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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 5 October 2016
It is a life changing teaching on leadership packed with hindsight and full of wisdom of what true Leadership really is. The way W.Bennis define Leadership is outstanding, I've read a couple of books on Leadership and I must tell this is one of best. If you want to add value to yourself buy this book and study it thoroughly .
It's thought provoking and can transform your life.
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on 28 May 2016
Too old, some very good points that could be made in a book much faster. Exampled not very relevant for UK reader.
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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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on 6 December 2014
Excellent book, well written from a leadership guru and very relevant to today's highly competitive trading environment.
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on 24 November 2015
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2009
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 me of a situation years ago when participants were outraged about the playing conditions on the course 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 will question Bennis' selection of some 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 Bernnis'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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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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