development of them that Warren Bennis examines in this book remain essentially the same, the perils and opportunities to which those principles can be applied throughout the global business world have increased in number as well as changed in nature since 1989. That is why Bennis felt the need to revise and update the material while adding an Epilogue.

Previously, I read the first and third editions of this book and each time was reminded of a situation years ago when participants were outraged about the playing conditions on the course (perhaps Shinnicock) on which the U.S. Open golf championship was once held. The greens were too fast, the rough was too high and deep, the pin placements were "impossible," etc. After a U.S. Golf Association official was informed of the criticism, he explained that "we're not trying to embarrass the world's greatest golfers, we're trying to identify them." Bennis seems to be making the same point about how great leaders are developed. More specifically, as he and Robert Thomas assert in Geeks & Geezers (2002), there are "crucibles" from which some emerge as leaders but most others do not. They developed a theory that describes, they believe for the first time, how leaders come to be. "We believe that we have identified the process that allows an individual to undergo testing and to emerge, not just stronger, but better equipped with the tools he or she needs both to lead and to learn. It is a model that explains how individuals make meaning out of difficult events -- we call them crucibles [in italics] -- and how that process of 'meaning making' both galvanizes individuals and gives them their distinctive voice." They cite and then discuss a number of individuals who underwent that process and, as a result, eventually became highly-effective leaders. Bennis and Thomas conclude their book with an especially apt quotation from Edith Wharton: "In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch enemy, sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual state of integration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways." These are indeed words to live and grow by for both Geeks and Geezers.

Those who aspire to become leaders - or to become more effective leaders - will find much of value in this latest edition even as some readers will question Bennis' selection of at least a few of the exemplary leaders such as Herb Alpert, Norman Lear, and Sydney Pollack. However, my own opinion is that effective leaders can - and should - be developed at all levels and in all areas, not only within an organization but indeed throughout an entire society. I do agree with other reviewers that some of Bennis' social commentary indicates a political bias that is irrelevant to his stated objectives. Granted, Harry Truman once described politics as "the art of getting things done" and great leaders are certainly results-driven pragmatists. In that sense, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela (to name but a few) were master politicians. That said, each demonstrated most (if not all) of the qualities that Bennis admires, notably a compelling ("guiding") vision, a passion for excellence, and impeccable integrity. None of those qualities is political in nature. However, all of the aforementioned leaders considered them essential to achieving political objectives.

In the Epilogue, Bennis recalls an incident that occurred in 1945. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had recently died and "crowded, grieving masses surged along Constitution Avenue in April 1945, waiting for his funeral cortege to pass by. As his hearse neared, a well-dressed, middle-aged man standing in the throng fell to his knees, sobbing desperately until finally regaining his composure. A stranger by his side asked, `Did you know the President?' The man could barely reply. `No . . . but he knew me.'" What's Bennis' point? To become a great leader, you must "know" those whom you ask to follow you. Agreeing with Abigail Adams that "great necessities call forth great leaders," Bennis notes that with the inauguration of a new U.S. president in 2009, "it is easy to forget that we need more than one gifted leader at a time. At the founding of the United States, when our population was less than 4 million, we had six towering leaders: Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, and Adams. Now that we number more than 304 million people, we are surely capable of yielding at least 600 world-class leaders in this country alone."

When concluding the Epilogue with a question, "Will you be one of them?" Warren Bennis offers both an invitation and a challenge, and he does so at a time when the need for more and more effective leaders was never greater.
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