Saturday, 1 September 2012

A life in learning , curiosity and leadership



 "Love in the time of Cholera" by  Gabriel Garcia Marquez  tells us about  the enduring power of true love, that the need to love and be loved stays with human beings till they die .Now Warren Bennis, 85,  tells that  wonder and  curiosity stays with us  till we die ."I see the world with the same wide eyed  wonder because every thing is different than it was 25 years ago.Or 50.Or 75.I can't wait to find out what happens next .Every day I look around , and I'm still surprised." The most fortunate old people don't lose the curiosity , energy , playfulness and joy they had when they were young .
I first  knew about Warren Bennis  when Stephen Covey quoted  him in the "Seven Habits of Effective People".I quote:"In the words of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis,"Management is doing things right;leadership is doing the right things"(Page 101;The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:Simon & Schuster, Great Britain , 1992 edition).If you dont know who Warren Bennis is and why he is famous , this book "Still Surprised:A Memoir of a Life in Leadership" by Warren Bennis with Patricia Ward Biederman,will tell you .It tells how a leader grows and struggles , continues to learn and maintains optimism .His memoir is uplifting .The book was published by Jossey- Bass, a Wiley Imprint in 2010 and has 236 pages and 9 chapters.                   
                     Reading Still Surprised, you learn not only about leadership but also about yourself.You will admire and respect him .
  Warren Bennis  had a good stay in India:"In 1964 , I was asked to become co-director of Indian Institute of Management , Calcutta. . . . That year Erik Erikson was in India on sabbatical from Harvard, working on his "Gandhi's Truth", which later won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award.Erik spent a good deal of time at IIM Ahmadabad which is close to Gandhi's birth place  of Porbandar."
               If Peter Drucker was the father of management , Warren Bennis is the father of leadership."In my bones, I knew how important leadership was and is.The very quality of our lives depends on it .We need and seek honest , competent leaders in every area of our lives-government , the work place, social organizations , schools."Leaders are needed in all fields -social , cultural , business as well as political .
Bennis was born on March 5, 1925 and grew up in Westwood ,NJ.Douglas McGregor(of The Human Side of Enterprise fame) was his mentor till McGregor's early and sudden death in 1964 .Bennis  says about mentors:"The mentor puts his or her reputation on line with every good word dropped about the mentored to people in power, every recommendation made..In that sense , mentoring is an act of faith."Doug was 44 and Bennis was 23 when Doug became his mentor.He remained his mentor for about 14 years till his sudden death in 1964...Bennis has a great quality of mentoring others."Today I urge students to identify great teachers , with great minds and sign up their courses.But at Antioch , I tended to choose courses in which I was certain to get an A".This remind us how we chose our subjects of study at university level.Bennis gives us a glimpse of how other great minds worked ."As he(Doug) said in his fairwell speech, he had tried to be non-authoritarian adviser to his campus constituents but had discovered in the end that the leader must lead:"I finally began to realize that a leader cannot avoid the exercise of authority any more than he can avoid responsibility for what happens to his organization."
                     Bennis worked with NTL(National Training Laboratory) founder Kurt Levin and Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Human Needs).  Bennis worked as the president of The state University of New York at Buffalo , the University of Cincinnati , the University of Southern California.He also worked at IIM, Calcutta (India) , Boston and Harvard.
               At the age of 55, as a professor of business administration and chairman of Leadership Institute at the university of California in Los Angeles , he wrote a  number of landmark books.The themes were"the nature of leadership , the importance of creative collaboration , how organizations and other groups work, how to effect change, the need to reinvent oneself periodically and how to create cultures of candor ."His first book "The Planning of Change" was published in 1961 and is remembered for popularizing the term"change agent"."Leaders:Strategies for Taking charge" was coauthored by Burt Nanus and was published in 1985."On Becoming Leader" was published in 1989 ande became a best-seller ."Organizing Genius:The Secrets of Creative Collaboration" was coauthored by Pat Ward Briederman., "Geeks and Geezers"(2002) coauthored by Robert Thomas, "In Judgment(2007) , coauthored by Noel Tichy,"Transparency:How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor"(2008) coauthored by  Jim O' Toole, Dan Goleman , "The Essential Bennis:Essays on Leadership(2009)  coauthored by  Patricia Ward  Biederman."Still Surprised" is his 30th book.
                   Bennis attributes his success to hard work:"And all you did was work hard , get lucky and stay alive."
                   Bennis had a series of not so happy relationships and marriages , which indicates that he is an imperfect human being .
               The book explains how Bennis chose to be a writer."It was heady stuff that convinced me writing was something I would be doing more of."
Bennis stresses the importance of his habit of reflection ."Analysis (psycho-analysis) had changed me in a fundamental way .It had given me a great gift , the habit of reflection ."
                     He points out  the bias against women in management world:"MIT's Sloan School of Management didn't accept its first woman student until 1966.Columbia didn't accept women undergraduates until 1982."
              He feels that there is a strong relationship between proximity and power.;"Proximity leads to access, which leads to power.To have a seat at the table, you first have to be in the room ."(I have my strong doubts on this , from my experience.)
                      As President of the University of Cincinnati, "I decided to open my office for three hours every Wednesday afternoon to anyone on campus who wanted to see . . .I decided after a few years to end them.They were a fascinating but inefficient way to get things done."
                     "We know something about time that younger people don't.It is finite.That makes every good moment that much more precious.And we are no longer the driven strivers  we once were." "I resist the urge to advise others on how to manage their lives , including coping with age."'Because my workplace is a campus, I spend time almost every day with students young enough to be my grand children".
               Warren Bennis is a self made leader who redefined leadership and made it a house hold word and concept .His memoir  tells us  that life is full of insights , inspiration , hard work and pure wonder .I have enjoyed reading this book .It has reconfirmed many of my beliefs and impressions about life and leadership .I recommend you to read it .