Let’s Discuss Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All and William CaldWell’s Leadership in a Time of Crisis: Creating a Legacy That Can Stand the Test of Time   Leave a comment

In Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All, chapter 2, “Wagner Dodge Retreats in Mann Gulch” described crisis when a leader must decisively demonstrate leadership qualities. As a leader Wagner understood the severity of the crisis, acted quickly in changing the plans of achieving a goal and creatively decided how to limit the danger of his team. The first problem of his leadership ability was lack of communication and little time to know and interact with his followers. When the group was assembled they had little time to understand one another’s behaviors and actions. The crew knew of their leader from his past history yet, the leader was a man of few words and did not or could not communicate his thoughts effectively in time of crisis. First, his credibility decreased when Wagner left his men alone and second, when Wagner lit a match to begin a new blaze of fire for life saving purposes his leadership capabilities came into question as Sallee remarked, I saw him bend over and light a fire with a match. I thought, with the fire almost on out back, what the hell is the boss doing, lighting another fire in front of us? (53). All men watched their leader and it seemed he was not being truthful with them and did not live up to the critical values of their professional culture. He lost their confidence and in turn most lost their lives. Did Wagner recognize the panic and pressure felt by his team? In my opinion, he did not take a moment and put himself in their shoes to see and feel their confusion as he flagged them to follow him into the circle of fire in order to save their lives.

            In chapter 3, “Eugene Kranz Return Apollo 13 to Earth” described crisis when a leader must decisively demonstrate leadership qualities. As panic set in in Mission Control Kranz applied his leadership capability to listen. He gathered specific individuals for their knowledge and experience, grouped them accordingly and gave them the responsibility of coming up with various solutions to a life or death problem for a helpless crew in space. He responded quickly to the issues at hand, consulted with experts and was honest to the potential dangers that laid ahead as he stated you learn to communicate and asses data; you learn to make reasonably crisp and authoritative decisions; you learn to admit when you don’t know what’s going on and ask for help (89). Kranz stayed calm, used all of his resources, was an effective communicator in telling the story and deciphering the different outcomes through other’s input in order to plan a safe return. He utilized lateral leadership and creative thinking to identify different plans in simulating conclusions through testing prior to making his final decision. Everyone involved was a hero and a leader in their own right. What if groupthink occurred as it did in 1986 for the Space Challenger? I believe that groupthink played a significant factor and major contributor to the Challenger disaster. It is a term referred to the preference of group members to have the same opinions and beliefs which, in that case lead to numerous errors. It is like having a bunch of yes men in a room. Each member of Kranz’s team had different insights and knowledge in which they shared honestly with one another leading to their goal with a successful outcome.

            In chapter 5, “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Defends Little Round Top” described crisis when a leader must decisively demonstrate leadership qualities. As a leader Chamberlain was faced with a major decision regarding the mutineers, he could force the men forward under armed guard. He could try to recruit them, persuading them to take up arms with the 20th Main. Or he could wait until the men were derelict in their duties and shoot them (128). He utilized two important skills as a leader, communication and listening. He listened to the soldier’s complaints and spoke to them man to man. He understood their position and influenced them to join the fight and cause. He treated each as an equal rather than a criminal. He bonded by telling the story of his need for them to be by his side. He had taken a negative situation and reversed it by his actions and behavior and described them by stating that they were some of the best soldiers in the regiment (145).

     A leader, who is able to read the signals of looming crisis and understands how to harness the exigency brought on by the situation, can diminish the potential dangers and take full advantage of the resulting opportunities. In order to understand the real reasons for the crisis, everyone on the leadership team must be willing to tell the whole truth. Leaders can’t solve problems if they don’t acknowledge their existence.

In a crisis, many leaders act like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They go into isolation, and think they can solve the problem themselves. In reality, leaders must have the help of all their people to devise solutions and to implement them. This means bringing people into their confidence, asking them for help and ideas, and gaining their commitment to painful corrective actions. If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – then the leaders should step up and make the greatest sacrifices themselves. Everyone is watching to see what the leaders do. Will they stay true to their values? Will they bow to external pressures, or confront the crisis in a straight-forward manner? Will they be seduced by short-term rewards, or will they make near-term sacrifices in order to fix the long-term situation?

