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The Leadership Moment Paperback – 1 Nov 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; New edition edition (1 Nov. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812932307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812932300
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 1.8 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 527,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Gripping adventure and actionable advice . . . Useem not only takes us into the experiences of others but also draws out
striking lessons."--Fast Company
"One thoughtful work like this is worth a ton of new-age, self-help tomes that are high on fluff and low on
scholarship."--San Francisco Chronicle
"A really good story is a time-honored way to show how leaders respond to extreme challenges [and] that's what Michael Useem delivers."--USA Today

From the Inside Flap

Are you ready for the leadership moment?
Merck's Roy Vagelos commits millions of dollars to develop a drug needed only by people who can't afford it - Eugene Kranz struggles to bring the Apollo 13 astronauts home after an explosion rips through their spacecraft - Arlene Blum organizes the first women's ascent of one of the world's most dangerous mountains - Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain leads his tattered troops into a pivotal Civil War battle at Little Round Top - John Gutfreund loses Salomon Brothers when his inattention to a trading scandal almost topples the Wall Street giant - Clifton Wharton restructures a $50 billion pension system direly out of touch with its customers - Alfredo Cristiani transforms El Salvador's decade-long civil war into a negotiated settlement - Nancy Barry leads Women's World Banking in the fight against Third World poverty - Wagner Dodge faces the decision of a lifetime as a fast-moving forest fire overtakes his firefighting crew

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book soon after it first appeared (in 1998) and recently re-read it, curious to know how well its core concepts and insights have held up. My conclusion? Very, very well. In his remarkably informative Foreword, Warren Bennis acknowledges having several reasons why he admires Michael Useem's book and cites three. First, Useem's selection of "cases" that focus on nine "real people, not stick figures"; the cases deal with what in theater would be called "turning points" (i.e. "life-challenging, morally consequential events fraught with risk and danger"); and third, the principles that Useem examines can be applied to any organization, regardless of size or nature, and the lessons learned from the nine cases are "eternal and universal. "

Useem suggests that leadership "is at its best when the vision is strategic, the voice persuasive, the results tangible." His focus is on exceptionally difficult leadership decisions, "those fateful moments when our goals are at stake and it is uncertain if we will achieve them, and when the outcome depends on mobilizing others to realize success." He examines nine quite different leaders who found themselves in "life-challenging, morally consequential events fraught with risk and danger" and prevailed. Those who have seen the film Apollo 13 are already familiar with Eugene Kranz (portrayed by Ed Harris). However, most of those who read this book were previously not familiar with several others, notably Wagner Dodge, Arlene Blum, and Clifton Wharton. Nonetheless, valuable leadership lessons can be learned from each of the nine.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is of special interest to me.
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Format: Paperback
Gives an insight into critical moments of decision making in the corporate and political world - how, with the benefit of hindsight, potentially disastrous decisions were made at the time, some worked well, some failed. Written in an entertaining manner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x925a1ad4) out of 5 stars 43 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x924b6660) out of 5 stars 9 impactful stories that teach you how to be ready to lead 12 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book by Michael Useem was the first book I tackled in my MBA class on current managegemt theory. It fullfilled my need to research leadership, and captivated my subconscious mind as well. Everyday that has since passed has presented many opportunities for recall from one of the nine impactful stories on leadership.
This book teaches one how to be prepared to be a leader when the opportunity presents itself. The subject of vision, a necessary tool for individual and corporate leadership, is so completely incorporated in the first story of Roy Vagelos and Merck that the reader will never find the topic of vision as a pie-in-the-sky theoretical corporate gimmick without deep-seated attachment to core values again.
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x924b6ac8) out of 5 stars Good read, questionable scholarship on one story 1 Jan. 2008
By C. Aranjo - Published on
Format: Paperback
My wife had to read the story of the Wagner Dodge and the men who perished in the Mann Gulch fire for a class. It piqued my curiosity, so I read the story, too. It was a very good read. However, something that didn't seem to jive was that a man who had been a 9 year veteran of the 10 year old branch of firefighting called "smoke jumping" would not have established a system of command and control for his crew. This was especially odd since he was an experienced foreman/crew chief with advance knowledge in the expertise of smoke jumping and firefighting. The author, Michael Useem, who is/was the director of the Wharton School's Center for Leadership and Change Management, is adamant that Dodge did not communicate well with his hastily thrown together mixed crew of inexperienced, experienced, young, and old firefighters. Useem asserts that Dodge was a failed leader, whose actions and poor communication, in effect, aided in the demise of about 13 of his crew.

Well, my wife and I decided to investigate a little further and we found that it is likely that either the author intentionally omitted important details about the event and testimonies of the survivors in order to persuade the reader to his assertion or Useem did not perform due diligence in investigating available sources. It is also possible that in 1998, pertinent information was not so readily available on the web. I could be wrong, but the discrepancies between Useem's account and various accounts on the web are marked. In fact, the diagram on p48 of the area and the routes taken by the smoke jumpers and the locations of the fire differ from online sources as well.

Critical differences:

*** p55 Useem states: "He (Dodge) did not share his appraisals, barely explained his actions, scarcely even communicated his growing alarm."

First off, in the very same paragraph, Useem states that Dodge did communicate his concern about their surroundings as being a "death trap". "Source 1" (ref'd below) mentions that both survivors indicated that Dodge referenced the types of trees that made the area a "death trap", indicating he was trying to convey to the men the situation they were in and why.

