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Book it: best bets for board reading: from a roundup of new books, insights on conversation skills, situational awareness, CEO shareholder letters, creating greatness ... and doing your spring cleaning.

Blueprint for greatness

From What It Takes by Charles D. Ellis. Copyright [c] 2013 by the author. Published by John Wiley 6-Sons Inc. (

WHAT IT TAKES is the story of what sets the great professional firms--the best firms, the acknowledged leaders in their industries--apart from all the rest. It is a blueprint for creating, building, and sustaining great organizations of all kinds.

To identify firms to include, I asked almost every firm leader I met three questions: At which firm in your industry would you most like to spend your career? Which firm would the most discerning clients like to use to handle their toughest challenges? And which firm's success is most durable, even as its leaders turn over or its environment changes?

Remarkably, there was a clear consensus in each of five fields. The outstanding leaders are McKinsey in consulting, Cravath, Swaine & Moore in law, Capital Group in investment management, the Mayo Clinic in health care, and Goldman Sachs in investment banking.

At the outset, I expected to find major differences from one field to another. But surprisingly, the essential lessons those firms teach are few and nearly identical. Olympic athletes supply a good simile. While they see themselves as obviously separate--"he's a pole-vaulter; she's a swimmer; he's a downhill skier, and I run the 440"--the gold medalists are essentially the same: superb athletes with unusual heart and lung capacity, and in great physical condition. They are highly disciplined, voracious competitors willing to spend unconscionable hours mastering every technique of their event.

So it is with the great firms and the superior people who create and maintain them.

Charles D. Ellis was for three decades managing partner of Greenwich Associates, the international business strategy consulting firm that he founded in 1972.

'Poor Dave ... we had high hopes for him'

From Leadership Conversations by Alan S. Berson and Richard G Stieglitz. Copyright [c] 2013 by Leadership Conversations LLC. Published by Jossey-Bass (

MOST HIGH POTENTIALS are derailed not by things they know they need to learn but rather by things they did not even realize had changed. What new challenges do you face when you climb the leadership ladder? How must you think differently? What new actions must you take? The answers to these questions are the difference between success and failure. What we want you to avoid hearing or saying is "Poor Dave, we thought he could handle more responsibility. But it looks like he just doesn't have what it takes to be a leader. His reputation may never recover from this disaster. That's unfortunate because we had high hopes for him."

As they rise in an organization, high-potential executives must integrate management and leadership skills in successively more accomplished ways. The new challenges require leadership conversation skills that few executives instinctively possess and that are only now beginning to be taught in the top MBA and executive training programs.

Alan S. Berson is an executive coach, leadership consultant, speaker, and professor. He is a learning director at Wharton Executive Education. Richard G. Stieglitz is a business consultant and speaker who publishes a monthly leadership e-letter. The book's website is

Have you done your spring cleaning?

From Take Two and Call Me in the Morning by Gerry Czarnecki. Copyright [c] 2013 by the author. Published by Milton Rae Press, an imprint of Morgan James Publishing (

MY LEADERSHIP and strategy consulting, as well as board governance activities, keep me on airplanes a great deal throughout the year. In a two-week period, I may be in 10 different cities and airports, allowing me to witness how the seasons affect people in a variety of regions and climates.

In most of North America, the end of winter elicits a sense of relief that the cold and weather-related inconveniences have passed, and that the reawakening of spring has brought with it a fresh start. "Spring fever" has almost always meant a desire to be outdoors and enjoy the freedom that good weather offers; but "spring cleaning" has always meant that with the passing of the dirty (sometimes dismal) season comes the need to clean the house until it too is fresh. In many ways, these two rites of the season can serve as a metaphor for us as well: it's time for spring fever to refresh our minds and spring cleaning to refresh our goals.

If you really believe that it is your responsibility as a leader to help others succeed, then you must do the spring cleaning on yourself Make certain that you still have stretch goals. Make certain that you are in a job that both matches your skills and challenges you to grow. Look at your own development plans and make certain that you have not slipped in your resolve to take the next step in your formal education, or perhaps finish your next degree. Look at your performance on the job and assure yourself that you have not fallen into the path of least resistance, rather than constantly seeking to improve your performance. And lastly, make certain that you reward your professional successes with the opportunity to fulfill those desires to enrich either your own life, or that of the people most important to you.

Finally, remember that all the gifts you have from your hard, work can do wonders to help some of those who have been less fortunate and faced serious life tragedies.

