Cover Page




Wiley Logo

by Gordon R. England

Photo of Gordon R. England speaking in front of pentagon.

Source: Photo courtesy of the U.S. government—

I became the 72nd Secretary of the Navy on May 24, 2001. A little more than three months later, I was thrust into the middle of a terrifying situation where I needed to bring to bear every leadership principle I had ever learned.

Like many Americans, I watched in horror on the morning of 9/11 as terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center. Our entire military force went on high alert. We didn't yet know who was responsible for this heinous act or where they might be, or if they'd attack us again within hours or days. Tens of thousands of people working for the Navy all around the world wanted answers. Until we could learn more, we had none to give them.

Thousands of enlisted personnel, commissioned officers, and civilian employees stepped forward for their country and shouldered their burdens side by side to ensure that our bases, ships, and personnel were safe, secure, and vigilant. These dedicated men and women, many with different cultural backgrounds and belief systems, exhibited team leadership at every level and exemplified what retired four‐star Air Force General John Michael Loh once told me when he said: “No one is more important than anyone else.” I often tell people that I was not the Deputy Secretary of Defense or Secretary of the Navy. I served in those roles, but only on a temporary basis. The titles defined what I did; they did not define who I was.

One of the greatest leaders of our time, who I believe personified this philosophy, was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. When he was a young man, he loved history and spent a great deal of time reading stories about the ancient Greeks. Many historians have commented that Eisenhower gained much of his leadership wisdom from his study of the ancients.

Johann Wolfgang (von) Goethe, a famous German writer and statesman, once said: “He who cannot draw upon 3,000 years is living from hand to mouth.” Like Eisenhower, great leaders often draw upon the wisdom of the ancients, including Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. This book uniquely unearths interesting and inspirational enlightenment offered by these sages and others to illustrate what separates great and revered leaders from the rest of the pack.

Two additional leaders that I admire and respect are President George W. Bush and his father, President George H.W. Bush. When George W. Bush asked me to be the first Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, I readily accepted even though I had to reluctantly leave my position as secretary of the Navy. Serving with Homeland Security afforded me the opportunity to leverage and hone my experience and leadership skills in an entirely new organization to protect our citizens from attacks at home.

When George H.W. Bush was only 19 years old, he earned his wings as a Navy pilot during World War II. He was shot down on a bombing run over a Pacific Island and, through excellent Navy teamwork, survived the ordeal. That experience served as a valuable lesson in military team leadership that Bush relied upon throughout his career.

This book contains interviews from dozens of respected military commanders, war heroes, and world leaders, many of whom have achieved great success in civilian roles as CEOs or executives of multibillion‐dollar firms. They impart harrowing, fascinating, and informative stories and team leadership strategies that clarify and exemplify the seven secrets revealed in this book.

President John F. Kennedy once said that “man is still the most extraordinary computer of all” and “the human mind is our fundamental resource.” He believed that “leadership and learning are indispensable,” and understood the critical need for leaders to expand their thinking and inspire others to do the same. On May 21, 1962, he demonstrated his commitment to this goal by articulating his “commander's intent” to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. While serving as an engineer at Honeywell, helping with the design of the Gemini spacecraft, I believed in Kennedy's vision and agreed with his statement that “science contributes to our culture in many ways, as a creative intellectual activity in its own right, as the light which has served to illuminate man's place in the universe, and as the source of understanding man's own nature.”

This book reveals the latest scientific research into the human mind conducted by some of the world's most respected neuroscientists and psychologists. Within these pages we can discover why some leaders succeed while others fail, why some employees are fully engaged while others are not, and why it's important for leaders to transform hearts and minds.

Our world is in desperate need of leaders with the desire, courage, and vision to chart a new course toward a future where individual talents and initiatives are respected and teams are empowered, engaged, and effective. It is my sincere hope that as a current or aspiring leader, you will look in the mirror and deep inside your heart, for that is where leadership begins. Books, seminars, and coaches can help us improve our knowledge, our tactics, and our skills. They cannot fundamentally change who we are as human beings. We must first learn how to lead ourselves with courage, integrity, and a heart filled with love. For without these defining virtues, our leadership efforts will ring hollow and few will be inspired to follow us anywhere.

—Gordon R. England, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, 72nd and 73rd Secretary of the Navy

The Definition of a Leader

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.


Over the past decade, as an executive consultant and coach for dozens of the world's largest and most innovative companies, I've watched my clients spend millions with Big Five consulting firms to implement change management or leadership (Figure I.1) development initiatives. Many months later, these consulting firms delivered comprehensive and detailed Lean and Six Sigma roadmaps to a glorious future based on the latest management trends. That was the easy part. The hard part was inspiring individuals on each functional team to willingly grab the keys and drive toward the destination on the map.

No artwork provided.

Figure I.1 Leadership

Source: Matthew Trommer,

A change management or leadership development roadmap outlines what we should do to get somewhere, but rarely does it address how we'll get there. Moreover, it does not usually articulate why we should go there in the first place. The real why is not about perceived problems we need to rectify, it's about defining purpose and passion, which far transcends a simple mission statement. The how is not really about the individual process steps we will take to get there, it's about how we'll convince our teams to go there enthusiastically. The what is not only about a comprehensive process to drive more efficiency, it's about the foundational leadership principles the organization and its leaders embrace.

With a sincere desire to make a difference in our organization, many of us have hired consultants or read great leadership books written by excellent authors. We started following the advice of these experts and perhaps we made some progress. Then we started taking one step forward and two steps back. Why?

