In the Face of Uncertainty: 25 Top Leaders Speak
Out on Challenge, Change, and the Future of American
Martha I. Finney
AMACOM, New York, NY 2002.
Hardcover, 240 pages.
Where were you on September 11, 2001? How have your life
and the organizations to which you belong
This month’s book shares interviews conducted
with 25 leaders since 9-11. Their names may not be ones
you recognize, but the types of organizations they
represent will be familiar—from government
(commerce, military, and intelligence) to big business
(publishing and consumer manufacturing) to service
providers (training, placement, outplacement, public
relations, and human resources) to nonprofits (United
Way, Ad Council, and several think-tanks) and to
infrastructure (engineering and architecture,
construction, transportation, travel, and
Each six- to 12-page interview discusses the impact
of recent events, looks toward the future, and concludes
with three questions:
- What are you certain about?
- What are you uncertain of?
- What is the essential ingredient for
a group, these leaders recognize the importance of
embracing change and using an organization’s values
to guide action. They share a strong belief that a sense
of purpose combined with an optimistic outlook (faith and
hope) is the basis for resilience in the face of certain
change. They also provide advice on what it takes to lead
in today’s world. Three quotes I especially liked
“You can’t lead from a desk. You
can’t lead from an e-mail. You have to physically
make yourself visible to those you’re expecting to
—James C. Madden V (p. 153)
“Nobody can predict the future, but if you do
a good job of planning, you’ll be ready for
—Leonard D. Schaeffer (p. 182)
“... yesterday’s solution may be
completely useless to tomorrow’s
—Theodore G. Shackley (p. 192)
The major flaw of the book is that the author makes
no attempt to step back from the interviews and find the
major themes expressed by the interviewees as a group.
This means that while each interview is interesting in
and of itself, it is little more than raw, unanalyzed
data. The book would have benefited from a summary
chapter to review the most important findings from the
This is a very timely and interesting book, full of
ideas that speak to leaders today. I especially recommend
it to anyone currently working on an “environmental
scan” of the future for his or her organization.
Five years from now, however, this book is unlikely to
retain its relevance. It may seem dated and of interest
only to the student of history looking to understand the
impact of 9-11 on a wide variety of organizations. On the
other hand, perhaps we all need such a history to help us
avoid repeating our mistakes.
“I’m very uncertain of the enduring
nature of the lessons we’ve learned….
It’s an American characteristic to have a
dangerously short memory.”
—Stephen G. Harrison (p. 106-107)
CHRISTINE ROBINSON has more than 25 years
of leadership experience in quality systems for the
process industries. She has a master’s degree in
quality, values, and leadership from Marian College. An
avid reader, she spends a significant amount of her time
with her nose in books and her body at the
Pick it up today
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** = At a library?
September 2002 News for
a Change Homepage