Book Summary: On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis is the founder of leadership theory. In his famous book On Becoming a Leader, he makes it plain that leadership is all about a few key factors.

It's about understanding who you are as a person. That includes your talents, shortcomings, and your goals.

It's also about understanding the world around you and how to use that knowledge to achieve your objectives with the help of others.

Leadership, as Bennis points out, is a never-ending dance between those things, as well as a process of growing better at it with each passing day.

Here are some tips to help you shift from an individual performer to a group leader.

Why Leadership Is Critical

A leader standing in front showing the way as the captain of the boat.

First, evaluate why leadership is essential and why being a great leader is crucial.

There are three reasons why leaders are essential.

  • To begin with, any organization's success or failure is determined by the degree of leadership at the top.
  • Second, we live in difficult times (much more so today than when this book was published), and leaders are the ones who chart the way through choppy seas.
  • Third, leaders are required to restore integrity in all of our organizations - both commercial and otherwise.

Ten Principles for Leaders

To get us going, here are ten tried-and-true leadership principles that will help you get off to a good start and stay going even when things become rough.

1. Organize the fantasy. As a leader, you must clearly explain your company's vision that people desire to work with you and eventually dedicate their hearts and minds to the cause.

2. Accept and embrace failure. Any worthwhile vision will need a great deal of trial and error. As a leader, you must support taking risks as long as they don't "knock you out of the game." The larger danger is doing nothing.

3. Encourage back-and-forth reflection. You should surround yourself with individuals who will tell you the truth. Your immediate reports will almost always give you a filtered version of it as a leader.

4. Encourage others to disagree with you. Surround yourself with people who will push you to think differently. Your initial thoughts will almost always be off in some important aspect. Open dialogue among your team will help you find the proper solution faster.

5. Demonstrate faith, hope, and optimism. Your team will look to you for guidance on responding to a crisis. Your emotions are contagious as a leader.

6. You can expect the best from your team. You'll notice that you see more potential in your employees than they do in themselves. When you show that you trust them to take on challenging challenges that push them to their limits, the best individuals flourish.

7. Develop a tactile sensibility. One of the most critical qualities good executives have is the capacity to figure out where the organization needs to go depending on the external environment. It's vital to find a compelling future position for you and your team.

8. Consider the big picture. While the short-term is critical, the long-term may be even more crucial.

9. Maintain a symmetrical distribution of stakeholders. You'll need to balance various stakeholder groups, some internal and others external. Never allow the equilibrium to go too out of whack.

10. Form strategic relationships and collaborations. The wisest and most effective leaders don't strive to accomplish everything on their own, both internally and outside. Finding partners who share your vision of the future may be strong allies in making it a reality.

Understanding the Basics

The basics of becoming is willingness to take risk. As seen here, the male individual escaping the shark.

Now that we've covered the crash course, let's start and talk about the building blocks that lead up to those concepts.

The first thing to realize is that there is no such thing as a "typical" leader; they come in various shapes and sizes. One is not necessarily superior to the other.

Effective leaders, on the other hand, have some DNA in common:

  • Creating a vision. The most effective leaders are very clear about their goals in both their personal and professional life.
  • Dedication. Leaders are enthusiastic about what they do; if they aren't, it's hard to stick it out for long.
  • Trustworthiness. Integrity is demonstrated by leaders in three ways. First and foremost, they are aware of their own strengths and shortcomings and the reasons for their actions. Second, they use honesty regularly. Finally, they demonstrate maturity by learning from and serving their team.
  • Curiosity and a willingness to take risks. Brilliant leaders are also great students. They learn from thought leaders and the individuals around them, as well as the team's successes and mistakes.
  • Faith. This is the only one of the leadership traits that can't be bought; it needs to be earned. You'll be well on your way to acquiring it if you take care of a leader's basic DNA.

Knowing Yourself

Understanding oneself isn't something that just happens when you get out of bed one day. It's a lifelong voyage of discovery and introspection.

There are four primary things you can learn right now to make your trip more pleasurable and productive in the long run.

1. You are the finest instructor you can have. You already know when you've fallen short of your own potential if you're being honest with yourself. When you've failed, admit it, gather the tools and skills you'll need to do better next time, and then get back to work. It's quite unlikely that your inner guidance will lead you astray on this.

2. Take accountability and don't point the finger at anybody. This is an important concept to grasp and internalize. The only way to transform any encounter into a learning experience is to take responsibility for what is happening around you, whether or not you are directly "responsible" for it. An excellent place to start is with "Here's what I could do differently next time."

