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Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge (Harperbusiness Essentials)by Warren G Bennis
Synopses & Reviews
These are the hard times inwhich a genius would wish to live. Great necessities call forth great leaders.
Abigail Adams 1790, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson
"Leadership" is a word on everyone's lips. The young attack it and the old grow wistful for it. Parents have lost it and police seek it. Experts claim it and artists spurn it, while scholars want it. Philosophers reconcile it (as authority) with liberty and theologians demonstrate its compatibility with conscience. If bureaucrats pretend they have it, politicians wish they did. Everybody agrees that there is less of it than there used to be. The matter now stands as a certain Mr. Wildman thought it stood in 1648: "Leadership hath been broken into pieces."
At the same time, history effervesces with the names of individuals who have provided extraordinary leadership and risen to the challenges of their eras: Winston Churchill. Mahatma Gandhi. Golda Meir. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their leadership built great nations. Tom Watson. Edwin Land. Alfred P. Sloan. Their leadership built great organizations.
Often the enormousness of present-day challenges and the pace of change seem unaccompanied by great notions and the great people to implement them. This void, like so many darknesses, may augur new leaders. And certainly in this moratorium new concepts of leadership have incubated. With the emergence of great men and women we can anticipate exciting new visions of power.
The need was never so great. A chronic crisis of governance--that is, the pervasive incapacity of organizations to cope with the expectations of their constituents--is now an overwhelming factor worldwide. If there was ever a moment in history when acomprehensive strategic view of leadership was needed, not just by a few leaders in high office but by large numbers of leaders in every job, from the factory floor to the executive suite, from a McDonald's fast-food franchise to a law firm, this is certainly it.
This book was written in the belief that leadership is the pivotal force behind successful organizations and that to create vital and viable organizations, leadership is necessary to help organizations develop a new vision of what they can be, then mobilize the organization to change toward the new vision. General Motors, AT&T, Citicorp, IBM, Chase Manhattan, Disney, Eastman Kodak and G.E. represent a partial sample of major U.S. corporations investing in major organizational transformations to ensure long-term vitality. The main stem-winder, in all cases, is the leadership. The new leader, which is what this book is about, is one who commits people to action, who converts followers into leaders, and who may convert leaders into agents of change. We refer to this as "transformative leadership" and will return to this concept throughout.1
But before going any further, we'd like to say a few things about leadership and today's managerial context, which makes leadership so problematic.
A New Theory on Leadership
Through the years, our view of what leadership is and who can exercise it has changed considerably. Leadership competencies have remained constant, but our understanding of what it is, how it works, and the ways in which people learn to apply it has shifted. We do have the beginnings of a general theory of leadership, from history and social research and above all from the ruminations of reflectivepractitioners such as Moses, Pericles, Julius Caesar, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Niccol Machiavelli and James Madison, and in our own time from such disparate sources of wisdom as Gandhi, V. I. Lenin, Harriet Tubman, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Dean Acheson, Mao Tse-tung, Chester Barnard, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Gardner and Henry Kissinger, who have very little in common except that they have not only been there but tried with some candor to speculate on paper about it.
But folklore and reflective observation are not enough except to convince us that leaders are physically strong and abnormally hard workers. Today we are a little closer to understanding how and who people lead, but it wasn't easy getting there. Decades of academic analysis have given us more than 850 definitions of leadership. Literally thousands of empirical investigations of leaders have been conducted in the last seventy-five years alone, but no clear and unequivocal understanding exists as to what distinguishes leaders from nonleaders, and perhaps more important, what distinguishes "effective" leaders from "ineffective" leaders and "effective" organizations from "ineffective" organizations.
Never have so many labored so long to say so little. Multiple interpretations of leadership exist, each providing a sliver of insight but each remaining an incomplete and wholly inadequate explanation. Most of these definitions don't agree with each other, and many of them would seem quite remote to the leaders whose skills are being dissected. Definitions reflect fads, fashions, political tides and academic trends. They don't always reflect reality and sometimes they justrepresent nonsense. It's as if what Braque once said about art is also true of leadership: "The only thing that matters in art is the part that cannot be explained."
Leadership skills were once thought a matter of birth. Leaders were born, not made, summoned to their calling through some unfathomable process. This might be called the "Great Man" theory of leadership. It saw power as being vested in a very limited number of people whose inheritance and destiny made them leaders. Those of the right breed could lead; all others must be led. Either you had it or you didn't. No amount of learning or yearning could change your fate.
When this view failed to explain leadership, it was replaced by the notion that great events made leaders of otherwise ordinary people. Presumably Lenin was just "milling about" when a revolution pounced on his deliberations, and Washington was simply "on hand" when the colonies opted for countrydom. This "Big Bang" idea in which the situation and the followers combined to make a leader, like the "Great Man" theory, was another inadequate definition.
Like love, leadership continued to be something everyone knew existed but nobody could define. Many other theories of leadership have come and gone. Some looked at the leader. Some looked at the situation. None has stood the test of time. With such a track record, it is understandable why leadership research and theory have been so frustrating as to deserve the label "the La Brea Tar Pits" of organizational inquiry. Located in Los Angeles, these asphalt pits house the remains of a long sequence of prehistoric animals that came to investigate but never left the area.
Now, in a stasis uninterrupted by eitherGreat Men or Big Bangs, we have a new opportunity to appraise our leaders and ponder the essence of power.
These days power is conspicuous in its absence. Powerlessness in the face of crisis. Powerlessness in the face of complexity. With contradiction and polarization of thought and action, power has been sabotaged while a kind of plodding pandemonium surges. Institutions have been rigid, slothful or mercurial. Supposed leaders seem ignorant and out of touch, insensitive and unresponsive. Worst of all, solutions have been jerrybuilt or they have not been built at all.
The Context of Leadership
All of which has created a managerial mayhem that can be more fully understood only if we examine the leadership environment of today. That can be summarized under three major contexts: "commitment, complexity" and "credibility."
Public Agenda Forum 2 undertook a major survey of the American nonmanagerial workforce in the early '80s with the following disturbing results:
Drawing on organizational studies, interviews, and other research, two authorities on leadership discuss the special qualities of successful business executives and offer advice for managers on how to develop leadership skills. Reissue. 25,000 first printing.
In this illuminating study of corporate America's most critical issue—leadership—world-renowned leadership guru Warren Bennis and his co-author Burt Nanus reveal the four key principles every manager should know: Attention Through Vision, Meaning Through Communication, Trust Through Positioning, and The Deployment of Self.
In this age of "process", with downsizing and restructuring affecting many workplaces, companies have fallen trap to lack of communication and distrust, and vision and leadership are needed more than ever before. The wisdom and insight in Leaders addresses this need. It is an indispensable source of guidance all readers will appreciate, whether they're running a small department or in charge of an entire corporation.
About the Author
Warren G. Bennis is university professor and founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California. He is also chairman of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School and Distinguished Research Fellow at the Harvard Business School. He has written more than twenty-five books on leadership, change, and creative collaboration including Leaders, which was recently designated by the Financial Times as one of the top 50 business books of all time. His most recent book is Geeks & Geezers.Burt Nanus is a well-known expert on leadership and the author of many books on the subject, including Visionary Leadership. Now professor emeritus of management at the University of Southern California, he was also research director of the Leadership Institute.
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