Bennis, Warren G., 1989. On becoming a leader. Arrow business books limited, London, UK.
The book ‘on becoming a leader’ is about the hows: how people become leaders, how they lead, and how organizations encourage or stifle potential leaders. The assumption is made that leaders are people who are able to express themselves fully, they know what they want and they know how to achieve goals. There are a lot of differences between the leaders interviewed in this book but they agree on 2 things. First they all agree that leaders are made and often self-made, not born and second that no leader sets out to be a leader per se.
Before starting it is important to know why there are leaders. There are three basic reasons why there are leaders. First, they are responsible for the effectiveness of the organization. Second, we need anchors, a guiding factor, leaders fill that need and third, leaders assure the integrity of the organizations they lead.
The basics of a leader are very important. Before one can become a leader one has to understand the basics:
# Guiding vision, a leader has a clear view of what he wants to do, personally and professionally. He has the strength to persist in the face of setbacks.
# Passion, a leader must have a passion for life and a very special passion for a vocation, profession, course or action.
# Integrity, a leader must have self-knowledge, be candor and be mature (have learned from earlier experiences).
# Trust, this is as much an ingredient as a product of leadership. This cannot be acquired but must be earned; it is given to the leader.
# Curiosity and daring, he must want to learn everything he can, experiment and try new things. A leader does not worry about failure but will learn from failure.
Another very important difference to know at forehand is the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is made through training and a leader is made through education. That leaves us with the difference between training and education. Basically training comes down to memorizing, facts, it is narrow and on the surface, passive, predictive (our education system) and education is understanding ideas, it is broad and deep, explorative. Through education people learn how and where to find the problems.
Harvard professor Abraham Zaleznik posits that there are two kinds of leaders, once-borns and twice-borns. A once-born transits from home and family to independence relatively easy. The twice-borns have more problems with this transition. During their growth they have encountered problems and learn to rely on themselves. The twice-borns are inner-directed, self-assured and truly charismatic. So they are the best leaders. The most important lesson from this story is that to become a leader one must become themselves, become the maker of ones life.
People will start to become leaders as soon as they decide for themselves how to be. This generally means know yourself. Know yourself, then, means separating who you are and who you want to be from what the world thinks you are and wants you to be. All the leaders interviewed overcame a variety of obstacles in variety of ways but they all stress the utmost importance of self-knowledge. The four lessons of self-knowledge are:
1. You are your own teacher. To become a leader you need to have a ‘need to know’ (a hunger for knowledge) and a ‘sense of role’ (the gap between what you are and what you want to be).
2. Accept responsibility. Blame no one.
3. You can learn anything you want to learn. See the world simultaneously as it is and as it can be.
4. True understanding comes from reflecting experiences. This means that you look back on experiences and ask yourself why did that happen? What did it do to me? What did it mean to me? If anybody wants to find its true self, one has to reflect on all the experiences in life.
The second important factor when one wants to become a leader is to know the world as well as one knows one’s self. Learning must do this and there are different ways of learning. Two important ways of conventional learning are ‘maintenance learning’ (learning to cope with changes through a set of fixed methods) and ‘shock learning’ (this is done when people are overwhelmed). But a better – and third – method of learning is ‘innovative learning’ (be active and imaginative, learn by listening and shape events that happen to you). In short innovative learning is a form of creative problem solving. Knowing the world starts with filling the gaps. Filling the gaps means learning the things you did not learn at school e.g. learn how to speed-read. The second part is the broadening experience. To become a good leader one must have a broad view and this can be done by e.g. travelling (this is also a kind of learning). A third factor is friends and mentors. These people can find things that the person did not know he had or he can encourage him to do certain things the person otherwise would not have done. A book can also fulfill this role. If one reads about people those people can become mentors. The last factor is learning by adversity. One must be able to make mistakes. The leaders interviewed here all do not only believe in mistakes, they see them as virtually synonymous with growth and progress. A big part of making mistakes is making decisions. If somebody does not make any decisions he can hardly make any mistakes. Leaders learn from their experiences and this means:
# Look back at the past and use that knowledge to make things happen now.
# Seek experiences that will improve and enlarge you.
# Take risks with the knowledge that you can fail.
# See the future, yours and the world’s, as an opportunity.
A third factor that can make someone a leader is to operate on instinct. Someone who operates on instinct uses the two sides of the brain. This means that besides relying on analytical and logical skills (the right part of the brain) one must also rely on conceptual and intuitive skills (the left part of the brain). People who use the whole-brain thinking learn to trust the “blessed impulse”, the hunch. Everyone has hunches but leaders trust them. Following this hunch is basic to leadership.
