My mother, Louise Antoinette Finch, passed away last month just two and half months shy of her 100th birthday. She is survived by all six of her sons and one daughter. As an older brother gave a eulogy and the priest gave a homily about my mother and what she represented spiritually, I ruminated about her legacy and the impact of her teachings. Although we are far from perfect as individuals and have had our own share of ups and downs, and some of the siblings may be viewed as more materially successful than other siblings, she obtained the same result from each of her children: all finished college and graduate or University_hatprofessional school. How did she do that? She had a few maxims to live by that she drilled into us. These aphorisms would benefit anyone (executive, professional, and others) seeking to get a leg up in life. I share five of the most salient ones below:

1. When you start something, whether it is a project, a task, a job, an extracurricular activity, or a degree program, you must complete it. My mother abhorred quitters and lack of follow through. She correctly knew that the lack of follow through was a serious impediment to success. So despite unfair teachers, mean camp counselors, arbitrary coaches or a tedious activity, we had to finish whatever program we started. To this day, my siblings and I talk about the little voice in our heads, when times got tough in medical, graduate or law school or in a demanding job, that repeated the mantra: “When you start something, you must finish it.”

2. When we complained of being sick, whether severely or lightly, real or imagined, my mother would say, “Get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your clothes, eat some breakfast, go to school, and, if you are still feeling lousy, then call me.” By the time we did all those things, our ailments seem to Smile Face with Colddisappear or become sufficiently mitigated that we forgot that we were physically or psychologically under the weather. This was her ways of saying a) have a strong work ethic, b) “show up” to where you are supposed to be, and c) adjust your attitude. This anti-slacker and anti-lazy approach again carried me and my siblings through many a school and work day.

3. Surround yourself with quality people and people of integrity. Your friends and peers will make or break you and you will be judged by the company you keep. I think of the hyper academic high school that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend; the super intellectual students forced me to up my game and pull myself up from the mud of mediocrity. Counterintuitively, I did not find the competitive atmosphere intimidating because it actually inspired and stimulated me. My siblings and I have never gotten into serious trouble or arrested because our friends are sensible and have a lot of impulse control.HandcuffsMany a prison inmate laments associating with the “wrong crowd” or corrupting friend that landed him in jail.  In short, choose your friends, associates and peers very carefully.

4. Don’t lie or cheat. Being an honest person meant a lot to my mother. A person of character was the benchmark by which my mother evaluated people. She had an expression, “Pretty is, is as pretty does.” A variant was “Pretty on the inside is more important than being pretty on the outside.”

5. Lastly, my mother was a big one in standing up for yourself when another is perpetrating a wrong upon you or a family member or trying to diminish you or a family member. Mom taught us not to look for fights but not to allow ourselves to be victims. She led by example and did not wait around for my father to get home to go address an injustice at any level or push us out the door to face a bully.Boxing_glovesShe made it clear that this attitude and posture must be based on our position being legitimate and righteous as well as our being without fault.


Often times you do not have to travel far to learn self-evident truths; they can be found within the four Home-clipartwalls of your own upbringing without ever stepping outside your own front door. I hear my mother’s voice as I counsel my young daughter and young son about how to stand up to bullies and admonish them to finish their activities.



We know that it is important that an executive have good speaking skills whether it is one-on-one conversation, small group discussions or large meetings.  An executive must know how to make small talk as well as know how to give presentations.

What about writing?  Is your writing up to snuff?  Whether it is a note, memo, letter or lengthy report, and, especially a resume, your writing cannot be filled with misspellings, poor punctuation, bad grammar, or inappropriate use of vocabulary.  It leaves a poor impression and people will judge you, even if they themselves do not know the difference between “its” and “it’s.”Business Woman with laptop

An executive need not be a Pulitzer Prize winner, but she must write effectively and in an educated manner notwithstanding the declining writing standards in texts, tweets, emails, and posts.  Her using the vernacular and improper grammar simply will not do.

Unfortunately, thorough training in writing can be missing in one’s high school, college, and graduate school training.  The level of writing skills is very uneven.  For many educated people, they must teach themselves punctuation and grammar.  As there are plenty of good books and articles available on grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, this article will focus only on providing some practical guides to have in mind when writing for business.