3. You have complete freedom to learn whatever you desire. It's not just about memorizing facts; it's about viewing the world for what it is and what it could be and then figuring out how to bridge the gap. This necessitates the application of knowledge.

4. Reflecting on your experience leads to true insight. Taking some knowledge, applying it directly to what you're working on, and then reflecting on how it went is the best kind of learning. Repeat the process of rinsing, washing, and rinsing. It is, without a doubt, the most effective recipe for personal and professional development.

Knowing the World

A leader preparing for his presentation as he continues learning about how the world works through his laptop.

The finest leaders are obsessive about learning how the world works. This entails broadening your horizons outside your particular business and gaining a global perspective.

Your formal education most likely taught you specific expertise. You probably spent most of your time surrounded by individuals learning that same specialized skill. This leaves a lot of unfinished work for those in positions of authority.

Traveling, having a full personal life, and finding mentors and groups to join that expose you to diverse points of view and cultures are all beneficial.

Many of the world's most successful people are members of a mastermind group, which is a group of people who come together regularly to discuss ideas and assist one another in overcoming obstacles.

Lastly, learning through difficulty may be the most valuable instruction you can receive. Making errors and then reflecting on them, as we've just covered, is where much of the "gold" may be found. So go out there and make some errors, but make sure you learn from them.

Deploying Yourself: Strike Hard, Try Everything

Your genuine self will emerge at some point along your leadership path. As a leader, your goal is to find a method to convey your true self while achieving your objectives.

Here are the four exams you'll need to pass to do so.

  • You must first determine what you want out of life and what you can accomplish, and the difference between the two.
  • Second, you must understand what motivates you, as well as the distinction between the two. Things that drive you are not the same as things that please you; you might do something you despise if they serve your driving interests.

The purpose of the first two tests is that if you understand that your ultimate aim is to express yourself, you'll discover a way to do it, given your ability. If you want to prove yourself instead, you'll have trouble.

  • Third, you must understand your own values and priorities and the values and priorities of your organization and compare the two.
  • The fourth and last test is if you are willing and able to overcome the contrasts between what you desire and what you can achieve, between what motivates and fulfills you, and between your values and the organization's values.

If you are, you have found a way to take control of your life and change its direction for the better.

Moving Through Chaos

A riot of peace going on. As a leader, our duties is to deal and move through chaotic workplace.

There will always be chaos, no matter how well you comprehend yourself, the world and deploy yourself completely in it. In fact, dealing with the realities of an unpredictable and chaotic workplace is one of the most crucial duties of the leader.

The best way to cope with chaos is to work through it, learn what you can from it, and do it better the next time.

Jacob Bronowski writes in his book The Ascent of Man, "We have to understand that the world can only be grasped through action, not by contemplation. The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well, and having done it well, he loves to do it better."

You can't learn leadership from a book, just like you can't learn to swim in a classroom. The true lessons are learned when you go into the deep end and strive to keep your head above water.

It doesn't always go as planned, and you'll need a helping hand to get back to dry ground. That's fine since it's at those moments that the most important lessons may be learned.

According to Ernest Hemingway, the world fractures us all. We are growing stronger in shattered places.

Getting People on Your Side

A romanticized picture of successful leaders implies that charm and outstanding speeches are required to lead a great cause or company.

According to Bennis' research, successful leaders do share a quality, but it's not that.

It's rather the capacity to build and sustain trust. You'll need the following four components to make it:

  • Constancy. Make sure you don't generate any surprises for your squad, no matter what you're up against. Most importantly, always stay true to your vision and mission.
  • Congruity. Make sure you follow through on your words. There should be no disconnect between what you say and what you do.
  • Reliability. When it matters most, the finest leaders are there, and you are present to assist your coworkers.
  • Integrity. Keep your pledges and obligations, and confront and reset them if you fall short.

Organizations Can Help or Hinder

A leader giving a leading chances to his members as he shows his way around climbing the mountain.

Ultimately, suppose you're in charge of a company where future leadership is critical. What you're doing right now is either assisting or impeding their development.

Since leadership is a "do-it-yourself" endeavor, the best way to train future leaders in your business is to provide them with leadership chances early in their careers.

You may rotate them around different departments and divisions, assign them to smaller, lower-margin units to manage, and offer them the opportunity to turn around underperforming teams or companies before selling them off.

This is the only way to tell who looks good on paper and on the field.

And the answers they come up with are likely to be ideas you've never explored before.

As a result, by providing excellent service to your future leaders, you also provide exceptional service to your company.

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