The emergency phase begins when the crisis erupts. If an organizational leader fails to examine their fundamental assumptions of the world, connect the dots to see the big picture, or think differently from everyone else, that leader risks experiencing devastating tragedy and crisis.

Is a leader considered a good leader because of crisis? I believe that how a leader reacts during a (potential) disaster and their actions reveal their true essence to their team. In chapter 4, “Arlene Blum Ascends Annapurna” adds a perspective that we might not have otherwise considered only reading the material in the previous modules. Blum used empowerment, shared knowledge and information so her team could make successful decisions on whether to continue on or turn back due to the dangers that lay ahead. She utilized feedback from her team to learn her style of leadership. Leadership is a learned skill, and Arlene Blum was enrolled in the school of direct experience (112). We discussed leadership as a learned behavior, but how is it learned and from who? Prior readings suggest mentors, upper management and teachers as a way to learn while incorporating listening skills to those who held experience.

            What she intended her team to consist of was seasoned climbers with experience above 20,000 feet, but unfortunately they were far and few between. One of her challenges was to find women with strong records despite their age as the youngest member was only 20 years old. Blum’s leadership also included understanding other’s reasoning of why they were there which in turn strengthened her own leadership capabilities. In her case, she took it a step further by reviewing individual motives as each individual had a specific reason for reaching the top while keeping in mind that they all had a common goal, everyone wants to win. According to Useem, Blum even considered refusing to announce later who had reached the summit so that all of her climbers could glory in full credit for attaining it (105).

Caldwell’s speech, “Leadership in a Time of Crisis,” further contributes to this discussion by describing “Honest Abe” a leader who could influence the nation through bonding, his actions by standing for what was right and storytelling. He did not lead within four walls of a room, but felt it was crucial to see and hear his men at war so he could employ empowerment to all. Caldwell mentioned, Lincoln spent more time out of the White House than he did in it. He regularly visited troops in the field (216). His performance set good examples by listening while creating trust and respect. He felt the need to understand people’s opinions on issues, what they wanted, and through his knowledge shaped his own political abilities.

            Lincoln dealt with adverse reactions to his words and deeds, yet he never held resentment that would cloud his decision making instead he wrote letters that were never sent. His decisions and conduct were based on the good of the country regardless of the negative feedback he dealt with. He was kind to others while his empathy shined through. His personal tragedies helped not only in public speaking but also in conveying sympathy to those who needed it most. Caldwell reported, Lincoln would later use his personal tragedy to comfort others and help them through similar situations (216).

When we speak of Abraham Lincoln, we speak of the true spirit of leadership and what it means to be a great leader.

A real life example of a leader who actually caused crisis within his own country was François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. During the twenty nine year period (1957-1986) that Haiti was ruled by the father and son dictators, François “Papa Doc” and Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, referred to as rural chief, a brutal regional leader and torturer who killed dissidents under the regime.

            “Papa Doc” President Duvalier’s dictatorship exploited the labor force of people and took control with the deception of handing power to the black majority, but in reality it was for himself, for his personal executioners called the Tontons Macoutes, and for the elite, who continued to prosper under his murderous governmental corruption. The country was considered a large prison where power, control, torture and murders were part of the everyday life. In Haiti there was a division between the people: those who supported the presidency and those who were opposed. Children grieved and lost their fathers who either fled the country or died disagreeing with the President.

Everyone whether a leader or not has gone through some type of tragedy for example, losing a loved one. What I found most interesting and most admirable within the reading was Lincoln’s empathy trait towards others. Not only did he enter the war zone to empower his soldiers, but he took the time to respond with hand written letters filled with heart felt sentiments regarding loss as he too could relate and understand a parents feelings. He treated the nation as if it were his own child with love, guidance and a touch of humanity which is rarely seen in today’s leaders.

hand_rightWork Cited

Caldwell, William B. IV. Leadership in a Time of Crisis: Creating a Legacy That Can Stand the Test of Time. 2009. 12 Nov. 2012  <http://ehis.ebscohost.com.library.esc.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=3236a671-3188-439f-8933-4b93cf1b3ea1%40sessionmgr113&vid=2&hid=115&gt;.

Useem, Michael. The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

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