The Steadfast Leader: A Book Review by Bob Morris

The Steadfast Leader: Control Anxiety, Make Confident Decisions, and Focus Your Team Using the New Science of Leadership
Randy Brazie and Geoffrey Vanderpal
McGraw Hill (November 2023)

How to become a high-impact instinctive leader  

The last time I checked, Amazon offers more than 60,000 books in the “leadership” category. Why publish another? The answer is suggested in an incident years ago when one of Albert Einstein’s  Princeton colleagues gently chided him for asking the same questions each year on his final examinations. “Quite true. Guilty as charged. Each year, the answers are different.”

The business world today is much more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. Yes, the WHAT and WHY of doing business are usually similar (if not identical). Marketing, for example. Its purpose is essentially the same now as it was in the ancient markets in Asia, India, and the Middle East: create or increase demand for the given offering.

According to Randy Brazie and Geoffrey Vanderpal, “In The Steadfast Leader, we introduce you to the concept of [begin italics] instinctive leadership [end italics], not another leadership style but rather a quality of excellent leadership, and how to strengthen this skill to improve resilience toward work stressors for everyone in the workplace…By emphasizing the [begin italics] instinctive [end italics] cognitive dimension of decision-making, we fill in the missing piece of the puzzle needed to achieve success in a variety of professional landscapes.”

More specifically, Brazie and Vanderpal carefully examine the Polyvagal Theory (i.e. how the state of our autonomic nervous system impacts human thoughts and behavior) in relation to instinctive leadership; explain four common leadership approaches (i.e.transactional, transformational, servant, and situational); how leaders achieve success in terms of human resource management; focus on the main prerequisites for financial success in the modern business environment; examine the real-life applications of instinctive leadership; discuss the physiological qualities and personal attributes that define good tams; and reveal the “secrets” that leaders need to know in order to strengthen both their rational and irrational mental faculties.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the nature and scope of Brazie and Vanderpal’s coverage:

o What Is the Polyvagal Theory? (Pages 2-6)
o The Perspective (14-18)
o The Polyvagal Ladder (21-26)
o Leadership in the 21st Century (36-38)
o Popular Leadership Styles (41-55)

o Table 2.1. “Comparison of Leadership Styles” (56)
o Effective Application of the Polyvagal Theory in Situational Leadership (68-69)
o Table 3.1 “Bias and Discrimination in Recruitment and Selection” (77-79)
o Developing a More Effective Workforce (80-90)
o The Mechanisms Behind Financial Decision-Making (103-107)

o Table 4.2 “Types of Bias in Financial Decision-Making”  (113-114
o Applying the Polyvagal Theory to Improve Financial Decision-Making (122-124)
o Characteristics of Good Teams (130-136)
o Using the Polyvagal Theory to Explain Low Employee Motivation (149-150)
o Enhancing the Staff’s Sense of Purpose and Meaning (158-161)

o Nurturing Intuitive Intelligence (169-172)
o Working Successfully with Others (189-193)
o Setting Up the Physical Environment to Provide Cues of Safety (193-197)

What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which intuitive leadership is most likely to thrive? Years ago at one of GE’s annual meetings, its then chairman and CEO, Jack Welch, was asked for the reasons why he so highly admired small companies. Here’s his response:

“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they focus on doing what is most important. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”

The concept of instinctive leadership is by no means new. Here is my favorite passage in Lao-tse’s Tao te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

However, as Brazie and Vanderpal explain, the process by which to develop and then apply the concept is based on modern scientific principles. Lao-tse nails the WHAT with timeless wisdom. These days, leaders also need to understand what will work — and what won’t — when responding to challenges that are unprecedented.

These are among Randy Brazie and Geoffrey Vanderpal’s concluding thoughts: “The science-based theories, strategies, and findings discussed throughout this book can be used by any leader…future leaders who have not yet unlocked the potential of the rational and nonrational mental facilities, and more seasoned leaders who are struggling to enhance productivity and well-being ofbtheirvstaff. The3 conc epts and theories highklightdvin this bookwill huide future generations in the culrtivation of instinctive leadership.”

I commend them on the quality of the information, insights, and counsel they provide in abundance. That said, the value of the material will ultimately be determined by how effectively you and other readers absorb and digest it, select what is most relevant to the given situation, and then apply it in collaboration with those who share your steadfast determination to control anxiety, make confident decisions, and focus on using the new science of leadership to achieve a strategic objective.

* * *

In school, college, and then graduate school, I learned more and learned it faster when I discussed material in a group with 3-5 others taking the same course. I also recorded key Q&As on 3×5 file cards (based on course material, whatever the subject) with a Q on one side and the A on the other, held together by a thick rubber band. I carried them with me and reviewed the content whenever I had a few minutes to kill.

Here are two other suggestions to keep in mind while reading The Steadfast Leader: Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), page references, and lessons you have learned as well as your responses to key points posed within the narrative. Pay special attention to the end-of-chapter “Key Points” at the conclusion of Chapters 1-7.

These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.

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