Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values and Defining Moments Shape Leaders Hardcover – 1 Aug 2002
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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
About the Author
Warren Bennis is Professor and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, and the author of over thirty visionary books on leadership.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Among the findings of their research, Bennis and Thomas learned that Geezers and Geeks had quite different concerns when in the age range of 25-30. The Geezers' concerns were making a living, earning a good salary, starting and supporting a family, stability and security, working hard and getting rewarded by the system, listening to their elders, paying "dues" to various organizations, and using retirement to enjoy life. In contrast, Geeks' concerns (during the same age range) were making history, achieving personal wealth, launching a career, change and impermamence, working hard so they can write their own rules, wondering if their elders "got it wrong," deciding where loyalty should lie, and achieving a balance between work and life.
These are significant differences which Bennis and Thomas explain in terms of the different eras in which Geeks lived (at ages 25-30), the societal values of their respective generations, and various "defining moments" such as those associated with the Great Depression, World War Two as well as Viet Nam and the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web.
Of special interest to me is Bennis and Thomas' discussion of "crucibles" from which some emerge as leaders but most others do not. As they explain, 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, became highly-effective leaders. Clarke and Crossland also have much of value to say about "the leader's voice" in their book so entitled.
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 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.
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.
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.
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). The authors were bemoaning the lack of nation-wide, federally-supported service organizations and believed that this country could have "vigorous service organizations in every flavor, from those focused on a single activity, like Habitat for Humanity, to those aimed at people with similar styles or enthusiasms." I don't know what ivory tower the authors live in, but as someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for the past 10 years, I'm here to loudly proclaim that there are vigorous service organizations in every community in this country that are desperately in need of committed volunteer leadership. After reading this book, if you think you might be in need of a crucible experience, this would be a great place to go looking for one.
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