There are many elements of effective business and professional writing.  Here are a few to start:

  1. Generally, shorter sentences are better than longer sentences; sometimes a complex thought requires a complex sentence.
  2. Shorter paragraphs are better than longer ones.
  3. The fewer pages you can make a document without omitting critical information, the better.
  4. An active voice is more powerful than a passive voice; sometimes a passive voice just sounds better.
  5. Simpler words are better than complicated words, e.g. “walk” is better than “ambulate.”
  6. The fewer adjectives in your writing, the better, as the facts should be compelling enough for both writer and reader to form conclusions and recommendations.
  7. You should make sure you know how to use a word, e.g., when something is funny, it is “hilarious” and not “hysterical.”
  8. For long documents, your using headings and sub-headings will help guide the reader and break up dense writing.
  9. It is best to state your proposition or request at the beginning and then follow with arguments and evidence to support your proposition or request.
  10. If you have compelling data, use charts and graphs to illustrate your points as many people are visual learners.
  11. Triple check your numerical calculations and data; faulty numbers and simple numerical mistakes will destroy the credibility of your piece; a lack of attention to detail could be seen as a red flag of your possible sloppy habits and thinking.
  12. You should double-check to spell correctly a person’s or organization’s name  or place-name as people are sensitive about their names, affiliations, hometowns, or countries; and, again,  inattention to detail lowers the reader’s confidence in the writer.
  13. Never totally rely on word processing spell check as it cannot tell the difference between correctly spelled but wrong words like “to” and “too” or “be” and “bee” or “of” and “or.”
  14. Whether it is a four-sentence letter or a 30-page document, read it with a ruler at least three times and have someone else proof read it too; if you have the time, set the document aside a few days before doing a final proof read.
  15. Unless you are a novelist, poet, screenwriter, or playwright writing in those respective genres, do not use profanity, crude words, or off-color references in your business or professional writing.typing
  16. In formal writing, it is better to write out words fully and not use contractions like “can’t” and “don’t,”   because it adds a certain solemnity to the communication and shows respect for your audience.

As an executive or professional you are presumed to be educated, and your bosses, colleagues, clients, customers, and patients expect that you know how to write well.  You do not want to disappoint them.

Oh, and by the way – the only way to improve your writing is by writing.  Like anything else, practice makes perfect.


G. A. Finch interviews Ronald E. Daly, a former President & CEO of Oce USA Holdings, former President of Donnelley Print Solutions, and a member of corporate boards of directors of US Cellular and SuperValu.

Ronald E.  Daly

Ronald E. Daly

FINCH: For our readers’ context and benefit, you and I have had opportunities to discuss leadership values and insights from our being alums of Leadership Greater Chicago Fellowship program and our both advising Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on policy matters as members of her kitchen cabinet. In these two fora, we have had an opportunity to discuss leadership issues in-depth. One of the things that I learned from you was the concept of initiating radical change to save or right an organization and you have referred to the “burning platform” change strategy that forward business thought leaders have utilized. As you first recounted and as I have since researched its genesis, the “burning platform” metaphor comes from an oil rig worker having to decide to either stay on a burning oil rig and definitely die, or jump into the freezing, flaming-detritus-filled ocean and have a very high likelihood of dying. Either prospect carried a catastrophic risk, but the jump had the slight possibility of prolonged survival.

Oil Rig Explosion

Oil Rig Explosion

This metaphor has been used to capsulize a leader’s dilemma of effecting radical change for the benefit of the business or organization. I know you are a fan of John Kotter’s Change Model. Kotter’s recommendation to create a sense of urgency concerning the necessity of change is akin to the burning platform impetus for radical change. What do you find compelling in Kotter’s change model and why?

DALY: I like Kotter because he is very upfront about the difficulty of achieving transformational change. He advocates a process for attacking any change initiative. He then goes ahead and provides a process. When implementing change there will be forces that stand in the way of success. The major force will be people who object because of fear, comfort with the status quo, or a belief that this, like all prior initiatives, will pass. To get the ball rolling you have to illustrate why your changed state is better than the status quo or that the current state is unsustainable. This is why you start with the burning platform. By the way I like your explanation of the burning platform better than the one I have been using.

FINCH: Have you had to confront your own mega or mini version of burning platforms in organizations in which you played a leadership role and what did you do to effect change?

DALY: Absolutely. I push Kotter as a method to use because I have had success with it. I spent most of my career in the printing business at R R Donnelley. The year I became president of the Telecom Group (1995), my group, like the rest of Donnelley was faced with increasing competition, unstable commodity prices, rapidly changing technology and customers aggressively seeking lower prices. I had an additional hurdle. Our board of directors had decided that Telecom was the most likely business to expand internationally. My boss let me know that I was expected to achieve this expansion without degrading profits from my US business. To finance international growth I had to find a way to make more profit.

