Notes from ‘On Becoming A Leader’ by Warren Bennis – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

  • The things that matter can’t be taught in a formal classroom setting.
  • Many leaders aren’t technicians but visionaries that know what they want to do and where they wanted to take their companies/organizations.
  • Since by definition leaders are unique, what they learn and how they use it to shape their future is unique too.
  • Leaders are made at least as much by their experiences and understanding and application of their experiences as by any skills.
  • Significant types of learning experiences: broad and continuing education, idiosyncratic families, extensive travel and/or exile, a rich private life, and key associations with mentors and groups.
  • Human gap: the distance between growing complexity and our capacity to deal with it.
  • 2 principal modes of conventional learning:
  • Maintenance learning: getting of fixed outlooks, methods and rules for dealing with known and recurring situations. (Designed to maintain an existing system or established way of life)
  • Shock learning: when events overwhelm people. Product of elitism, technocracy, and authoritarianism. Often follows a period of overconfidence in solutions created solely with expert knowledge on technical competence and perpetuated beyond the conditions for which they were appropriate. (i.e. US campworkers (IMG_0322, pg 3.5) used to maintain learning for decades until shock learning of Japanese invasion showed it was wrong)
  • Anyone relying on maintenance/shock learning will be more reactor than actor in this life.
  • Innovative learning must replace maintenance/shock learning.
  • Components of innovative learning:
  • Anticipation: being active and imaginative rather than passive and habitual.
  • Learning by listening to others.
  • Participation: Shaping events, rather than being shaped by them.
  • Innovative learning requires that you trust yourself, that you be self-directed NOT other directed) in both your life and your work. (unconscious adaptation      conscious participation)
  • A fantasy life is the real key to problem solving at every level.
  • Creative problem solving is a form of innovative learning.
  • In innovative learning, one must not only recognize existing contexts, but be capable of imagining future contexts.
  • Innovative learning is a way of realizing vision (like planning a group trip/vacation). It requires a combination of historical perspective, vision and institutional appreciation- what its texture is, what its possibilities are. (First figure out where you are going!!)
  • Innovative learning is the primary means of exercising our autonomy, a means of understanding and working with in the prevailing context in a positive way. It is a dialogue that begins with curiosity and is fueled by knowledge, leading to understanding. It is inclusive, unlimited and unending, knowing and dynamic. It allows us to change the way things are.
  • By explaining and understanding the past, we can move into the future unencumbered by it. We become free to express ourselves, rather than trying to prove ourselves. We no longer follow along, but rather lead our own lives. We do not accept things as they are, but rather anticipate things as they can be. We participate in making things happen. We shape life rather than being shaped by it.
  • (T.H. Harley) “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
  • Study philosophy history and literature- the experiences of all humankind, not specific technologies.
  • What problems can technology solve, unless the users of that technology have first grappled the primary questions?
  • Ambition is the death of though.
  • Charles Handy- The primary lesson he learned at Sloan Management School was that he didn’t need to go to school.
  • The way to be successful is to be straight, you don’t have to play at the edge of morals/ethics to be successful.
  • Straight A students never seem to get over it.
  • Travel is another kind of learning. It does broaden, it is revelatory, it changes your perspective immediately, because it requires new and different responses from you.
  • Thoreau wrote that, “one sees the world more clearly if one looks at it from an angle.” In a foreign land one sees everything from an angle.
  • As leaders have traditionally been travelers, they’ve also traditionally had rich private lives. (i.e. Sunday painters, poets, chefs) and always made time to reflect.
  • Spend an hour alone, away from everything, daily to recharge/incubate ideas and reflect on your experiences so you can understand them.
  • Have a mentor.
  • (Cleese) “If we can’t take the risk of saying or doing something wrong, our creativity goes out the window. The essence of creativity is not the possession of some special talent, it is much more the ability to play.”
  • Mistakes ≈ growth & progress
  • Even if you’re an analytical person, you need to make a decision at some point. Get 80-85% of the info and take a shot. You’ll blow it now and then, BUT you also develop a momentum and a pace that gets to be exciting.
  • (Pollock) The only mistake is trying not to make a mistake, because it will create tension and emotion will tie you up every time. There is an enormous lunidity (IMG_0324, pg 4.5, bottom) about trusting the impulse. Must be capable of making a really big fool out of himself, otherwise original work gets done.
  • It is important to encourage dissent and embrace enor (IMG_0325, pg 5).
  • If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough.
  • There are lessons in everything, and if you are fully deployed, you will learn most of them. Experiences aren’t truly yours until you think about them, analyze them, examine them, question them, reflect on them and finally understand them. The point, once again, is to use your experiences rather than being used by them, to be the designer, not the design, so that experiences empower rather than imprison.
  • Summary:
  • Look back at childhood and adolescent experiences to understand how they shape you so you can shape your future.
  • Consciously seek experiences in the present that will improve and enlarge you.
  • Take risks as a matter of course, with the knowledge that failure is as vital as it is inevitable.
  • See the future as an opportunity NOT a test.
  • How do you seize the opportunity? First, you must use your instincts to sense it, and then follow the blessed impulse that arises.

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