Notes from ‘On Becoming A Leader’ by Warren Bennis – Chapter 1

For quite a while I’ve been meaning to post my notes from ‘On Becoming A Leader’ by Warren Bennis.  I read this years ago and found it to be very valuable because it was written by someone that had actually run a large organization as opposed to someone who studied leadership.  It also focused on the importance of finding your own path and not relying on others to tell you what to do.  Either way I’ll be posting these over the next several weeks or so.  Thanks to Adrienne ( who did a great job on the typing.


  • Master the context
  • Great leaders and followers are always engaged in creative collaboration.
  • 4 competencies:
  1. They are able to engage others by creating shared meaning (AKA have vision)
  2. They have a distinctive voice (Emotional Intelligence)
  3. Integrity (Able to tell a friend “NO”)
  4. Adaptive Capacity (Compass vs. Map)
  • Get good at finding mentors!!
  • Discover and cultivate the authentic self.
  • Leaders have in common: a passion for the promises of life and the ability to express themselves fully and freely.
  • Leaders are made, NOT born.
  • No leader sets out to be a leader but rather to express themselves fully and freely. They are interested in expressing themselves NOT proving themselves.
  • Adult learning is a huge part of leadership.
  • Learning is best achieved when the learner takes charge of the process. This is all part of becoming an integrated person.
  • Learning is a process of remembering what is important.
  • Fame and leadership aren’t the same thing, and skill at achieving one is no guarantee of skill at the other.


Chapter 1

  • Leaders are important because:
  1. They are responsible for the effectiveness of organizations.
  2. Leaders provide much-needed anchors or guiding purposes.
  3. They determine the integrity of institutions.
  • Recognize the context for what it is- a breaker, NOT a maker; a trap, NOT a launching pad; an end, NOT a beginning- and declare your independence.
  • Thank people AND give compliments.
  • Be careful who you choose as a role model!!!
  • At some point, vision and character become important.
  • 5 Areas to look at:
  1. Technical competence
  2. People skills
  3. Conceptual skills (imagination and creativity)
  4. Judgement and taste
  5. Character
  • Overturn the rules and overcome the context.
  • Steps to mastering the context:
  1. Becoming self-expressive
  2. Listening to the inner voice
  3. Learning from the right mentors
  4. Giving oneself over to a guiding vision.
  • “When I’ve been most effective, I’ve listened to that inner voice.”
  • “Find out what it is you’re about and be that. Be what you are and don’t lose it. It’s very hard to be who we are, because it doesn’t seem to be what anyone wants.”

“I have little tolerance for institutional restraints. Institutions should serve people, but unfortunately, it’s often the other way around. People give their allegiance to an institution, and they become prisoners of habits, practices, and rules that ultimately make them ineffectual.”

  • First step toward change is to refuse to be deployed by others and to choose to be deployed by yourself.


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