Winter 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT3

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Strategies for Taking Charge


C. Stephen Scheneman
Extension Specialist-Professional Development
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - Blacksburg

Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985. 244 pp. $19.95 hardcover.

A major problem facing our nation, according to Bennis and Nanus, is that it's primarily comprised of organizations, public as well as private, that are "overmanaged" and "underled." Based on a series of 90 interviews with successful corporate presidents and board members, and leaders in the public sector, the authors conceptualize and advocate a new theory and style of leadership. The new leader, as defined early in the book, is one ". . . who commits people to action, who converts followers into leaders, and who may convert leaders into agents of change."

In their study, the authors found leaders in both the public and private sectors employing basically four strategies which set them apart from managers:

  1. Attention Through Vision: seek counsel from constituencies in creating a vision of the organization for the future, synthesize the information, and focus attention on the new vision.
  2. Meaning Through Communication: frequently articulate the new vision through meaningful images (metaphors, models, and symbols), policy statements, and institutional practices to gain the enthusiastic support of constituencies.
  3. Trust Through Positioning: build an atmosphere of trust within the organization by "staying the course" and persistently pursuing the new vision.
  4. Deployment of Self: set an example by developing individual strengths and accepting setbacks or mistakes as learning opportunities.

These strategies are considered by the authors to be essential in empowering and mobilizing human resources to direct organizational change towards a new vision.

Although the book seems to focus on "top leadership" within large organizations, this is somewhat misleading. In Leaders, Bennis and Nanus are inviting everyone, regardless of position title, to accept the challenge of effective leadership and in doing so empower others to "take charge" in directing organizational change. <