This Months Book Review
Thomas N. Neff and James M. Citrin’s Lessons from the Top
Reviewed by Eric Wm. Skopec, Ph.D

Times of social, political, and economic stress frequently call attention to the role of leaders, and the turmoil caused by the digitization of our economy is no exception. Thomas N. Neff and James M. Citrin’s Lessons from the Top (New York: A Currency Book, 1999) is a well-reasoned addition to the literature. Subtitled “the search for America’s best business leaders,” the book is the culmination of a study undertaken by the authors as an extension of their work at Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm.

The authors’ research strategy is one that will be familiar to most readers of contemporary and classic research on leadership: identify the best leaders, interview them to see what they think is important, analyze the accumulated, and summarize the results. While the procedure is familiar, the authors were more meticulous than others in applying “an objective and rigorous analytical process” to identify subjects for the study. The process included enumeration of ten criteria, as well as an extensive survey of business leaders conducted by the Gallup Organization, and financial analysis conducted by the investment management firm Lazard Asset Management, this, to identify executives responsible for outstanding corporate performance. In the end, Neff and Citrin selected a sample of 50 business leaders to which they added management guru, Peter Drucker.

Neff and Citrin’s exposition is clean, and their story unfolds in an orderly manner:

·         A three-chapter introduction explaining the authors’ purpose and methodology,

·         Brief profiles summarizing each leaders’ accomplishments and perspectives on leadership, and

·         A concluding synopsis of “lessons learned” containing a profile of Peter Drucker, a definition of leadership, and enumeration of traits common to the leaders profiled.

Readers seeking details regarding the methodology may also peruse the appendices, which reproduce the Gallup survey and the interview guide along with discussion of the financial analysis methodology used to identify the high-performing companies.

Much of the “meat” of the book is in the business leader profiles. Since the authors’ selection methodology incorporates corporate financial performance, the profiles are slightly biased toward high-tech industries, but most other industry groups are represented as well: transportation, fulfillment, hospitality, retail, natural resources, financial services, and basic manufacturing. Few of the leaders discussed themes that are not in print elsewhere—in fact, some assembled copies of previously delivered speeches for the authors, but the profiles are interesting summaries of materials that might otherwise require extended digging. I particularly enjoyed the profiles of Mike Armstrong (AT&T), John Chambers (Cisco Systems), and Howard Schultz (Starbucks), but there is literally something for everybody in the book.

Throughout, the volume is well written and the authors are careful to avoid drawing inferences beyond those warranted by their research. Significantly, many of the leaders interviewed appear to be voicing generally accepted wisdom about leadership, and there are few surprises in either the definition of leadership or in the core principles. Betraying the authors’ intellectual debt to Warren Bennis, leadership is defined as “doing the right things right.” Six core principles are enumerated:

1.        Live with integrity and lead by example

2.        Develop a winning strategy or “big idea”

3.        Build a great management team

4.        Inspire employees to achieve greatness

5.        Create a flexible, responsive organization

6.        Tie it all together with reinforcing management and compensation systems

Although the final chapter is titled “Common Traits: A Prescription for Success in Business,” readers searching for quick fixes are likely to be disappointed. As the authors themselves note, “Different kinds of leaders and leadership styles are appropriate for different circumstances. …[and] there is no single right answer to copy, no one formula to follow.” As a result, the concluding list of common traits is particularly vapid:

1.        Passion

2.        Intelligence and clarity of thinking

3.        Great communication skills

4.        High energy level

5.        Egos in check

6.        Inner peace

7.        Capitalizing on formative early life experiences

8.        Strong family lives

9.        Positive attitude

10.     Focus on “doing the right things right”

While there is little new on the list, it is nevertheless an agreeable cluster to which we might all aspire. Moreover, the book as a whole is engaging reading and a ready source of information about contemporary business leaders and leadership.

Reviewed by Eric Wm. Skopec, Ph.D., Regional Director of Business and Management at Learning Tree University.

Dr. Skopec is responsible for developing and managing LTU’s business programs including the ground breaking E-Marketing certificate and the widely respected Project Management program. He has written nine books including Everything’s Negotiable (AMACOM, 1994), The Practical Executive and Team Building (NTC Business Books, 1997), and The Global Telecommunications Revolution (Irwin/McGraw-Hill, forthcoming). His email address is ERIC@LTU.ORG .

Learning Tree University has campuses in Chatsworth, Thousand Oaks, and Irvine, California, and selected courses are available online. For further information, please visit WWW.LTU.ORG .

BizNet Magazine Supports:
Because It's The Right Thing To Do.

If You Entered This Page Through a Search Engine Or Any Other Framed Website Click Here To ReturnTo BizNet Online Magazine

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 1997 ~BizNet OnLine Magazine
Last modified: November 08, 2002