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September 19, 2002
New Book Probes Why Some Individuals Become Leaders and Identifies the Forces that Shape Them

“Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders”

NEW YORK; Sept. 19, 2002 The findings of a comparative study of two very different age groups — one that grew up digital and one that came of age in the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II — were released today in a compelling new book entitled Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders.

Published by Harvard Business School Press, the book is the product of two years of extensive research by co-authors Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas. The authors interviewed 17 "geeks" — accomplished leaders between the ages of 21 and 35 — and 24 “geezers” — men and women between the ages of 70 and 93 who are still contributing significantly to professions, industries or society — to determine the processes the shaped them.

“We found much more than generational differences. We uncovered the powerful process by which leaders of any age actually come to be,” said Thomas, a senior research fellow with the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change. Accenture (NYSE:ACN) is the world’s leading management consulting and technology services organization.

Added Bennis: “The book reveals a compelling new model that predicts who is likely to become, and remain, a leader — and why. And these findings extend to factors that not only make a person a good leader but a successful, healthy, human being.” Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

The authors provide valuable insight into the era-based differences and similarities between these two groups — in their hopes and aspirations, in the importance they attach to making history versus making a living, career achievement versus work-life balance, and the relevance of heroes in their personal definition of what it means to be a leader.

The book defines a new model of leadership that features what the authors call “crucible experiences.” Every one of the 43 leaders interviewed for the book had at least one such life-transforming event.

“Whether uplifting or tragic, personal or professional — crucibles represent an opportunity and a test,” said Accenture’s Thomas. “They can help us determine who we really are and what we are capable of. They can make or break us. Those people whom they don’t break become leaders.” Some examples from the book:

  • Pioneering television journalist Mike Wallace’s crucible was the tragic death of his oldest son at 23 — a devastating event that ultimately gave him the courage to compete for his lifelong dream of working for a network.

  • Wall Street trailblazer Mickie Siebert’s crucible was the sexist arena of 1950s Wall Street — a place where she couldn’t even get a job as a stockbroker until she replaced her first name with a genderless initial on her resume. Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

  • Serial entrepreneur Michael Klein channeled his mentoring relationship with his grandfather into many successful New Economy ventures.

Bennis and Thomas’ study uncovered other compelling similarities among what they call “serial leaders” — people who lead again and again:

  • They have an amazing capacity to adapt to change

  • They are “first-class noticers,” able to size up situations and people in ways that help them make good choices and avoid pitfalls.

  • They are optimistic and resilient.

  • They display “neoteny,” a term borrowed from zoology that means a youthful curiosity, a passion for life, an insatiable appetite for knowledge and learning.

“We believe that Geeks & Geezers will change not only how people view leadership, but also the very way they learn and ultimately live their lives,” said Bennis.

Geeks & Geezers Web Site
Visit to listen to the first-person interviews with the leaders interviewed for the book.

About Accenture
Accenture is the world’s leading management consulting and technology services organization. Through its network of businesses approach -- in which the company enhances its consulting and outsourcing expertise through alliances, affiliated companies and other capabilities -- Accenture delivers innovations that help clients across all industries quickly realize their visions. With approximately 75,000 people in 47 countries, the company generated net revenues of US $11.44 billion for the fiscal year ended August 31, 2001. Its home page is

About Harvard Business School Press
Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard Business School Press is a division of Harvard Business School Publishing, a wholly-owned, not for profit subsidiary of Harvard University. HBS Press publishes for the general, professional, and academic markets on the topics of management, technology, marketing, strategy, and leadership. Recent national bestselling titles include Primal Leadership, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Leading Quietly, The Attention Economy, and The Art of Possibility. For more information, please visit the HBS Press website at