Business Classic: On Becoming a Leader

This much-admired work is a more personal and philosophical view of leadership, says Stefan Stern.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2015

On becoming a leader
Warren Bennis
Perseus Books, 1989

Warren Bennis died this summer aged 89. His death prompted warm expressions of gratitude and respect for one of the leading scholars of leadership. He produced dozens of books in a long career but few are cited more often than On Becoming a Leader.

This is a personal reflection on the business of getting ready to lead - what does it take? Bennis asserted that leaders are made, not born, and thus leadership is something that we can get better at. There is no spooky mystique to it. Bennis says that leaders need to take responsibility for their actions and blame no one else for things that may go wrong. And good leaders are not too worried about making mistakes. They see them as being 'virtually synonymous with growth and progress'.

The point is not to become a leader, Bennis says. The point is to become yourself. 'You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming,' he writes.

And why is leadership necessary? 'One person can live on a desert island without leadership. Two people, if they're totally compatible, could probably get along and even progress. If there are three or more, someone has to take the lead. Otherwise, chaos erupts.'

Stefan Stern is a visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern.

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