Bennis and Nanus, Leaders Strategies for Taking Charge

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Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge. 2nd Edition. Collins Business, 2007.

Sequel: Bennis, On Becoming A Leader

Referenced in: Summary

This management classic expresses a kind of leadership that is transformational and empowering. It also does a good job explaining the leadership-management continuum. It is a result of the authors’ ninety interviews with sixty successful CEOs and thirty outstanding public sector leaders. Their research revealed four major themes which might be called the competencies or human handling skills the ninety leaders embodied:

  1. Attention through vision
  2. Meaning through communication
  3. Trust through positioning (clear and predictable stances)
  4. The deployment of self through positive self-regard and the Wallenda factor (pouring all one’s energies into positive goals and not dredging up excuses for past failures).

These four factors are the structure for the main chapters.

To set the stage for these four themes, the foreword to the second edition stresses six main emphases:

1. Leadership is about character – The process about becoming a leader is much the same as becoming a human being.

2. Leaders must be instrumental in creating a social architecture capable of generating intellectual capital – organizations must exemplify Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s 4 F’s of focused, flexible, fast and friendly, and the fifth F which the authors add: fun.

3. The significance of a strong determination to achieve a goal or realize a vision, a conviction, even a passion – in Max DePree’s words, “defining reality.”

4. The capacity to generate and sustain trust is the central ingredient to leadership – the most glorious vision in the world won’t mean a thing if there’s low trust in the organization, trust being the social glue that keeps the system together, something that is hard to gain and easy to lose.

5. True leaders have an uncanny way of enrolling people in their vision through their optimism – sometimes unwarranted optimism – all of the exemplary leaders we have studied believe that they can change the world, or at the very least, make a dent in the universe.

6. Leaders have a bias toward action that results in success – it’s not enough just to have vision, trust and optimism, as there must be concrete, active steps, execution, to bring about results.

Also in the foreword, they describe the changing leadership context as one of overall lack of commitment, increasing complexity, and a growing loss of leadership credibility. These come alongside the significant paradigm shifts in the culture at large. The combination of these forces makes it difficult for leaders to possess the currency of power, “the capacity to translate intention into reality.” (16)

Chapter 2, “Leading Others, Managing Yourself,” is very helpful, and coined much of what is standard language to distinguish between leadership and management. One example is their their classic statement, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing”as the difference between activities of vision and judgment – effectiveness, versus activities of mastering routines ” efficiency.” (20) Out of this comes the suggested reframing that one should lead others, but manage self. It is not difficult to see how this idea of self-management plays out in the four competencies. Ian Fair, in Leadership in the Kingdom (chapters 6 and 10), translates into Churches these concepts of leadership vs. management and effectiveness vs. efficiency.

This is a classic leadership text. Any Christian leader will greatly benefit.

From the Publisher

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.

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