Gerald M. Czarnecki is chairman and CEO of The Deltennium Group Inc., a firm that offers consulting and training in leadership development and organizational effectiveness ( He has held several CFO, COO, and CEO roles during his career and has been a director of a number of private and public companies.

Being well-versed at 'situational awareness'

From Corporate Governance: Principles and Practices (Second Edition) by Walter A. Effross. Copyright [c] 2013 by CCH Incorporated. Published by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business (

THE MYRIAD RULES of corporate governance are themselves constantly evolving. New federal and state statutes, regulations, and court decisions are issued, and prior ones amended; stock exchange listing requirements are updated; and industry groups, activist investors, and other commentators generate and revise lists of "best practices." Meanwhile, corporate scandals and financial crisis focus public sentiment against, and legislators attention on, new types of perceived abuses; and resulting legislation invites critical commentary.

The resulting requirements, regulations, and recommendations sometimes overlap, often remain ambiguous, and regularly invite courts to assess the reasonableness and fairness of a director's or officer's conduct.

In helping clients safely navigate through these complexities and uncertainties, lawyers must continually anticipate problems that could arise, and determine how they might be prevented or resolved. Counsel for corporations, boards, directors, officers, or shareholders thus practice what Secret Service agents call, in a much different context, "situational awareness": that is, "thinking of the many things that could go wrong, and what you would do if one of those things happened."

Walter A. Effross is professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, where he teaches courses in corporate governance, corporate bankruptcy, e-commerce law and other subjects (

An important indicator of shareholder value

From Investing Between the Lines by L.J. Rittenhouse. Copyright [c] 2013 by the author. Published by McGraw-Hill (

WHEN JOURNALISTS LEARN it is possible to search for meaning in CEOs' shareholder letters--the ones found in company annual reports--they laugh, or worse, they complain the letters are full of lies. They don't expect to find meaningful disclosures. Once, while interviewing me on CNN, anchor Daryn Kagan confessed that she threw out stacks of unread annual reports each spring. She asked, "Why bother reading them?"

Anyone looking for information in shareholder letters knows how difficult this can be. Many are littered with jargon and platitudes. But when investors tell me they can't understand what a CEO is trying to say, they have already gained vital information. If the communication doesn't make sense or is full of spin, ask yourself: Does the CEO not understand the business, or is he hiding something? Did the board of directors and the executive team read the letter? If so, why didn't anyone tell the CEO it needed a critical review?

If investors cannot make sense of this communication, why would they trust the corporate leadership, let along the company's accounting numbers?

Shareholder letters can reveal a CEO's underlying motivations. If the primary goal is to promote the company without informing or educating investors about the business, expect fluff, not facts. The ratio of facts to fluff is an important indicator of financial integrity and shareholder value.

L.J. Rittenhouse is president of Rittenhouse Rankings Inc., a strategic and investor relations company (

The new kid meets the legend

From Nature's Fortune by Mark R. Tercek and Jonathan S. Adorns. Copyright [c] 2013 by the authors. Published by Basic Books (

WHAT IS AN INVESTMENT BANKER DOING trying to save nature? At one of my first big events after I joined The Nature Conservancy (TNC), I was in a room filled with giants in the field--environmental thought leaders, major philanthropists, and leaders of other conservation organizations.

One guest in particular stood out from the crowd: a gentleman in his nineties, still fit and sharp. His manners were impeccable, even courtly, yet he was also clearly not a man to trifle with. Something about him said, "Don't waste my time."

I quickly realized that this must be Russell E. Train, a legend in the conservation movement: second administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, first chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and founding director of the World Wildlife Fund. I was the new kid on the block, and I was way out of my league.

"Who are you?" Mr. Train said, gruffly, but not unkindly. I explained that I was the new president and CEO of TNC and added some details about my Wall Street background.

He was unimpressed. "How did you get from Wall Street to become the head of the TNC?"

I fumbled for the right words but did not find them. We moved on to other topics. Russell Train passed away while I was writing this book. Here is what I wish I had told him.

Mark R. Tercek is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. He previously was a managing director at Goldman Sachs and played a key role in developing the firm's environmental strategy. Jonathan S. Adams is a science writer and conservation biologist.

Edited by James Kristie. Excerpts printed with permission of the publishers. All rights reserved.
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Author:Kristie, James
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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