*** pp47-49 possible error of chronology - Useem's order of events follow:
1.Smoke jumpers (SJ) land, gather equipment, and eat at Dodge's suggestion.
2.SJ w/Dodge head down the gulch
3."Firefigher already in the area" joins Dodge, et al. (Firefighter's name is Jim Harrison - not provided by Useem)
4. Dodge tells SJ to stop while he scouts out the fire ahead.
5. Dodge returns and tells the SJ's to head down the gulch towards river because the fire is getting out of hand.
6. Dodge goes to get food back at the landing zone (leaving them presumably w/o a leader)
7. The men get divided.
8. Dodge rejoins the men and regroups them
9. They continue to travel towards the river and then find the mouth of the gulch is blocked by a spot fire.
10. Dodge has his men reverse course to get away from the fire but does not explain his actions.

The chronology from "Source 2" referenced below:

1. SJ land, gather equipment, and eat at Dodge's suggestion.
2. Dodge does not eat with crew, but heads towards Jim Harrison, who was the firefighter mentioned by Useem who was "already in the area". "Source 2 mentions that Harrison was busy fighting the fire. Before Dodge sets off, he appoints Wm Hellman to lead the men down the gulch after they have gathered their equipment. Useem omits the fact that Dodge never left the group without having someone in charge, which I believe is a rather crucial detail when evaluating someone's effectiveness as a leader.
3. Dodge and Harrison leave the ridge that Dodge found Harrison on, they eat and meet up with the rest of the SJ's that were continuing down the gulch under Hellman's charge.
4. Five minutes after Dodge and Harrison joined and brought the group back together, they discover the gulch is blocked by a spot fire.
5. Dodge and the rest of the men see the fires rushing up the gulch and Dodge has everyone quickly reverse course to try to outrun the flames.

Important distinctions from the perspective the alternate sources:

1. Dodge never leaves them without a leader.
2. Dodge did not scout out the fire ahead of the SJ's advance towards the fire.
3. Dodge did not leave the group to go back to get forgotten supplies
4. Dodge went to meet Harrison, the "firefighter in the area", and brought him to the group, opposed to Harrison joining the group before Dodge separated from the group.
5. The SJ's clearly understood why they were turning around as they saw the rushing fires coming towards them.

My personal belief is that Useem was trying to fit this story to model a specific characteristic of leadership failure. Knowing that titles and positions do not confer, nor necessarily require, honor, integrity, or honesty, I think this could be a real possibility.

Ponder this, in the 2000 election, Al Gore ran an ad saying that Texas was the worst polluting state in the union due to spills, contamination, etc. and referenced an EPA report with the intent of making it look like then Gov. Bush was ruining the environment in that state. Well, when I looked up the report, I found that Al Gore was absolutely correct. By shear volume or tonnage of spills, Texas was the worst. However, it you averaged it over the number of reporting plants in the state, by land mass, per capita, or as compared to percentage reclaimed, Texas was normally ranked as one of the best states while Arkansas and Tennessee were average to below average. Bear in mind that Texas (and Louisiana) have a tremendous amount of petro-chemical production relative to the rest of the country. The point is that contextual information was omitted in order to paint a specific picture that was not representative of the reality of the situation as a normal person might evaluate it.

Presenting facts in such a way as to obfuscate what they indicate is deceit, and is therefore no different than a lie. Because I believe that this is what the author might have engaged in, if only in this single chapter, for me it destroys his credibility, and I cannot in good conscience give any stars for his book. (I had to give one to post, but I had no other choice)

For what its worth,

Timo ('s husband)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x924b6aec) out of 5 stars I only can only hope there will be a sequel ! 13 Jan. 2001
By john quintana - Published on
Format: Paperback
Useem distills lessons for the reader from the 9 events described in his book. Some of his example case studies have heroic elements to them, yet he focuses on the basis of the decision making process of the principal - rather than only the net effect. Thus, providing the reader with tangible leadership tools to help steer any group, team or organization to their goals.
A good read for any manager, coach or leader.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x924b6e10) out of 5 stars Takes us to the source of inspiration. 2 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Without which there is no real leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed Useem's studies, often cheering along with these leaders. It was so wonderful to observe a professor who understand that there is so much more than mere technique. Thanks!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x924b6c78) out of 5 stars Great leadership stories! 30 Nov. 2004
By DSG Books - Published on
Format: Paperback
As part of an assignment for a Leadership/Small Group Communication course, I was directed to select the book of my choice from an Amazon book search under the topic of leadership. After poring through the descriptions of just a few of the 116,000 books in this category, I quickly identified the type of book I was looking for. I wanted something less academic/theoretical and more real life. I figured any lessons on leadership would be easier to grasp if they accompanied the stories of real people. Michael Useem's The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All fit the bill.

The Leadership Moment is a book of nine stories of real individuals who were faced with leadership challenges or put into positions where their decisions as leaders would greatly affect the outcome or survival of companies, countries and often, many other lives. The stories cover attempts to cure disease, retreating from a fire, returning a malfunctioning spacecraft to earth, ascending a mountain, leading men to battle, restructuring large corporations, the downfall and rise of a large company, working towards development of women in the third world and ending a civil war. Each story identifies a leader put into a critical do or die situation where their decisions and leadership qualities either led to success and meeting objectives, or led to failure and the demise of the company or death of those they were leading.

What I really liked about the book was the real life examples and the vast range of examples that Useem used. While many of us in the corporate world identify leadership as the ability to bring in financial returns or climb the corporate ladder, this book shows how leadership comes up in vastly different situations.

Useem's writing style flows well and is easy to follow. The stories are interesting and descriptive. For each story, he points out several leadership objectives that are implicated in the story. I enjoyed the book, and was able to identify how some of his leadership objectives could apply to my own career. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting read on leadership.
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