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.