On Becoming a Leader

On Becoming a Leader

Author: Warren Bennis


Leadership is important in all spheres of life and this book excellently captures its essence and describes its attributes. The book reflects the author’s extensive study of great leaders such as Martin Luther, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, and lesser known personalities such as Anne Bryant, Horace Deets, and Brooke Knapp.

"Leader123" by Sudosurootdev - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Leader123” by SudosurootdevOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The book explores how great leaders attain the  qualities of good leadership. The author approaches leadership in terms of self-expression saying ‘…becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself’ (page xxxvii). He argues that leaders ‘…have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding interest in expressing themselves’ (page xxxiii). The author discussed how great leaders go through the ‘the crucible of leadership‘, the tough transformational process which nurtures great leaders: ‘whatever is thrown at them, leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken’ (page xxiv).

"3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept" by lumaxart - [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept” by lumaxart – [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The author detailed the wide variety of characteristics and competencies that define good leaders. These include vision, integrity, passion, curiosity, and daring (pages 33-35). He explored the capacity of leaders to learn from adversity and mistakes saying leaders ‘… not only believe in the necessity of mistakes, they see them as virtually synonymous with growth and progress’ (page 89). The book stressed the importance of some traits such as the capacity for self-knowledge and self-invention, and downplayed the significance of conventional schooling and leadership courses (page 36).

Whilst the author lists several common attributes of great leaders, he emphasised that there is no stereotype of what a leader looks like. He says ‘…leaders come in every size, shape, and disposition’ (page 33). He argued that everyone has the capacity to become a leader saying ‘…leaders are made, not born, and made more by themselves than by external means’ (page xxxiii). He assures that ‘…each of us contains the capacity for leadership’ (page xxxi).

The book refutes several misconceptions about leadership. For instance he debunks the myth of the heroic leader saying ‘… the days when a single individual, however gifted, can solve our problems are long gone’ (page xxvi). He dismisses the widespread assumption that financial incentives encourage better leadership saying ‘…money is more often an obstacle to creative work than an incentive’. He says ‘…more modestly paid leaders might be able to concentrate more fully on the intrinsic rewards of doing good work’ (page xix). He underplayed the importance of features such as charisma (page 147), and stressed the importance of others such as empathy and emotional intelligence (page 148).

"Leader123" by Sudosurootdev - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Leader123” by SudosurootdevOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This book exhaustively discusses all aspects of leadership and uses several illustrative examples to do this. The author has an easy writing style that belies how much research has gone into the book. He quoted liberally from several excellent leadership books and from the leaders he has studied. Although he stresses the importance of collaborative leadership, it is hard to get away from the emphasis he places on personal leadership skills. The book focusses almost entirely on American leaders and big corporations but the principles he advocates are universal.


The author has explored all facets of leadership, highlighting its attainment and challenges. The lessons expounded in this book are invaluable for doctors who require leadership skills in their professional, academic and administrative lives. I highly recommend it.

  • Publisher, place, date: Basic Books, New York, 1989
  • Number of chapters: 10
  • Number of pages: 254
  • ISBN: 978-0-465-01408-8
  • Price: £2.77
  • Star rating: 5


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