The Leadership Moment | Michael Useem

Summary of: The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All
By: Michael Useem


Dive into ‘The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All’ by Michael Useem, an exploration of the triumphs and failures of various leaders in diverse situations. The book showcases real-world experiences of individuals like Clifton Wharton, Nancy Barry, and Eugene Kranz, who each faced unique challenges in their leadership roles. By analyzing these stories, readers can learn valuable lessons on being an effective leader as well as identifying potential pitfalls. In this summary, become familiar with key themes such as the importance of embracing challenges, aligning values with job choices, making rapid decisions, proper communication, and the power of building support.

Challenges Grow Leaders

Former Deputy Secretary of State Clifton Wharton shares his experiences in tackling complex challenges that prepared him for even more significant responsibilities. Wharton’s story is a testimony to the value of accepting challenges and how they can be used to gain practical knowledge and sharpen your skills.

Clifton Wharton, a development economist, firmly believed that taking on challenging responsibilities provided an excellent opportunity to learn and advance their careers. His first breakthrough came when he was elected as the president of Michigan State University, where he successfully led and administered the university for eight years. This experience prepared him for his next role as the head of the State University of New York, which had an administration structure ten times larger than Michigan State. However, Wharton leveraged lessons learned in previous roles to address more significant challenges and eventually restructured and improved the organization.

These successful experiences prepared Wharton for his subsequent role as the CEO of the TIAA-CREF, where he was responsible for modernizing the state system. He introduced greater autonomy and accountability in customer service, gave clients access to diverse investment options, greater flexibility in transferring funds, and improved counseling services.

In conclusion, Clifton Wharton’s experiences show that taking on challenging responsibilities is the best way to advance your career, gain practical knowledge and sharpen your skills. You can do the same, allowing you to succeed in positions of greater responsibility later on.

Visionary Leadership

Nancy Barry and Roy Vagelos are exceptional leaders who realized their goals through their vision and leadership abilities. Barry’s work at the World Bank made her question their aid projects, which led her to join Women’s World Banking (WWB) that shared her goal. At WWB, she helped low-income women achieve self-sufficiency through microfinance. On the other hand, Vagelos aimed to cure river blindness in Africa and developed Mectizan that cured the disease and prevented its spread. His leadership at the pharmaceutical company was based on putting patients before profits. Both leaders’ clear visions, values, and leadership skills enabled them to achieve their goals and help millions of people in need.

Quick Decision Making in Leadership

The ability to make quick decisions in high-stress situations is vital in leadership. Eugene Kranz’s composure in directing the Apollo 13 lunar mission amidst an explosion is an excellent example. On the other hand, John Gutfreund’s indecisiveness in handling a bond trader’s breach of legal percentage cost his company a massive sum and damaged its reputation. The importance of swift action in leadership is highlighted, indicating that a fast response to a crisis is crucial. Moreover, a leader who can mobilize their team is also essential.

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