On Becoming a Leader

by Warren Bennis | Basics Books © 2009 · 304 pages

Warren Bennis is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership. This is, as Peter Drucker puts it, his “most important book.” Big Ideas we explore include the basic ingredients of leadership (#1 = Guiding Vision!), the importance of self-invention (hint: write your own story!), the power of trusting ourselves, choosing to express ourselves rather than prove ourselves, how to cultivate trust, and becoming a world-class leader.

It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulty. Great necessities call out great virtues.
Abigail Adams

On Becoming a Leader is based on the assumption that leaders are people who are able to express themselves fully. By this I mean that they know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and support. Finally, they know how to achieve their goals. The key to full self-expression is understanding one’s self and the world, and the key to understanding is learning—from one’s own life and experience.

Becoming a leader isn’t easy, just as becoming a doctor or a poet isn’t easy, and those who claim otherwise are fooling themselves. But learning to lead is a lot easier than most of us think it is, because each of us contains the capacity for leadership. …

At bottom, becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult. So let’s get started.”

~ Warren Bennis from On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership.

This is, as Peter Drucker puts it, his “most important book.”

I initially read this book nearly 20 years ago when I first became a leader. As a 25-year-old founder/CEO who raised $5 million as part of the dot com boom of the late 90’s, I led a startup that went from 2 to 45 employees in less than 9 months (and then, after hiring the CEO of adidas to replace me as the young CEO, when the market crashed in 2000, we went from 45+ to 15 employees as we worked with an investment bank to sell the business to one of our two competitors who had raised 10x the money we had). My learning curve was nice and steep. (Laughing.)

I recall enjoying this book back in the day and I enjoyed reading it again in preparation for Leadership 101. (Get a copy of the book here.)

It’s packed with Big Ideas. I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author


Warren Bennis

One of the world’s leading authorities on leadership.