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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 impactful stories that teach you how to be ready to lead
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...
Published on June 11, 1999

versus
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good read, questionable scholarship on one story
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...
Published on December 31, 2007 by C. Aranjo


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 impactful stories that teach you how to be ready to lead, June 11, 1999
By A Customer
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.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good read, questionable scholarship on one story, December 31, 2007
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (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 (Candicearanjo@yahoo.com's husband)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I only can only hope there will be a sequel !, January 13, 2001
By 
john quintana (Bedminster, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes us to the source of inspiration., September 1, 1999
By A Customer
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!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great leadership stories!, November 30, 2004
By 
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars VERY ENTERTAINING READ, OKAY ANALYSIS, April 11, 2003
By 
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (Paperback)
In this book, Mike Useem describes nine situations in which leadership emerges. The situations outlined are very diverse, including a mountainclimbing expedition, a pharmaceutical company's decision, a firefighter's dillemma, and a Central American emerging democracy's negotiation with terrorism, to name a few. Roughly half of the stories are cases of success, half are failures, which makes it interesting exploration of both sides of the coin.
Overall, the stories are very interesting per se, and worth the read. Some of these are classics of management and ethics, such as the Merck Riverblindness case. At the end of each story, Useem tries to do an analysis of what the leader did right or wrong. In this section, I did in fact disagree with some of Useem's conclusions, and what bothered me was the fact that I felt like the author did not leave enough space for alternative views. For example, he argues that Roy Vagelos of Merck was a great leader because he guided his company to do the right thing and spend all the money on the disease though it would not recoup costs. I would argue that he did recoup, by the free publicity, which Useem helps extend, but Useem never mentions the possibility of it being worth it.
I did like the book and would recommend it, especially the stories, which are told in a very fast paced and easy to read manner. However, not so sure about the analysis.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warren Bennis is right: "It's one helluva read.", August 22, 2007
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This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (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. Briefly, he had assumed command of the 20th Regiment of Infantry, Maine Volunteers, in May of 1863; within four days, they were marching through Virginia. Less than a year before, the 20th had mustered a thousand men at commissioning time; only 358 remained. The situation was soon complicated by the fact that 120 mutineers in the 2nd Regiment had been placed under Chamberlain's command. His orders from his superior, General George C. Meade: "make them do duty or shoot them down the moment they refused." What happened next is best revealed within Useem's compelling narrative but I can reveal that Chamberlain's combined forces played a major (if not the pivotal role) at Gettysburg, securing and then defending their position.

Useem observes that, in a crisis such as the one Chamberlain and his men faced on Little Round Top when under relentless attack, "everything is magnified, for better or for worse." Some rise to the leadership challenge and take effective action as Chamberlain did, others don't. Useem suggests several leadership lessons to be learned from that bloody, decisive day on the fields of Gettysburg. For example:

"Winning the confidence of your people now may well be invaluable in a yet-unforeseen time when you face the ultimate test...[However,] early investments in winning support among even your most stalwart opponents may make the difference between success and defeat when it counts most." This is precisely what President Abraham Lincoln did when forming his first cabinet, one that Doris Kearns Goodwin characterizes as a "team of rivals."

I commend Michael Useem on his brilliant correlation of historical information with an analysis of the leaders he has studied and the lessons to be learned from their encounters with "life-challenging, morally consequential events fraught with risk and danger."

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out his Leading Up as well as Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas' Geeks & Geezers (recently updated and reissued as Leading for a Lifetime), Bill George's True North, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward's Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters, and Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition co-authored by Dennis N. T. Perkins, Margaret P. Holtman, Paul R. Kessler, and Catherine McCarthy.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book., November 29, 1998
By A Customer
Searching for a book on leadership for a graduate level management class, I came across this title and was fascinated. If you are going to read one book on leadership, it should be this book. Michael Useem has written an amazing book in which he shares the stories of nine leaders and the decisions they made in leadership moments. Within each chapter the true story is explained, followed by implications noting the leadership skills applied to make the decision that was made in each case.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Approach to Self-Help, March 1, 2007
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (Paperback)
Biography is often a more inspiring way to learn "soft skills" than are traditional self-help books that spell out, word for word, the traits they're purchased to teach. But it's also possible, with a biography, to miss the decision-making moments, even though the actions the subject took are clear.

The Leadership Moment combines both historical and didactic approaches, by pausing in the midst of its nine hair-raising stories to briefly examine the choices that caused the next turn of events. The winning characteristics and skills are repeated in the back of the book under the picture of their respective exemplar. If you enjoy quick reads that deliver in a can't-miss fashion principles you can use, you will enjoy The Leadership Moment. Read a chapter a day before sallying forth to slay your own dragons.

Entirely worthwhile reading, the volume nonetheless has its weaknesses. Only two of the nine accounts are about women, and both of those are set in an all-female environment. (The seven males are in all-male environments.) Seven stories are unequivocal triumphs, one a brazen failure (though another man steps in to save the company), and one ambiguous: did the hero fail to lead or did his team fail to follow? The lesson author Michael Useem highlights is not altogether clear the way he tells the story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leaders in action, September 6, 2000
By 
Jonathan Gueverra (Cambridge, MA, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All (Paperback)
Useem's description and depiction of each character deviates from the mundane monologue usually produced in hardcore texts. He presents a diverse set of leaders with unique circumstances. Each case is a dramatic narrative. At the same time, Useem provides readers with the underlying details that occurred prior, during and in the aftermath of the major leadership decisions. This is one of a few accounts that examines leadership of men, women, minorities and international leaders in both corporate and non-corporate organizations.
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