Deploying yourself, meaning striking hard, trying everything and letting the self emerge is another part of becoming a leader. A manager can do several things to deploy oneself and become a leader. First, reflection and resolution, through these two one can look back on things that happened in the (far) past and learn from these mistakes or successes. It is important that you do not only see the bad things that happened since good things also teach something. Another way of deploying oneself is by changing the perspective. If a person is always looking at the job the same way, this person will not learn a lot. If you change the perspective and look at it a different way the whole view will change and new aspects will become visible. When a point of view is brought out in the open the most important thing for a leader is that it should be his point of view and not someone else’s. The next aspect of deploying yourself is expressing yourself. This means expressing yourself in a useful way. To do this there are four tests:
1. Know what you want and you are able to.
2. Know what drives you and what satisfies you.
3. Know what your priorities and values are and what the organisations values and priorities are.
4. Find out if you are able to overcome the differences between 1, 2 and 3.
A fourth factor is desire. A leader must have to desire to achieve and not the drive to achieve. The fifth factor is mastery. A leader must master his task not just practice it. Leaning everything there is to know about this task and then surrendering to it does this.
Strategic thinking is one of the most important factors for being able to deploy yourself. This is a process of knowing where to go (see the end of the road), make routes to get there, evaluate the routes you made and set out to follow the best route. This route can be a change in corporate structure, making more profit, etc. Finally the leader combines all the means of expression and treats people the way he wants to be treated.
The next aspect of becoming a leader is the ability to move through chaos. A good leader after has undergone the throw-them-into-the-water-and-they’ll-learn-to-swim-school. Learning how to lead comes with learning how to cope with surprises be they positive or negative.
It is important for leaders to get people on their side. So if one wants to become a leader one must be able to get people on their side. This works through several mechanisms, empathy is one of them. This can lead to getting the trust of your people and this then often leads to people taking your side and they then see you as their leader. Integrity is another mechanism to get people on your side.
The organisation one has to be a leader for can help or hinder that process. Organisations have to change with their environment, the world. There are five main factors affecting the world today, ‘technology’, ‘global interdependence’, ‘mergers and acquisitions’, ‘deregulation and regulation’ and ‘demographics and values’. If all these factors influence the company simultaneously than they cause a revolution. Because of these (quick) changes in the world a leader has to do undertake new tasks within the organisation, tasks that were unimaginable a generation ago. If old leaders have to give advice to the new and young executives it would come down to three themes. First, take advantage of every opportunity. Companies should test and season their young executives and give them opportunities early in their career. Second, aggressively search for meaning. Take time to look for the meaning of the organisation and third, know yourself.
Since times are changing and all economies are heavily affected by changes all around the world there are ten factors that a leader can use to cope with change, forging a new future, and create learning organisations.
1. Leaders manage the dream. A good leader must have the ability to create a vision and to translate that vision to reality. This is thé most important factor (of the ten to come) for a leader.
2. Leaders embrace error.
3. Leaders encourage reflective backtalk. A good leader needs someone who tells him or her the truth; this someone is totally trusted by the leader.
4. Leaders encourage dissent. In the organisation a leader needs people who disagree and have contrary views. This makes the division of leader into two. The first group of leaders are those that hire reflectors, clones of themselves. The second group are leaders that hire compensators, the people that disagree.
5. Leaders possess the Noble Factor: optimism, faith and hope.
6. Leaders understand the Pygmalion effect in management. Leaders set the standard for their workers and thus determine their performance and career progress.
7. Leaders have the Gretzky factor, a certain touch. Gretzky, a hockey player, said: ”It is not important as to know where the puck is now as to know where it will be.” Leaders must have to ability to see where the culture is going, where the organisation should be if it is to grow.
8. Leaders see the long view. One Japanese company has a plan for the next 250 years.
9. Leaders understand stakeholder symmetry. They know they must balance claims of all groups with a stake in the corporation.
10. Leaders create strategic alliances and partnerships. A leader will see that he cannot hide anymore. He will have to work together with people in the same business.
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