From a cultural standpoint Donnelley had a huge problem stemming from internal competition. For a very long time Donnelley had no external competition of our size and scale. The leaders of the business had set up internal competition between printing plants. The objective was to beat the other plants in efficiency so that your operation would be the best place for the sales force to bring sold work. CompetitionthThis competition led to open hostility inside and a lack of attention to what outside competition was doing. Plants were very adept at using different accounting methods to measure throughput so comparisons were difficult. Sharing best practices was a no-no. This had to change.

Over the next five years we were able to implement a new business model. We moved from the focus on being the low-cost provider. This model had us lower costs so we could compete with lower prices. We moved to a model of customer intimacy. This model steered us toward being a solutions provider. In doing so we had to learn so much about our customers that we probably knew more about them than they knew about themselves. In achieving this we became the industry thought leader. We used our knowledge and technology from other Donnelley printing markets to bring new revenue generating products to our customers. Becoming a part of our customer’s revenue equation took pressure off prices we were paid as we got a premium over competition.

On the cost side we shed the ideas that printing was a craft and not a science. Over the next five years we instituted statistical process control, multi variable testing, six sigma and 5S. We saw efficiency improve greatly and quality take huge leaps forward. We put in processes to stabilize our earnings. We developed a common dictionary and implemented activity-based costing that made comparisons and sharing easier.

Business ChartWe used quarterly business reviews, monthly conference calls and yearly leadership conferences to work the communications and cultural side of this change effort. We did lots of round tables to bring employees into the loop. We used a process called OGSM to cascade high-level objectives to the lowest levels of the organization so that every employee knew their role in achieving our goal.

The market knowledge we had allowed us to become intimate with international publishers thirsty for ideas to grow their businesses. We were not a threat as were U S publishers trying to take market share from them. We helped them and we signed contracts to print for them. Being the low price supplier wasn’t what they wanted from us.

Over my seven years in Telecom, we became the most profitable of all the Donnelley printing businesses, we more than doubled the size of the business globally, we were the most efficient directory printer in the world and we were the market leader on four continents. Kotter’s model was instrumental in achieving this.

FINCH: What three things would you advise a brand new CEO beginning his tenure at a different company?


1. Do your best to understand the culture. Culture eats strategy for lunch. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue your strategy but you need to understand the cultural hurdles you face. Then use Kotter.

2. Do a thorough assessment of your management team. You cannot achieve your goals without the proper support and talent.

3. Realize that saying something doesn’t make it so. Too many leaders issue an edict and expect people to fall in line. They don’t, so you must be prepared to be a driver in achieving your goals.Bossth

FINCH: What challenges are different for CEOs in 2014 that were not present ten or even five years ago?

DALY: The concept of maximum shareholder value and activist shareholders are more brutal today than ten years ago. International competition continues to intensify. A problem that concerns me most is the inability of our educational systems to produce adequate human capital to fill the jobs of the future.

FINCH: If you could go back in time to visit your 25-year old self, what one piece of career advice would you give?

DALY: I have been pretty consistent in saying that if you expect your company to invest in you; you must be willing to invest in yourself. I spent eight of ten years in the 1970’s going to night school to achieve an AA, BA and MBA. This helped me move from the factory floor to the executive suite.

If I were to give a second piece of advice it would be, “if you want to influence a culture, you must be a part of that culture.”

FINCH: Do you think American graduate business schools are sufficiently training students to be effective and innovative executives and leaders? What could B-schools be doing better?

DALY: I do not. We do a great job of preparing them to do a job but not necessarily to think. I think more focus on subjects outside of the major would be beneficial for students to have a larger worldview. I would like to see more focus on critical thinking embedded in course work along with more research work and written exams.

FINCH: You have been President and/or CEO of companies and on the boards of directors of two major companies. Are personal relationships and executive search firms the only paths to a corporate board directorship? If so, what can be done to broaden the pool of qualified candidates who are not the “usual suspects” coming from a certain background or gender.Board RoomthCAUQCDTM

DALY: You have nailed it. Boards still rely on relationships and search firms. Too many boards simply look to the usual suspects to find the person to fill the next opening. As much as there is talk about diversity, boards still look for people who look like the ones they have. These new ads may be female or minority but they are very much like the existing members or they won’t be chosen. An alternative place to look may be organizations like Leadership Greater Chicago. This would require a change in focus for LGC however.

