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on 25 November 1998
I regulary dip into this book, on an almost daily basis, for it's continual inspiration. Full of pratical points and inspiring quotes that leave you wanting to be yourself, and fullfill your potential.
Unlike many other leadership books this focuses on character, and the timeless principles that cause true leaders to rise to the top of an organisation. There is no quick fix easy route to succcess here. Prepare to be challenged to the very core of your being!
Bennis holds up a mirror to anyone who would aspire to lead anything, beginning with their own lives.
Finally a qoute from Bennis;
"First and foremost, find out what it is you're about, and be that. Be what you are and don't lose it...It's very hard to be who we are because it doesn't seem to be what anyone wants"
Jason Clark - 25TH November 1998
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on 25 February 1999
Charles Smith Submitted 2/18/99
Bennis, W. (1989). On Becoming A Leader. Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books
This book deals with leadership, how one becomes a leader, and the many people the author knows with leadership qualities. It is written in an easy to understand format that uses many formulas which people have used to obtain strong leadership qualities. Bennis points out three reasons for the importance of effective leadership. Leaders are responsible for organizational effectiveness, leaders must also provide stability to an organization and the need for integrity within an organization. Norman Lear, writer and director, is often referenced by Bennis. He believes that society is suffering from what he calls a "societal disease" of short-term thinking. This can be a stumbling block in the pursuit of total leadership. One of Bennis' premises is that that the context of leadership is a breaker not a maker and that most people fail to realize the difference. To be an effective leader one must see it as an end result, not a beginning. Learning from failure is also an important theme in the book. The author points out a person fictitiously called Ed and how he never really understood what it took to be an effective leader. While he had wonderful management skills, he was not trusted because he was unable to make people feel willing to follow. He had followers but they were not always willing followers. Norman Lear again provides insight to what he calls mastering the context of leadership. A leader must be self-expressive, listen to the inner voice, learn from the right mentors and give oneself over to a guiding vision. Bennis defines three ingredients that encompass leadership. A guiding vision is to know where one wants to go and how to get there. Another ingredient is passion. This occurs when a leader loves what he does and loves doing it. The third component is integrity. This follows the "know thyself" concept. If you know your strengths and weaknesses you will better know how to deal with certain tasks. There is great value in separating what people think and expect of you from what you think and expect of yourself, according to the author. Bennis discusses three types of learning that mold potential leaders. The first is maintenance learning described as using fixed methods and outlooks to deal with "recurring situations." The second is shock learning in which people are overwhelmed by events. These two types of learning are said to be more about accepting other's philosophies than about true learning. Bennis acknowledges the need to replace maintenance and shock learning with what he calls innovative learning, which requires one to be imaginative, an active listener and to participate in shaping events, instead of letting events shape you. Another concept is dealing with oneself. Bennis talks about learning from mistakes and looking back to see how mistakes could make a better future. These concepts are conducive to future growth. He also points out how failure is part of becoming an effective leader. It is necessary for growth and a lack of failure could indicate an unwillingness to take risks. Leaders must be able to deal with different personalities. Bennis discusses right-brained people, identifiable as intuitive, conceptual and artistic. He also identifies left-brained people who are logical, analytical and have technical backgrounds. In other words, a leader must be able to see through the eyes of an accountant as well as a researcher and mesh the two into a vision. Bennis calls this being whole brained. The author also talks the importance of trust building. He points out four traits necessary for trust to develop: consistency, congruity, reliability and integrity. With these characteristics, true leadership can take place. These important components of leadership are what kept Ed from being an effective leader. The author points out that trust is the foundation in which true leadership can be cultivated.
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on 26 May 1999
Warreen Bennis shows how holding the status quo in management and leadership will provide a void in inspirational leadership in the 21st Century. He correctly writes about how management can get the best out of people by empowering them, by giving them input into things that affect them and by getting out of their way.
The author correctly identifies so called leaders who have attained top positons but lack integrity, knowledge of human development, what motivates people and compassion. He calls them "destructive achievers" and pronounces them dangerous.
Bennis has obviously devoted many years of his life to discovering what good leadership is and what it isn't. He notes that "Everyone deplores the alleged lack of leadership in America today" and further states that, "Greed, timidity and lack of vision are rampant among the current crop of psuedoleaders." He is correct in arguing that "Our culture is currrently dominated and shaped by business." He asks us to consider that "those who are skilled at achieveing prominence are not necessarily those who are ready to lead once they arrive."
If we consider all of the violence in America, lack of health care, the working poor, starving children and homeless people how can we deny Bennis when he states that, "Our quality of life depends on the quality of our leaders?" Should not a government, with all of its "leaders" be judged on how well people at the bottom are doing instead of people at the top?
Anyone reading this well written book will understand that American leadership is lacking and that we must develop better leaders if we are to increase our performance throughout the world.
Dr. Norman Jones-author of Performance Management in the 21st Century:Solutions for Business, Education and Family (St. Lucie Press-1999)
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on 24 August 2007
As a rule, I avoid reading glib, pop-psychology books because a lot of them are loaded with drivel and rehased words-of-wisdom. If I want lazy psychology sound bites, I'll watch Dr. Phil. Warren Bennis' On Becoming a Leader, however, is not one pop-psychology tome. This book truly deserves to be a classic. The author bemoans the lack of leadership in every sphere of human activity today. He points out that society has become disenchanted with political, religious and corporate leaders in the light of the Enron, WorldCom and the sex abuse scandals in the Church. Leadership today seems to be failing. He then addresses leadership on a personal and corporate level.


