The Leadership Moment – Will You Be Ready?

Over the weekend, I finished the seventh book of my “100 Business Book Challenge.” All told, I was able to finish four books in the first week of my challenge. Three books had already been read and crossed off at the beginning. I’m feeling good about my progress since my reading time will be cut short this week. I’m in Toronto for The Art of Marketing conference where I’ll be fortunate enough to hear Seth Godin speak tomorrow.

The book I finished yesterday was The Leadership Moment by Michael Useem. What an amazing book! Nine amazing and inspirational stories of leadership and what happened when the moment to lead presented itself.

I highly recommend this book and give it a big two thumbs up. I’ll  be referring to this book in the future and most definitely reading it again.

Here’s a quick rundown of the nine stories and moments of leadership that are discussed in the book. You can click on the names of those involved for further information.

Roy Vagelos: Roy had to make a huge decision while he was leading, as CEO, to the billion dollar pharmaceutical company Merck. Merck had developed a cure for river blindness, a disease which was effecting millions of people around the globe, especially in developing and poor countries. The problem? The people who desperately needed it, couldn’t afford it. Roy Vagelos made a decision, which will forever be criticized by some and praised by others. Merck will give away the medication for free, forever. Final answer.

This was a decision made by the CEO. A CEO’s goals are to increase profits, and nothing more, as some  would argue. Roy Vagelos made a decision as a leader that people came before profits. Brilliant.

Wagner Dodge: Wagner was a leader, but in his moment of need, his team experienced some leadership breakdowns. He was a strong and an amazing leader. But what we learn from Wagner is about the links that must be strengthened amongst teams and the bonds that must be solidified by their leaders. We can learn a lot from what happened to Wagner Dodge and his team of which 12 lost their lives in the Mann Gulch Fire. In a time of desperate need, as Wagner and his team were surrounded by walls of flames, the leadership chain was broken.

Eugene Kranz: Have you seen Apollo 13? This is the guy who brought people together to bring those boys back home safely. What seemed like an impossible situation become Eugene’s Moment-of- Leadership. Failure was not an option. This is an amazing story of someone who took charge, when the chances of survival were poor, and many team members had already given up hope.

Arlene Blum: Arlene led the first all-woman ascent of Annapurna. Another amazing story. She was one of the first to say “A Woman’s place is on top.”

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Led his demoralized and battered troops into what would be their greatest battle of the Civil War. This story reminded me of Braveheart and the way Mel Gibson rallied his troops…. FREEDOM!

John Gutfreund: He made some critical errors as a leader. He became too busy and paid little attention to important matters that required immediate attention. He almost brought down the  now defunct Wall Street investment bank giant, Salomon Brothers. It was Warren Buffet who came to the helm of this severely battled ship and managed to guide them to shore safely. His role of leadership at the time of need is remarkable. There are some positive takeaways to learn from John Gutfeund and the mistakes he made.

Clifton Wharton Jr: He became CEO of a 50-billion dollar pension fund that needed a total restructuring. It was a new set of eyes that brought the fresh leadership skills to this massive and seemingly impossible situation.

Nancy Barry: Nancy gave up a high paying position of a lifetime so she could lead an organization with a vision and outlook more aligned with her own. She was one of the pioneers of micro-financing. I wonder if she gives to Kiva?

Alfredo Cristiani: The political leadership of El Salvador was in shambles. People were being murdered left and right. No one could agree on anything and, therefore, violence seemed like the only answer. What do you do in such political and tumultuous times?

Well of course! You bring in a former coffee grower without any political ties or existing biases to run for President. It worked for El Salvador. The leadership of a total outsider was needed to see things from each side and be able to lead accordingly.

This is a pretty brief run-down of the book and the stories involved.

Should you read it? Absolutely.

Does it deserve it’s recognition as one of the best business books of all time? Absolutely

Can it make you a better leader? Yes, of course. That can’t be guaranteed though; but if the moment does present itself, you may remember, in your time of need, the stories of these nine individuals, and it could make the difference between your success or failure.

This is part of the manual to being ready when the moment arrives.

Be ready.