It takes Warren Bennis 480 pages to describe leadership, compare it to acting, and tie together the three pathways to becoming a great leader. Bennis, a UCLA management professor, has many stories to tell.
He points out that leaders have the ability to draw together a fragmented public, be it on the radio, television or in person.
Bennis quotes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as he says, “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” He cautions the reader not to assume these three paths get equal traffic.
Most leaders, he says, achieve greatness when a role requiring it is thrust upon them. Bennis compares leadership with show business again when he says actors and directors may feel a role is too big for them. It is a feeling many leaders are familiar with. But the leader’s leap into the unknown and accepting the risk of failure, is the first step in becoming great.
Like great actors, great leaders create and sell an alternative vision of the world, a better one in which we are an essential part. He says leadership may be “the greatest performing art of all, the only one that creates institutions of lasting value that can endure long after the stars who envisioned them have left the theater.”
The Essential Bennis by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ware Biederman, Jossey-Bass, 480 pages, April 2009.