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Leadership on personal and corporate level
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.