The book is a product of research into the lives of various leaders in their respective fields. Some of the leaders interviewed are Norman Lear, Clifton Wharton, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (of A&M records). What becomes clear is that rather than giving some standard, formulaic method for becoming a leader, the book outlines personality traits/behaviours that have made these successful leaders successful. It is not so much a "how-to-do" as it is "how-it-is". What stands out to my mind about the leaders interviewed is the following:

- They reflect on their childhood experiences and education in order to know themselves

- They accept failure as part of their life experience and learnt from it

- They accept, nay embrace change

- They are lifelong learners comfortable with chaos in their lives

On a personal level, true leadership begins with knowing and expressing oneself.


Just as the Cathedral or the Church was the dominant reality in Medieval European life, so is the corporation the primary reality in today's world. Bennis, therefore, argues that if we are to change society for the better then corporate organisations, which are structured heirarchichally apropos an industrial economy, need to change.

As we have entered the information-age, the business landscape has become more complex, nuanced, amorphous and non-sequential. Corporations need to repond to these changes principally by harnessing the potential of their workers, and seeing them not as costs (as in input to production) but as assets. To paraphrase Bennis, the myth of the lone ranger is out. The new reality is that vision can only be achieved by talented teams of people working together.

Bennis states that he believes that the best education is one in the liberal arts. I could not agree more. However, being an Engineer with a keen interest in the humanities, I think I can appreciate the best of both worlds. Though the book is relatively short, it took me about 2 weeks to finish because I pored slowly through every page, sometimes re-reading whole sections in order to distill the wisdom therein. It is a book I highly recommend.
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on 14 June 2004
In the mid-1980s, Warren Bennis wrote this classic model for modern leadership based on personal growth, self-expression, learning and integrity, drawing from interviews with dozens of leaders. Most importantly, he found, leaders do not seek to lead. Instead, they seek to express themselves fully. They embrace risks and mistakes, learning from adversity. They reflect on all of their experiences. With these skills, they inspire others to follow them. They turn organizations into communities which find each member's highest potential. Bennis falls into the one mistake he accuses American managers of making: he takes a poll (of successful leaders) and then gets caught in short-term thinking to address its results. As a result, this pessimistic analysis of American business is dated today. In the 21st century's light, some of his examples - i.e. the late Robert Maxwell and Apple Computer's John Sculley - seem quite dubious. However, we appreciate Bennis' basic, inspiring philosophy of leadership and so will you. Read this if you want to lead - and be good at it.
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on 21 November 1998
Warren Bennis is truely a leader and a mentor of leaders. What Warren has to say about leadership should be taught to us first in grade school, and then over and over and over again for the rest of our lives. What Warren has to say is excitingly simple, yet mostly lacking in our current line-up of World Goverment and Corporate leaders.
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on 28 March 1998
Great insites about what makes people great leaders and thoughts to keep in mind as the next generation of leaders evolve.
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on 25 June 2016
Rather dated and lacking in any practical advice.
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on 30 July 2015
good book unmarked
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on 16 December 2015
Awesome stuff!
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