On Becoming a Leader Review

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The book I chose to review is “On Becoming a Leader” by Warren Bennis. At the crux of this book is a search to understand how leaders are made. Throughout the book, the author tries to prove through polls and observations, that leaders are not born but are made through a combination of nature and nurture. Leaders who excel tend to have similar characteristics which have been developed by a series of experiences in their lives (these include embracing mistakes, taking risks and learning from adversity). Another idea discussed in the book is that of the role of education in making leaders. Bennis notes a number of qualities and abilities that are common amongst the leaders he interacts with. Some of those are relating well to others, trusting others and in turn being trustworthy, the ability to motivate people and to not give up, inspiration and competence in the job. However, he claims that a major problem in business & leadership is the “societal disease of our time” (as said by Norman Lear to him) - short term thinking. He highlights throughout the book that this form of thinking is not beneficial to organizations and that a good leader should be able to look further and not give the short term too much importance. At one point he claims that short term thinking is what kills one of the most important attributes a leader must have - innovation.

The author mentions that leaders are important to an organization since they are of paramount importance to the operational performance, stability and integrity of the organization. To this end, Warren Bennis presents in a systematic manner various attributes that are required of a leader to be able to perform well. The first attribute discussed is the ability to “Master the context”. In this chapter, the author discusses the fact that a leader must be able to understand the reasons and outcomes of different situations. Only once he has managed this, will he be able to act in the best possible way for his organization. This is in line with what we have learned throughout our course regarding improving one’s self-awareness as well as the 4 perspectives of organizational effectiveness. A leader must be able to understand the context of work and respond by being aware that he needs to look after different perspectives of people and systems related to the organization. The second thing discussed is “understanding the basics”, which is quite similar to mastering the context. In this, Warren Bennis explains that leaders need to understand the underlying concepts at work before making decisions. He lists a series of attributes that can be found in most leaders including self-knowledge, passion, vision and trust. He argues that most of the leaders are not born with these attributes but life experiences and a desire to lead people enables them to develop a good understanding of this. Their drive to acquire and learn are much higher than on average and they actively pursue these drives while taking risks and placing lesser importance on their drive for safety. In this he also discusses the difference between managing people and leading them. We have gone through various topics related directly to this effect in class. According to me, one of the strongest drives an individual has is the drive to safety. An individual would be much more comfortable if they can trust their leader. The ability to understand the thought process of their leader and their belief/trust in him helps shore up their drive for safety. Across cultures, people tend to avoid uncertainty and if a leader is able to, through knowledge and an understanding, provide people with an image of consistency; it goes a long way in settling people and reducing stress.

The third lesson is “knowing yourself”. Warren Bennis argues that in order to lead others, one must fully understand themselves. To be able to trust your decisions/inner feelings is extremely important for leading people and making correct choices. The author...
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