Back in the 1980s, the British pop group Tears for Fears produced one of the most memorable songs of the last four decades. Everybody Wants to Rule the World topped music charts back in 1985, and Rolling Stone recently ranked the song among its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s a rich, catchy song with lush guitar solos and memorable lyrics that speak to the often-unsettling human need for control, dominance and influence.
Ironically, the working title of the song in the studio was “Everybody Wants To Go To War.” I’m hearing that song a lot in my head these days, given the tragic and unnecessary war in Ukraine, and it has me thinking about bad decisions and unfortunate patterns that so many of us see in our own personal and professional lives. Every organization, public and private, large and small, could benefit from more reflection, understanding, and independent thinking, and for those CEOs, managers, and elected officials interested in better, more consensus-based decisions, I’d recommend a few new books.
How often have you heard: “It’s not personal, it’s just business” after a decision? That’s never entirely true, and in Emotional: How Feelings Shape Our Thinking, CalTech Professor Leonard Mlodinow explains that all decisions — good and especially bad — are grounded in part by our uniquely personal emotions and core body functions at the time. This is a fascinating chronicle of the evolutionary roots of the mind-body connection, where feelings come from, and how those with “emotional intelligence,” the ability to understand the feelings of others, excel in business, politics, and day-to-day interactions. Life is busy and we all must make decisions and interact with people throughout the day, even when we are angry, upset, bored, distracted or hungry.
Think this doesn’t matter? Ask anyone up for parole. Who knew that parole boards granted requests 60% more often when the hearing was the first of the day or just after a break or lunch? Mlodinow provides plenty of other interesting data on the bio-roots of motivation and determination, and he encourages all of us to assess our own emotional profile so we can understand ourselves, make better decisions, and also recognize patterns in others. Small wonder that we’re already hearing more about the role of emotion in wartime leaders’ decision making these days.
So if strategic decisions, some good, and others tragically bad, are shaped by emotion, how can we help a leader or a team avoid adverse outcomes? With your influence, according to Yale Professor Zoe Chance and her smart, funny new book, Influence Is Your Superpower. You need not be a celebrity, YouTube influencer, or celebrated expert to give actionable advice and shape behavior. Charisma, she explains, isn’t something you are — it’s what you do through word framing, body language, and by leaning in to others with deep, authentic listening and intention.
I liked her take on how individual influence can be contagious and lead to broader, collective action among people and organizations and her advice on framing negotiations around three questions: How could this be even better for me? How could this be even better for them? Who else could benefit? will be especially valuable for teams trying to find common ground in difficult situations. This thoughtful framing could work for nations in conflict too.
Of course, ineffective leadership, entrenched systems, and toxic cultures may not change overnight. Change takes time and often requires subtle and everyday acts of disobedience. In The Art of Insubordination: How To Dissent And Defy Effectively, George Mason University Professor Todd Kashdan traces the history and theory of dissent and change in a variety of contexts. Non-conformity is hard for us humans and we take comfort from the familiarity of the collective status quo. We like to fit in; we avoid conflict. Kashdan’s easy-to-read, step-by-step playbook on how to become a persuasive and patient dissenter who finds allies and builds consensus incrementally is incredibly persuasive. So too his advice on how adding dissenters to teams — even just one — can result in broader perspectives and better decisions over time. As we are all seeing on the global stage and especially in Ukraine, rebels matter.
Four decades ago, Tears for Fears captured the tension between conflict and peace in the human condition in a song. They’ve now released a new album with songs about life, love, and fraught choices. As we sort out how far-reaching and impactful decisions are influenced and made, seems like we still have plenty to learn.
Authors & Innovators is an occasional column by Larry Gennari, a transactional lawyer, law professor, and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival. Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.