Book Review: Michael Useem, The Go Point

Book Classification : Business - Management & Leadership - Decision Making - Self-Improvement

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The Go Point :
When It's Time to Decide -- Knowing What to Do and When to Do It

by Michael Useem
Hardcover - 288 pages
First Edition, October 2006

Published by Crown Business Books,
a division of Random House

ISBN 1400082986
ISBN-10: 1-4000-8298-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-8298-8

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Book Review

The Go Point by Michael Useem isn't the only book that teaches the skill of decision-making. This much has been done before: an expert in some field of self-improvement is hired by several large companies to assist with the personal growth of the personnel, and this leads to the director of the project writing a book about the method. As is usual for a self-improvement book, the subject to be learned is partly a technical skill and partly an emotional habituation. That much of what we see here, of course, has been done several times before.

What is unique about the new book by University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Useem is the way it transports you to other times and places to give you some virtual practice. In real life, you may desire the skill of decision making to help with your career, but for the next hour or so you are going to be Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and the year is 1862. [Chapter 4] The Union troops led by General McClellan have come within six miles of the Confederate capital of Richmond. What are you going to do next? Maybe you would like to determine what you would do, and then read about what the real General Lee did.

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Michael Useem ,
The Go Point

In another exercise, you're part of a team climbing a snow-covered mountain. [Chapter 5] Crises start to add up. Half of the people have been separated from the others. The oxygen thins. One person has become too fatigued to continue walking. The coldness is making you lose the feeling in your hands. You have to analyze the situation and make some decisions -- fast.

About the Author

Michael Useem, the author of The Leadership Moment, is the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, as well as the director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management. Professor Useem takes his students to the ends of the world -- the Antarctic, the Andes, and the Himalayas -- to learn about their personal and professional go points. Professor Useem earned his doctorate at Harvard University and has published widely, including in the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Fast Company. He is also the editor of the Wharton Leadership Digest and lives in Marion Station, Pennsylvania.

- From the Publisher

You get to compare your circumstances with the author's "decision templates", which are "principles and tools you can use." [29] The author views such conceptual chunks as "appraise the past" and "pursue responsibility" are among numerous "tools" [212-213] that people reach for at given moments. When conducting a modern business, choose from a set of leadership tools with such colorful names as "burn the boat", "let the battle rage", and "clone your opponent." [220-222]

Before you acquire some practice, it may not even be obvious how many distinct decisions someone has to make. Donald Mackey, overseeing a crew fighting the 1994 forest fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado, made nine important decisions. [52] As cause and effect interweave, you may expect that the choice made in Decision 8 at 4:00 PM would affect Decision 9 made at 4:06.

Fundamental decisions put you in a position that is similar in some ways to that of a national leader or a company director. Your choices will newly impose a top-down order of events. You are "gazing from the apex", the author says, from your metaphorical mountaintop. [196]

Some decision makers also fail to recognize an occasion in which "staying out of the game" is an option. The author observes: "Not every game is worth playing." [25]

The book presents a large variety of scenarios, but the most frequent single category of these is business decision making. For example, Chapter 7 zooms in on the chief of Tyco international.

One type of business decision making occurs when you're the new responsible party, and you have to "clean up the mess left by your predecessor." [1] This is what happened to the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard shortly after the merger with Compaq.

We've all spoken the expression about learning the hard way. If "smart people sometimes make dumb choices" [210] we might as well learn, to our benefit, from someone else's trek down the hard way.

As a reader of The Go Point you can inject yourself into these historical moments. Overcome your "decidophobia" [68] by giving yourself some exercise. While it may not make your moment of greatness downright easy, it won't get any easier than this.

Book review by Mike Lepore for

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Book Description from the Publisher's Press Release

The Go Point -- The Moment of Truth When You Have to Say "Yes" or "No" -- When It's Time to Get Off the Fence.

Michael Useem -- through dramatic story telling -- shows how to master the art and science of being decisive. He places you smack in the middle of people facing their go point, where actions -- or lack of them -- determined the fates of individuals, companies, and countries.

  • Why on earth did Robert E. Lee send General George Pickett on an almost suicidal charge against the Union lines at Gettysburg?
  • How does the leader of a firefighting crew make life-or-death decisions, directing his people -- with little information about weather patterns to guide him -- to go up or down the mountain? One direction means safety, the other danger.
  • You've just assumed responsibility for a scandal-wracked corporation, a company teetering on the brink of disaster. What you decide over the course of the next several days will have consequences for thousands of employees and investors. How do you fulfill your responsibilities?

Michael Useem makes you feel as if "you are there," right in the center of the action. He was there: tramping up and down the mountain where firefighters made their momentous decisions; walking the battlefield at Gettysburg to see for himself just what General Pickett faced before making his ill-fated charge; going into a trading pit where million-dollar buy-and-sell decisions are made that affect fortunes of both the firm and the person making the call.

You'll discover why some decisions were flawless, perfectly on target, and others utterly disastrous. Most of all, you'll learn how to make the right calls yourself, whether you're changing your career, hiring an assistant, launching a product, or deciding on a potential acquisition or merger.

Smartly written and offering unusual insights into the minds of decision makers such as General Lee, The Go Point will provide the guidance for you to move with confidence when it's your turn to get off the fence.

Book Reviews

"Great decisions are the hallmark of a successful executive. In The Go Point , Michael Useem provides invaluable insight into how to make the critical call."

-- Larry Bossidy, retired chairman and CEO of Honeywell International and coauthor of Execution and Confronting Reality

" The Go Point is a tour de force of a tour through battlefields and boardrooms, illuminating the differences between brilliant and tragic decisions. Michael Useem is a wise, witty, and understanding guide whose insights can dramatically improve leadership and decision-making skills. Go for it!"

-- Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School, bestselling author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin and End

"Michael Useem ... spells out in plain English the consequences of making hard and fast decisions, when they matter most and impact teams of people. There are plenty of books on leadership, but few that explain how to take a team from one place to the next. This one is the best."

-- Maria Bartiromo, journalist and CNBC anchor

"This exciting book is a valuable guide to effective decision making. The Go Point's great strength is to put the reader inside the heads of fascinating, often heroic people as they seek to `get it right,' under pressure and with incomplete information."

-- Steven Kerr, managing director and chief learning officer, Goldman Sachs & Co.

"In The Go Point , Michael Useem identifies the essence of what it takes to prepare for moments of decision. He draws from an array of compelling accounts to help us appreciate what is essential for decisive decision making when it really counts."

-- Peter M. Dawkins, vice chairman, Citigroup Global Wealth Management, U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.)

"How does any leader know what to do and when to do it? Here Michael Useem, one of America's foremost thinkers about leadership, unravels that mystery in a fast-paced, well-written, and unforgettable book. Highly recommended for everyone with courage for the arena!"

-- David Gergen, professor of public service, director, Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

"In his latest book, Michael Useem walks you up close to your moment of decision, and, with examples from some of the most pivotal go points in human endeavor, shows you how to master it. This is by far the most practical book on decision making I have ever read."

-- Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules; Now, Discover Your Strengths; and The One Thing You Need to Know

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