In your new book, The Leader\u2019s Checklist, you suggest leaders make a list of principles to review when making decisions. How does a checklist help a CIO, who has probably been leading a long time?\n\n From watching many leaders in action, I\u2019ve observed that they have a pretty good checklist mentally, but in practice they fail to apply it. It\u2019s the knowing-doing gap.\n \n It\u2019s one thing to know the principles and express them verbally. But it\u2019s a behavioral leap to translate those principles into what you actually do. It\u2019s a fast-moving world, and you have to make significant decisions in moments of stress and complexity. A checklist that you review daily can trigger action. If you aren\u2019t mindful of doing this day to day, you\u2019re going to lose some of your edge. You will be less able to get people to stay focused.\n \nBusiness decisions seem fraught in this shaky economy and at this politically charged moment. Do executives feel that? \n\n When life is good and unchanging, the discretionary impact that leaders have is modest. The consequences of someone in a position of responsibility failing to lead right now are greater, whether that\u2019s at a hospital, in a community, at the head of a business or a country. \n \n Being very determined to know what your own checklist should be and having it ready to apply has become more vital.\n \nWhy shouldn\u2019t a CIO stand back and let others lead the \u00adcompany?\n\n CIOs, by virtue of the fact that they have \u201cofficer\u201d in their title, inherently carry some responsibility for the whole company. \n \n Managing information is front and center, but the role implicitly says that they have to worry about brand value, accounting each quarter and product development.\n \nYou dissect the Civil War surrender at Appomattox and last year\u2019s rescue of \u00adminers in Chile. What can executives learn from these events?\n\n These are extremely dramatic events greatly influenced by people who perhaps never expected to be involved in them.\n \n At Appomattox, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assigns the task of cere\u00admonial surrender to an amateur, a one-star general\u2014Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He effects what becomes known as a respectful salute. Each side salutes the other, though four days earlier they were trying to kill each other. It was an act of reconciliation.\n \n Whatever their personal feelings or however much animosity there is towards another party, a leader must think, What does the company need? The principle: It\u2019s about the mission, not about you. Honor the room.\n \n In Chile on Aug. 5, 2010, Laurence Golborne, the minister of mines, received a one-line message on his smartphone about a cave in the desert falling in. He\u2019s a regulator; he doesn\u2019t run any mines. He goes there and concludes that the owner doesn\u2019t have the resources to get these guys, 2,000 feet down, out of rock twice the density of granite.\n \n It looked impossible. Golborne decided, at considerable risk\u2014if things went wrong, the national government would be blamed\u2014to lead the task of getting the miners back to surface.\n \n The principle there is that it\u2019s of critical importance to take stock of where you are and who you are. You must assess whether you can make a difference. Convey your character.\n \nWhat\u2019s the lesson for CIOs?\n\n CIOs might see problems in the supply chain or with the handling of private information and lead change.\n \n If you see problems that your expertise and experience could solve, even if you\u2019re not in charge, sometimes you\u2019re better positioned to solve them. You want to identify as a leader. You decide for yourself: In my lifetime I\u2019m going to help other people get to a promised land. To lead is to make a difference in the lives of others.\n \nMichael Useem is director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99.