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Sharpening the Saw

Dec 12, 2021

“Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.” – Stephen R. Covey

It’s been 30 years since Dr. Stephen R. Covey published his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but it’s still going strong. And one of the most enduring of Dr. Covey’s seven habits is to ‘Sharpen the Saw.’ It’s about taking the time for self-renewal - constantly improving to become our best selves.

For the Savvy Director, that means investing the time and energy to keep up-to-date on trends in board governance, and to stay connected to how the field is evolving to remain relevant in our rapidly changing world.

On that note, have you noticed that, as the year draws to a close, newspapers, magazines, and television have a habit of sharing their lists of 'Best Of … ' or 'Favorites' or 'Top' choices for books, movies, toys, gadgets … or whatever it is they are focused on?

This year at DirectorPrep, we thought we’d join the party. Since our focus is everything to do with being an effective board director, we’re happy to share some of our choices for best governance resources of 2021 – not to mention a few of our favorites that date back a little further than that.


Our Picks for 2021

At DirectorPrep, we’re exposed to a great many resources over the course of a year. Now, I can’t promise you that we’ve read every book cover to cover. Or listened to every podcast from beginning to end. Or clicked on every single blog that landed in our inboxes. Nevertheless, I’m confident that you would find any of the following resources from 2021 to be worth your time and effort.

10 Proactive Questions Every Board Member Should be Asking

This April 2021 article from Harvard Business Review, written by Andrew White, Tazim Essani, and Eric Wilkinson, explains how board members can play a transformational role by asking questions that create a space for deep reflection and strategic change — not just responding to what management presents and then stepping in when things become difficult. The authors present 10 questions that can enable change at the level of individual board members and the board as a whole.

And you know how we love questions!

The Board Imperative: Purpose-Driven Leadership

This November 2021 article by Mary Larson, ICD.D, explains how boards have a responsibility to ensure that their company’s purpose is well-defined, fully integrated with strategy, and clearly understood at all levels of the organization. Besides explaining what purpose is and why it’s important, the author explores purpose-driven leadership and what boards can do to ensure that their organization’s purpose is making a difference.

Prepare to be inspired!

ESG Oversight. The Corporate Director’s Guide

This November 2021 report from PWC Insights explains “How corporate boards can up their ESG oversight game.” A company’s ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) strategy requires various functions to work together towards common goals that tie directly to the overall business strategy. Close oversight from the board is essential in crafting a compelling ESG story and bringing it to life.

Get a view of the ESG landscape with this valuable guide.

360 Governance: Where are the Directors in a World in Crisis?

In 1994, a set of guidelines for board governance was proposed in the report Where Were the Directors? Two-and-a-half decades later, it’s time for new ones. The new guidelines, developed by Peter Dey and Susan Kaplan and published in February 2021, are based on the principle that companies must account for the interests of all stakeholders that surround them.

How does your board measure up?

High Performance in the Boardroom

This resource by Tony Gaffney (© 2020 but released in 2021), is described as an exclusive report on contemporary best practices of high-performing boards in a time of accelerating change. Its goal is to identify, understand, and share how the boards of high performing companies contribute to their organizations’ success. It brings a unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue on the elevation of governance in Canada.

Enjoy sitting in on candid discussions among board leaders.

Bringing Order to Chaos

This November 2021 article by Kieran Moynihan of Board Excellence argues that 2022 represents a new dawn for boards, as the panic brought about by the COVID-19 crisis subsides and businesses learn to live with the associated uncertainty. For many boards, it represents an unprecedented opportunity to lead a highly ethical and respectful organization that excels for all stakeholders, and still drives long-term, sustainable profit and success.

Can your board seize the opportunity to transform how it operates and who sits around the table?

Stewards of the Future: A Guide for Competent Boards

Ok, I’m cheating just a little. This book by Helle Bank Jorgensen is due to be released in January 2022. With insightful contributions from world experts, it provides board members with a practical guide on what’s required to develop future-fit organizations. The message is that companies with the best chance of thriving will be guided by leaders with the foresight, knowledge, and determination to tackle the daunting challenges that confront us.

How can you help your organization to be future-fit?

Directors Compendium

Pretty much anything written by Steven Bowman of Conscious Governance is worth reading. This book, published in June 2021, is a curated selection of the most critical articles that all directors should read on governance, strategy, risk management and leadership. The material has been developed over decades of field work from Conscious Governance, and thousands of hours of consulting work with leading organizations.

Use this book as a guide to get started, then return to these valuable case studies, articles, and research over time.

Elevating Your Board Effectiveness

This e-book by Deborah Rosati of Women Get on Board provides practical insights, intelligence, and tools to empower women with the skills and confidence to lead and serve on boards. Gender-balanced boards enjoy a greater variety of viewpoints and higher effectiveness that leads to better business results. But only if the women on the board speak up and are heard!

As Deborah puts it, “Find your voice at the boardroom table.”

Board and Director Evaluations: Innovations for 21st Century Governance Committees

This August 2021 book by Beverly A. Behan outlines everything you need to know to redesign your board and director evaluation process to be suited to today’s boards. This little book helps upgrade board evaluations, so they respect directors’ insights, perspectives, and good ideas.

Engage your board directors in an evaluation process that’s not only enjoyable but genuinely impactful.


