An Invented Life

Though he has authored several books on leadership, Warren Bennis might be best known as a prolific essayist on the topic. In AN INVENTED LIFE, he brings together nearly twenty of his shorter writings, most of which appeared in prestigious scholarly and popular publications during the author’s forty-year career. Leading off with a brief autobiographical account of his own odyssey through the ranks of academe, Bennis deals frankly with successes and failures (including his own) in an attempt to define leadership and examine the most important qualities leaders need to survive and succeed in the rapidly changing climate of American society. One learns that modern leaders cannot simply be visionary; they must be able to articulate their vision in a way that followers will accept it. They must also be men and women of high energy and equally high integrity. They must be able to speak, but they must have an even greater capacity to listen.

From these essays there emerges a portrait of America’s business world: rapidly changing, technologically dependent, global, demanding greater flexibility and less bureaucracy. Especially interesting are the “futurist” essays in which Bennis predicts what America and its business community would look like in the coming years. Written decades before they were collected in AN INVENTED LIFE, these articles reveal how penetrating is Bennis’s insight. It is easy to chuckle over the few wrong predictions, but it is impossible not to recognize how amazingly accurate Bennis has been not only in his assessment of leadership but also in his understanding of business and politics.

Fans of Bennis’s common-sense view of leadership and his jargon-free down-home writing style will be thrilled to find some of the author’s best essays collected in this volume. As one might expect with such a collection, a certain degree of repetition is present; Bennis admits as much. Nevertheless, what these repeated observations may prove is that if one has a good idea, it is impossible to stress it too often.