Top leaders share certain crafty talents

Every day is judgment day for the best leaders. That's the major take-away from Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls.

Respected writers Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis teamed for the first time for this detailed, yet accessible, book. Some background: Tichy co-authored the best seller Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, about the Jack Welch era at General Electric ge. Bennis' works include On Becoming a Leader.

It's crucial to make sound judgments in three areas:

•People. Hiring, placement, development and firing, CEO succession.

•Strategy. Where your organization is going and how it gets there.

•Dealing with crisis. Which inevitably comes when least expected.

Judgment is based on the authors' research and experience as consultants. They interviewed top CEOs — General Electric's Jeffrey Immelt, Procter & Gamble's pg A.G. Lafley, Boeing's ba Jim McNerney — as well as other executives in business and non-profits.

As for key leadership qualities, leaders are:

•Teachers. Tichy calls this a TPOV (Teachable Point of View). Welch was a master teacher as CEO of General Electric, including when Tichy ran the company's fabled leadership center in Crotonville, N.Y. Strong leaders guide others to value their own roles as teachers.

•Inclusive. Considerable space is devoted to programs at Best Buy bby and Intuit intu for intense training of front-line workers in business basics.

•Effective storytellers. In workshops last year for Circuit City cc employees, teams were given one hour to write a story they'd like to see on the cover of BusinessWeek two years from now, saying where the company would be then. "The stories had to capture the leadership, the culture, and the challenges along the way," the authors write, "and they had to be living narrative stories, not PowerPoint presentations."

•Self-aware. The leaders "seemed to have overcome whatever [sometimes self-imposed] impediments stood in their way. Most of those impediments were dissolved by a regular, ruthless self-scrutiny."

•Courageous. Eleanor Josaitis runs the Detroit non-profit Focus: HOPE, working to counter racism and poverty. Since starting after the Detroit riots in 1967, Josaitis has carried on the organization's good work despite threats and hate mail.

One of the most compelling interviews is with Kathleen Gallo, chief learning officer at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital System. Leaders can learn about crisis from triage nurses, who routinely make life-or-death decisions. "You can't plan for everything, so you plan for anything," she says.

Let's face it: Good leadership is difficult, sensitive and time-consuming work. That might explain why not everyone is willing to take on this role. But it may be the smartest move for companies looking to distinguish themselves.

The best strategy? "Judgment capability at the front lines."