Book Summary of Leadership Moment – Nine Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All

Every day, there are new leadership books released on the market. No matter how good new books are, sometimes it is best to supplement that knowledge with a broader understanding of leadership advice. For that, it’s good to turn to the classics. Released in 1998, Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment: Nine Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All quickly became one of those classics. The Leadership Moment details the moving and extraordinary stories of nine great leaders.

In the first chapter, Useem details the story of Roy Vagelos, a senior executive at Merck. Vagelos decided to develop a drug for river blindness, a fatal disease that affects 20 million people worldwide. The disease is spread by flies that live in fast-moving rivers, hence the name. Vagelos spent millions of dollars to successfully develop a drug – Mectizan – to help cure and prevent river blindness. He did that despite the knowledge that most of the people who need the drug lived in the world’s poorest places and wouldn’t be able to afford. He decided that he wanted Merck to be a company that put health before profits.

The second chapter details a story of leadership failure, when one of the commanding fire fighters with the Forest Service failed to tell the members of his team about his plans before having them all parachute into a massive blaze. As a result, 13 people of his 15-person team died.

The next story is a little more commonly known – the story of Apollo 13. Useem details the leadership successes that allowed flight director Eugene Kranz to guide the ship back to safety even after problems arose.

Useem also tells about the first all-female team’s ascent of Annapurna, Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, Clifton Wharton’s restructuring of the retirement system for college professors, John Gutfreund’s loss of the Wall Street company Salomon Inc., Nancy Barry’s leadership contributions to Women’s World Banking, and Alfredo Christiani’s ending of years of civil war in El Salvador.

Some of the major takeaway messages from the nine stories Useem tells are:

Inaction can be just as bad as the wrong action.

Good leaders know how to listen.

You should always have a clear image of where your company needs to go in order to achieve success.

Don’t be overconfident – even when the end goal seems simple.

Managers need to provide employees with the tools to implement their own decisions.

Creating bonds and building a strong culture is always of value.

Expect the highest level of performance from your team.