FINCH: Finally, when you were a CEO and as a member of corporate boards of directors, what have you observed to be the best way to identify and develop executive talent within an organization?

DALY: The best way is to have a process that evaluates internal talent. The results of this process must be on the radar for every top executive and should be reviewed by the board at least annually. The process should provide development plans for those leaders that are viewed as having upward potential. Development plans should exist for those who are not on a fast track but are deemed essential to managing the enterprise. Finally those who are not deemed essential, nor on a fast track should be given improvement programs. If no improvement, then they should be removed from the organization. Evaluations should be calibrated so a high potential is really of high potential and not listed as such because of an easy rating boss or a personal relationship.

Copyright © 2014 by G. A. Finch. All rights reserved.


By G. A. Finch

This post is the last article, in a series of four, pertaining to salutary habits that contribute to resilience.

Social networks are key to well being. Do you have friends? Do you have a family that is both accessible and supportive? Do you have groups to which you belong and in which you participate? Human beings are social creatures who evolved and survived well because of their social organizing instincts that provided protection, hunting, food gathering and cultivation, division of labor, and trade, among so many other things.

Grandma Finch and Daisy June 2010  # 2My soon to be 99 year-old mother is a club lady. All of her adult life she has been a joiner of social and civic clubs, has lots of friends, and is devoted to her family. In return, her friends, club members, and family have been devoted to her. She is cheerful, strong and tenacious. She embodies resilience.

I get my “joiner” and “civic” genes from my mother. I guess I am a club guy (no, not the bar kind). I am a member of three men’s clubs: a church one, a social one, and a professional fraternity. I have also sat on several boards and commissions and volunteer a lot.

What I have found is that, like my mother, I get strength and energy from my social networks. The time I spend in my clubs and civic activities uplifts me, gives me energy and relaxes me. If you are socializing or serving others, you do not have much time to brood or feel sorry forMFrat_logo yourself. In fact, friendship, family, and civic ties armor you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare). No matter what the real or imagined slights, setbacks, failures, or mistakes that befall you, they all become much more manageable when you have a strong social network. Your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family provide the empathy, encouragement, support, and suggestions to propel you through the invariable ups and downs of your life.

Whenever there is a death of a neighbor’s loved one, my neighborhood erupts in an outpouring of emotional and practical support. The bereaved family does not have to cook for a couple of weeks. It is a beautiful thing to see. It is that kind of social network that enhances resilience.17045-hispanic-women-preparing-food-pv

Selective solitude can be extremely satisfying and sometimes necessary. A sustained state of being alone without meaningful social ties can be harmful.

Strong social support networks contribute to good health and longevity. Dynamic, effective leaders are social and have extensive networks.

Have you taken stock of your network lately? Do you tend to your nuclear and/or extended family, keep up with your friends, and engage with others in your community? It is never too late to start. A smile, a hello, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves are all you need to tap into the social being you are meant to be.


Copyright © 2013 by G. A. Finch, All rights reserved.


By G. A. Finch

This article is the third, in a series of four, concerning habits that contribute to resilience.  This habit maybe a little tricky for those who may not be spiritual or who are atheists.  You do not need to be either spiritual or atheistic.  You can be contemplative and reap the same calming, perspective-giving benefit.

For me, I pray every day.  I meditate as the spirit moves me or convenience presents itself.MeditationDSC_0330

I remember reading years ago some Sigmund Freud’s writings and his observation that one of his male patients could benefit psychologically from practicing his religion and deepening his religious faith.  Freud’s observation always struck me as true, and when I started doing just that many years later, I found it to be true in fact for me personally.  I am not as religious as I could be, but I try to adhere to my religion as much as possible and I seek spirituality.

I am Roman Catholic and I say a prayer of my own authorship as well as the standard “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”.  I try to pray twice a day in the morning and at night. plug-into-power-prayer_wide_t_nv Invariably, I wake up in the middle of night and that is when I usually meditate.   Sometimes I meditate while jogging, sometimes while driving, sometimes while riding my commuter train, and sometimes while at work.  My meditation is breath focused or sometimes reciting a mantra; the idea is to empty my brain of noise and runaway, random thoughts.  During the day, I try to have a few minutes of just being still and silent.  I do that most often in my big leather club chair in our master bed room.

