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Anthony F. Smith

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Anthony F. Smith

When his father had a rough day on the job, Anthony F. Smith figured he could help. “I asked my Dad if I could go to work with him the next day and talk to the boss,” he recalls. He was just six years old. While he never did have that talk, Smith had found a career.

The successful management consultant has spent more than 20 years in corner offices, coaching top executives and learning what makes great leaders and companies. As co-founder and managing director of Leadership Research Institute in Rancho Santa Fe, Smith has counted ESPN, American Express, Walt Disney, the NFL, Goldman Sachs, and McKinsey & Co. among his clients.

During a recent interview, Smith said the most effective leaders are born, almost of necessity. They start out with a vision, a mission, and realize they need to motivate people to reach their goals.

“I doubt Bill Gates grew up saying, ‘I want to be a leader,’” Smith says. But the Microsoft founder had a passion for programming, recognized its potential, and knew he couldn’t do it alone. “So he started inspiring, or at least, articulating his vision,” says Smith, “and that’s what ultimately brought others around. And before you know it, you’re a leader.”

Smith’s latest book, ESPN: The Company, the Story and Lessons Behind the Most Fanatical Brand in Sports, is due out later this year. The behind-the-scenes look at the 24-hour cable network coincides with ESPN’s 30th anniversary. Smith considers ESPN President George Bodenheimer “one of the most effective and capable leaders” he’s encountered, a humble yet charismatic man who rose from the mailroom to the executive suite of one of the most formidable brands in sports and entertainment.

“He’s always in circulation, meeting senior leaders, managers and employees,” writes Smith. “When he’s not physically connecting, he’s jotting notes, sending messages, checking in.” Leaders like Bodenheimer, he writes, “make you feel special. They invigorate your sense of loyalty and make you want to contribute more.” Smith is donating profits from the book to the V Foundation for cancer research and awareness, named in honor of the late basketball coach Jimmy Valvano.

Smith’s 2007 book, The Ten Taboos of Leadership — The 10 Secrets No One Will Tell You About Leaders and What They Really Think, is worth a second read in light of the current financial crisis and fat bonuses for corporate executives. It gives a fascinating look inside the minds and rarified worlds of CEOs, who are used to power and perks, and believe they are worth every penny.

For all their trappings of success, these corporate titans, Smith has learned, are all too human. They play politics and favorites. They spend more time at the office than at home. They have few people in which to confide. For corporate leaders, life is, indeed, lonely at the top, but then, writes Smith, they “wouldn’t have it any other way.”
ANDREA NAVERSEN

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