Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All

Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All

by Michael Useem

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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

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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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Every head of state in business or politics who believes it's lonely at the top can take refuge in this broad look at the travails of leadership by the director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Useem picks nine leaders from different realms of business, public service and government, and focuses on one critical decision that each had to make. For NASA flight director Eugene Kranz, it was guiding a crippled Apollo 13 back to Earth. For El Salvador's President Alfredo Cristiani, it was bringing an end to his country's civil war. The stories are packed with detail, and some include charts and tabular matter as well. Useem does an excellent job of underscoring the lessons that would-be leaders should take away from his profiles. For example, as part of the Apollo 13 story, "When both speed and precision count, sharing information and keeping everybody's eye on both goals simultaneously are essential for achieving both," he says. Commenting on John Gutfreund's loss of Salomon Inc. ("one of Wall Street's richest companies"), Useem writes, "Inaction can be as damaging to leadership as inept action." These lessons are brought home again, often in the same words, in the Conclusion and the Leader's Guide, a listing of nostrums for aspiring managers. 32 photos. (Sept.)

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The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
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"It's where you start your team building" argues Kranz. "The first thing I did in establishing the team building is to look at 'co-location': I want similar people working together as an element of a team." He grouped people across levels, and he grouped outside contractors with inside employees. Occasionally the arrangements violated civil service rules, but when told to conform, Kranz invented ways around them.

Implicit comprehension was a key objective of the team building: "You learn to use the nonverbal communication," Kranz says. "You develop the feeling whether this guy needs a few more seconds to work out a problem. Sometimes you'll change your polling procedures" in surveying the controllers before taking a decision. "You're going to come to him last, you're going to give him a few more seconds."

As a final reinforcing measure, Kranz arranged his flight teams into their own baseball league. The flight teams then challenged the astronaut teams on the football field. Other seasons produced still more competitive sports, even judo.

The team-building payoffs were evident in Room 210. The forty or so people working there had to solve dozens of interrelated problems on the fly, weaving hundreds of specific steps into broader fabric. They had to restructure technological systems so tightly coupled that tiny changes in one could create havoc in another. When a guidance controller proposed deicing Odyssey's thruster jets by briefly firing the engines, another controller immediately protested that the deicing could ruin the guidance system of the still-attached Aquarius. Those responsible for the flight's dynamics, guidance, and later retrofiring objected that the firing could divert the spacecraft from its required trajectory. Yet they quickly found an effective solution, reaffirming the collective virtues of the endless simulations and sports.

By implication: Developing teams and teams of teams through training and exercise can create the implicit understandings that make for fast and accurate decision making when the teams are under duress but must act.

The Two Faces of Leadership

Eugene Kranz enduredthe crisis with an unshakable faith that it would be resolved the right way. His optimism stemmed from an optimistic appraisal of the decision-making apparatus he had fostered since taking control of the Apollo missions just two years earlier. "I thought that as a group we were smart enough and clever enough," he would later say, "to get out of any problem." Kranz's latticework of teams and specialists served as half the leadership formula. His driving optimism and demand for accuracy among the teamsand specialists added the other half.

Managers are vested with certain areas of authority from the day they arrive: they can revise budgets, assign people, and give raises. These are the levers of office shown in the bottom rectangle in Figure 3. 1-the ones Kranz was handed the minute he first stepped through the door of his new office. Like all successful managers, though, Kranz realized that the vested powers of office are only a platform to build on. As opposed to merely managing, leadership can be defined as moving above those vested powers in both personal and organizational ways, as shown in the upper rectangles in Figure 3.1.

Personal leadership includes the exercise of individual qualities of leadership, as seen in Eugene Kranz's insistence on fast and accurate decisions and in his abiding optimism about a successful return. Organizational leadership includes the exercise of change and development of other people, as seen in his team building before the mission and team restructuring during it. Leadership, then, can be viewed as leveraging what you are given to achieve far more.

Neither facet of leadership is a birthright. Both can be mastered, but mastery is lifelong, often beginning with early mentoring by those who understand both. For Eugene Kranz, several "incredibly gifted 'teachers' " served as early models for lasting lessons:

Flight desk manager at McDonnell Aircraft: "His theme was accountability. When you sign that airplane off for flight, you're signing off the lives of the crew on board. You're signing off that airplane that's very valuable. You're signing off responsibility for the future of McDonnell Aircraft." @ulne: Flight officer at McDonnell Aircraft: "He really taught me enthusiasm."

Primary flight instructor: "He taught me to watch out for the people around me. . If you want to fly safely, you take care of every person in this chain that you fly airplanes on."

Chris Kraft, NASA flight director: "He taught me about risk"-and in the most direct way. Kranz had been serving under Kraft in one of the early missions of the space program when, in the middle of the flight and with no warning, Kraft had turned full control over to him. Kranz recalls being kicked out of the nest so abruptly as a "defining experience."

The day after the successful splashdown of Apollo 13, The New York Times editorialized:

"For three-and-a-half days all three astronauts had lived at the brink of death in a crippled vehicle whose reserves were so near exhaustion that it had margin neither for human error nor for further malfunctioning of its equipment." The "almost incredible feat" of a safe return "would have been impossible were it not for the steady nerves, courage and great skill of the astronauts themselves" and the "NASA network whose teams of experts performed miracles of emergency improvisation."

Gene Kranz had dreamed of going to the moon himself. As a high school junior, he had authored a term paper on the logistics of moon flight. As a university student, he had majored in aeronautical engineering. As an air force officer, he had served as a jet fighter pilot. And when the Mercury spaceflight program placed a want ad, he was among the first to volunteer. He would never qualify as an astronaut. But in 1970, he received both NASA's Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Three years later, as he was turning forty, NASA awarded him its medal for Outstanding Leadership.

From the Hardcover edition.

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