On Becoming A Leader, By Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is a University of Southern California Professor who has written over thirty books on the subject of leadership. For On Becoming a Leader, first published in 1989, he interviewed people whom he considered leaders in fields ranging from journalism to business to law to film and television. This book consists primarily of excerpts from those interviews, which he uses to illustrate lessons on leadership.

The dominant emphasis throughout the book is on self-expression. Bennis argues that the best leaders are the ones who most fully express themselves. By this he seems to mean they are self-actualized: Their lives allow them to fully experience and express their passions. Leaders, he claims, are "self-made" -- rather than being defined by their context, they define themselves and dominate their context.

Bennis outlines six attributes that all great leaders share: A guiding vision, passion, integrity (which requires self-knowledge, candor and maturity), the trust of others, curiosity and daring. These attributes distinguish leaders from managers. Leaders, in Bennis' formulation, are creative, flexible and take active responsibility for enacting their visions. Managers, on the other hand, are rigid, rule-oriented and passively react to events and circumstances.

Leaders pursue self-expression through knowledge of themselves and their world. On this topic, Bennis turns to developmental psychology with echoes of Buddhism. He emphasizes the importance of awareness as a route to understanding and knowledge. It is not enough to have experiences; the leader takes the time to reflect on them. This reflection enables leaders to draw lessons from their experiences and to emerge with a stronger sense of themselves and their visions.