Up From T Groups


By Warren Bennis

Addison-Wesley x 238pp x $22.95

Few observers of American business have led lives as interesting as that of Warren Bennis. A professor at the University of Southern California's business school, this management guru has lived and experienced it all--from management's infatuation with T-groups way back in the 1950s to its more recent fascination with what makes for good leadership and how best to overhaul organizations to foster greater efficiency and responsiveness.

An Invented Life brings together some of Bennis' more engaging and provocative reflections. They range from his 1966 essay on "The Coming Death of Bureaucracy" published in IBM's in-house magazine (if only IBM's senior executives had read and absorbed his ideas) to his 1992 article on the virtues of federalism and its application to the corporate world.

The author writes: "I have been thinking about leadership almost as long as I have been thinking," and indeed, this absorbing collection shows that Bennis has been thinking hard and deep for many years. A good many of his reflections still ring true. These include the observations that Bennis made more than a decade ago on the crying need for more effective and more active corporate boards of directors.

To be sure, this book is filled with lessons yet to be learned. You'll clearly understand the difference between a manager and a leader and come to appreciate the difficulty of assuming the latter role. "A manager administers," writes Bennis, "the leader innovates; the manager maintains, the leader develops; the manager asks how and when, the leader asks what and why; the manager relies on control, the leader inspires trust."

In sum, this book is an entertaining read from a fascinating person. The blow-by-blow account of how Bennis was recruited and turned down for the presidency of Northwestern University in the 1970s offers a humorous peek at academic life. The autobiographical sketch that opens the book compellingly charts the life of a true thinker. No wonder Bennis is still worth reading and thinking about.

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