This new podcast from Brian Hayward is spontaneous, thought-provoking, and fun. Brian leads unscripted conversations with passionate leaders — people with purpose who focus on alignment and teamwork to create exceptional outcomes. People who have been in the line of fire, made mistakes, and came out wiser for the learning experience.

Have a listen and help support Pathways to

“Stop and take time to sharpen the saw – the saw being you – yes, you are the most important tool in your toolbox.” – Maureen Hewitt, Executive Coach


The Classics

I can’t resist reaching back a little further into the past (i.e. before 2021) to share with you a few more of our favorite resources.

The Upside of Virtual Board Meetings

Just when everyone was complaining about virtual meetings, this 2020 Harvard Business Review article by Keith Ferrazzi and Sarah Zapp appeared to point out that a number of fast-adapting companies had found that virtual board meetings are better than the real thing! Benefits included reduced travel, increased attendance, shorter agendas, crisper presentations, more inclusive and bolder conversations, and broader exposure to key executives and outside experts. The authors went on to recommend eight practices to set your virtual board meetings up for success.

If your virtual meetings are getting a little tired, this article is worth a re-read.

The Best Board Meeting I Ever Attended

This undated article by Les Wallace of Signature Resources inspired an entire Savvy Director blog post about strategic board agendas! It’s a short read, but if you are finding your current board meetings to be unengaging and uninspiring, you may find a few gems here.

Make your next board meeting the best one you’ve ever attended.

The Director’s Dilemma

This newsletter from Julie Garland McLellan aims to amplify the power of directors and boards to build better businesses by providing a safe environment for testing their judgment using real-life scenarios. Each Director’s Dilemma presents a case study based on real events together with at least three sample solutions from governance practitioners.

Share The Director’s Dilemma as a training aid or use it as a jumping off point for an engaging discussion to energize and educate your board.

A Field Guide to Bad Directors

This cheeky guide by Michael Pocalyko was published in 2018 by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). Bad director behavior is described with humor and illustrated with caricatures. It’s a fun take on identifying and coping with the behaviors that frustrate us in the boardroom.

Read this one to avoid becoming one of the “bad directors.”

The Great Chair: A Window on Effective Board Leadership

This 2020 book by Brian Hayward is described by Tim Hodgson, Chair of Hydro One, as “The perfect combination of education, advice, checklists and words of wisdom for chairs, all served up with a healthy dose of humour!” The book tackles board leadership fundamentals, and includes practical checklists as well as a roadmap to develop the key skills that a board chair needs.

If your governance journey could include becoming the board chair, The Great Chair was written for you.

The Three E’s of Effective Board Leadership

This 2017 INSEAD interview with Stanislav Shekshnia covers a study of board chairs across countries and explores the personality traits and behaviors that make them successful. If you’d like, you can watch the interview on YouTube instead of reading about it.

In case you’re wondering, the three E’s are Engage, Enable, and Encourage.

Right Seat Right Table: An Outsider's Guide to Securing the Ideal Board Role

This 2019 book by Paul Smith of Future Directors offers a practical guide for getting a seat in the contemporary boardroom. The author argues that directors need skills, a sense of purpose, and capabilities that exceed just being well connected and experienced. The book provides a proven and universal methodology for finding and securing that ideal (first) board role.

Understand how to overcome the challenges faced by new directors trying to make a difference.


This is a website about psychology that has practical applications. The goal is to help you understand the world better, so you can think and act more effectively. Effectiviology articles address some of the barriers to clear thinking that can afflict directors in the boardroom – barriers like cognitive biases and Groupthink.

If you’re interested in understanding thinking processes – and how to improve them - you’ll love this website.

“We must never be too busy to take time to sharpen the saw.” – Stephen R. Covey


Connecting You to Resources Throughout the Year

For DirectorPrep, connecting you to governance resources isn’t just an end-of-the-year exercise. One of our goals is to connect board directors – no matter where they are on their governance journey – to the wealth of resources that are out there waiting for you, all through the year.

The volume can be overwhelming at times – especially if you belong to a couple of associations and subscribe to a few blogs and newsletters. So our hope is that, by curating some of the best resources and pointing you in the right direction, you can perform a deeper dive on the topics that mean the most to you.

One way we do this is through The Savvy Director Blog. Almost every post ends with a list of resources. Of course, the list is there to properly acknowledge our sources. But it also has the purpose of providing you with a connection to the subjects you care about – just click whenever you want to find out more on a particular topic.

Another way of connecting you to resources is through the Resource Hub. It’s a collection of curated links gathered in one spot providing you with quick and easy access to all sorts of great resources dedicated to the art of board governance – from books to blogs and everything in-between. There’s something for everyone, regardless of how you like to consume your governance information.

And if you’re a DirectorPrep member, you’ll receive DirectorPrep Connector in your inbox whenever we discover something that could add value to your director toolbox, helping you stay abreast of topical conversations among governance experts.


Your takeaways:

  • Remember to make time to sharpen the saw.
  • Whether you’re a new director or have loads of board experience, there are governance resources out there to engage and inspire you.
  • Stay connected to great resources through The Savvy Director blog and the DirectorPrep Resource Hub.

Thank you.


Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.

Share Your Insight: We’d love to hear your ideas for great governance resources that we can add to the DirectorPrep Resource Hub.



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