Now there are many studies and research that substantiate the health effects of relaxation methods.   No less august medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and Massachusetts General  Hospital’s  Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine have corroborated the healthful benefits of meditation to relieve stress, ameliorate pain and combat disease.

I have found that these practices have restorative effects and gird me for whatever challenges that may arise during a particular day.  I have observed that my friends who are devout Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Christians or serious meditators seem, on average, to have calmer temperaments and more equanimity than others.

Spiritual prayers or meditative practices contribute to a state of being that can be capsulized in one word: “calm.”  Is there a better state in which to live?

Dalai LamathAs the Dalai Lama reminds us, “If you are calm, even your enemy cannot disturb you.”

Are you stressed out? Burned out?  Is your resilience down?  Prayer and/or meditation may help to provide the antidote you need.





Like many erstwhile self-imposed Type-A Personality workaholics, I would burn the candles at both ends making myself feel self-important and indispensable.  Of course, the result was sleep deprivation.Sleeping 2  Several years ago, I started seeing a lot of articles and reports about the ill-effects of insufficient sleep.  The lack of sleep had many real life health consequences like weight gain/obesity.  It seemed counterintuitive.  One would think one burns more calories the less still one is.  Apparently, sleep affects metabolism.  Sleep deprivation obviously impacts cognitive functions and moods.  We know fatigued drivers cause accidents and sleepy babies become fussy.  We know sustained sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.

In analyzing my mental agility and stamina in relation to the number of hours I slept in a night, I sleeping babythdiscerned that five hours were too few and eight hours were optimal.  I resolved to get a good night sleep every night when possible.  I turn into a pumpkin around 10:00 p.m. anyway, so keeping this resolution was easy to do.  What happened?  I have become a true believer.  The additional hours of sleep resulted in my:

  • Being more alert throughout the day
  • Being more productive
  • Having more stamina
  • Having a sustained cheerful mood
  • Getting sick less often
  • Having more energy to exercise
  • Having a higher tolerance for stressful stimuli.

These benefits are substantially symmetrical to the benefits noted in my earlier blog article about exercise.  Sufficient sleep and sufficient exercise are two sides of the same coin, both contributing to overall physical and mental well-being.  This well-being provides a foundation to maximize one’s overall performance at work and at play.sleepin man

Most executives don’t talk about how much sleep they get a night.  They may mention going to bed late, getting up in the middle of the night, waking early, or “sleeping in” on a weekend day.  You usually don’t hear people quantifying the average number of hours they sleep each night.  So it is hard to know what effective leaders are doing in terms of enough sleep.  Of course, people are variable, so I expect each individual’s need for sleep or each individual’s tolerance for insufficient sleep will also be variable.

I suspect everyone has an optimal number of hours of sleep that is his or her sweet spot in well-being.  What’s yours?  I know my night-owl wife needs less sleep than I.

In any event, I can corroborate that the literature on the salutary effects of sufficient sleep is correct.  A good night’s sleep makes me better at what I do.



About 14 months ago, my wife and I began running or doing weight machines every day, rain or shine.  We exercise every single day.   Sometimes together and sometimes separately depending on our schedules.    I do more running outside than doing machines at the gym. My wife prefers the gym.  I do mine religiously at 5:15 a.m.   I try to run at least four miles or at least for an hour.   I know that if I do not get the exercise done in the morning, it will not get done as Exercisethwork demands, kids’ activities and life get in the way.   I am not a natural fan of running and I am a sleepy-head.  When the alarm goes off, I do not allow myself to think I have the choice to stay in bed and I “just do it” as the Nike slogan says.

Importantly, the early morning start prepares me mentally and physically for the rest of the day.

I found the following benefits from this exercise regimen:

  • I am more mentally alert throughout the day.
  • I have much more stamina for a long day.
  • I have a higher tolerance for stressful stimuli.
  • I have a greater disposition for feeling cheerful.
  • My capacity to maintain my calm and tranquility is greatly enhanced.
  • My sundry aches and pains have disappeared.
  • I get more tasks and events accomplished.

I certainly have not discovered anything new in terms of what contributes to a more efficient, productive, and enjoyable day.   If you survey the literature on the attributes of modern, high achieving executives and leaders, you will see that a high percentage of them exercise frequently.Exercise 2th

Give yourself a lift, start exercising every day.  Oh and did I mention that you will probably lose weight and firm up your body in the process?  Hard work, but lots of payoffs.