On Becoming A Leader

Warren Bennis is a leadership guru from the previous generation. You know, kind of like Tom Peters, who wrote “In Search of Excellence“. Authors like that don’t resonate as much with people my age. I think we draw the line at Jim Collins, but only because of “Good to Great” and not because of “Built to Last“.

Originally published in 1989, “On Becoming A Leader” is now considered to be a leadership classic. Don’t worry, it was updated and revised in 2003. Nevertheless, I found myself skimming quite a bit. Although it’s not a waste of time, it’s not the best use of time either.

Excerpts are getting harder and harder to find online. I typed up some that struck me in some way:

On Silence

More than forty years ago, when Nikita Khruschev visited America, he gave a press conference at the Washington Press Club. The first question from the floor – handled through an interpreter – was: “Today you talked about the hideous rule of your predecessor, Stalin. You were one of his closest aides and colleagues during those years. What were you doing all that time?” Khruschev’s face got red. “Who asked that?” he roared. All 500 faces turned down. “Who asked that?” he insisted. Nothing. “That’s what I was doing,” he said. p.189

On Demands

This reminds me a bit of a previous post.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter described some of the attitudes mandated by the current environment in “When Giants Learn to Dance“:

  • Think strategically and invest in the future – but keep the numbers up.
  • Be entrepreneurial and take risks – but don’t cost the business anything by failing.
  • Continue to do everything you’re currently doing even better – and spend more time communicating with employees, serving on teams, and launching new projects.
  • Know every detail of your business – but delegate more responsibility to others.
  • Become passionately dedicated to “visions” and fanatically committed to carrying them out – but be flexible, responsive, and able to change direction quickly.
  • Speak up, be a leader, set the direction – but be participative, listen well, cooperate.
  • Throw yourself wholeheartedly into the entrepreneurial game and the long hours it takes – and stay fit.
  • Succeed, succeed, succeed – and raise terrific children.

On Mentors

As I have watched hundreds of people become leaders over the years, I have been struck again and again by how effectively some people are able to recruit the mentors they need. I realize that one of my own gifts as a younger man was the ability to find and somehow woo great teachers. This ability is more complex and more important than mere networking. It is nothing less than the ability to spot the handful of people who can make all the difference in your life and to get them on your side. p.xxiii

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