It's because we have lives and brains. Our lives often get in the way of our brains and vice versa. We're juggling kids, soccer games, piano lessons, PTA meetings, volunteer organizations, social engagements, and the demands of our profession. We're hammering out emails to San Francisco or Beijing at 2 A.M. We want to start adopting that new leadership habit, but our busy lives make it nearly impossible to retrain our brain. Vanquishing our dusty old habits to adopt shiny new ones seems like an impossible task. How do we solve this problem?

The 7 Secrets of Neuron Leadership provides simple and clear answers to this pervasive question. This book offers startling new ways to train our brain by allowing us to better understand how our minds work considering recent neuroscientific discoveries. It also provides insights from dozens of top military commanders who have led small teams in some of the most demanding and dangerous environments imaginable. Many are now CEOs or senior executives with large firms. Finally, this book reveals ancient wisdom passed down from the Greeks that can help us understand how to lead teams with passion, compassion, and love.

Most other leadership books focus on the latest skills, practices, and habits. These are important, but they are primarily outward‐reflective qualities. The best leaders understand that you can't judge a book by its cover. The true quality of a book is found on its pages, not on its jacket. It's not enough to act like a leader. When we strip away the surface‐level veneer that we display to the world, we must also embody the inner qualities of a leader down to the core of our being. While The 7 Secrets of Neuron Leadership does offer unique perspectives to improve our outward capabilities and skill sets, this book is primarily designed to help us better understand why leadership is an inside job.

In his book, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential, John Mattone describes three key elements to successful leadership:

  1. Capability: This refers to a leader's present skills and competencies that can be developed, nourished, and enhanced.
  2. Commitment: This is about the motivational factors that drive leaders including passion, desire, motivation, and zeal.
  3. Connectedness: Internally, great leaders are aligned with a set of values and character elements that drive success. Externally, they are aligned and connected to the mission values and goals of the organization.

Again, while this book does touch upon leadership Capability, it primarily focuses on the “inside” qualities of Commitment and Connectedness, but from an entirely new perspective.


Worldwide, bad leadership is costing organizations over one trillion dollars each year.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2015 revealed that about 50 percent of the adults surveyed left a job to get away from a manager. A similar Gallup study of more than 1 million U.S. workers found that the number one reason people quit their jobs is poor leadership.

In the 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace study, researchers stunned U.S. firms by revealing that only one‐third of workers are engaged in their jobs, leaving more than two‐thirds who are completely or partially disengaged. The estimated cost to U.S. firms is over $500 billion each year in lost productivity and revenue. Given that only 48 percent of Americans have a full‐time job, and only one‐third are engaged, that means only 16 percent of the U.S. population is actively engaged in full‐time work.

Gallup studies have concluded that work groups with bad leaders are 50 percent less productive and 44 percent less profitable than well‐managed teams. A Barna Group study found that two in five Americans rank their boss as “bad,” and just one in five assigns only positive attributes. They also discovered that 90 percent of Americans believe the nation is facing a crisis of leadership.

Researchers from Eastern Kentucky University's Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety program uncovered that workplace stress is costing U.S. firms $300 billion each year for healthcare and lost work days. They created an infographic showing that 77 percent of workers exhibit physical symptoms caused by work stress and 60 percent said they wanted a new career.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) predicts that every time an organization has to replace a salaried employee, it costs between six and nine months of salary. The Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that for an educated executive, the cost is more like 213 percent of annual salary.

An infographic created by Inc. magazine is eye opening. The title reads: “The Real Productivity‐Killer: Jerks.” Inc. infers that bad bosses aren't just a pain, they're bad for business. Colorful graphics in this report disclose that 65 percent of employees would choose a better boss over a pay raise. Around one‐third confessed to dialing back their productivity due to poor leadership. The Inc. study concludes that it's not what bosses do that makes them bad, it's what they don't do.

The number one thing they don't do is inspire their teams. The number two thing they don't do is improve productivity—because they accept mediocrity. The number three thing is not providing a clear vision, and number four is not being a good team leader.

Many experts believe that bad leadership is often related to a bad culture. A survey conducted on 200,000 employees across 500 firms indicated that 71 percent of those organizations have mediocre to poor cultures.1

Bad team leaders and mediocre cultures are not limited to the United States. The Chartered Institute of Management (CIM) found that almost half of all workers in Britain left at least one job solely because of a bad boss. In Australia, around two‐thirds of workers who responded to a CareerOne survey rated their leaders as either “horrible” or “average.”

Obviously, firms with bad leaders need to change, but so do many organizations with mostly good leaders. They need to change because everything around them is changing. They need to change because the difference between good leadership and great leadership could equate to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.

Leaders who recognize the need to change, and are courageous enough to do so, can learn a great deal about leadership from three excellent sources of wisdom.


The fastest supercomputer in the world is China's Tianhe‐2. This beast has 18,000 times more moxie than your Sony PlayStation® and is 400,000 times faster than an iPhone 7®, but it will never know sadness, kindness, or joy. It will never understand the meaning of hope, failure, or inspiration. And it will never feel happiness, fear, or love. It will never be able to lead or inspire teams because human beings aren't computers. Trying to lead people without a thorough understanding of how their brains work is like trying to become a golf pro without learning how to properly swing a club. Some leaders are naturally gifted and may do well, but rarely does someone make it to the pros without studying the science of the swing.

The science behind the “leadership swing” is called neuroscience.

Some of the world's top neuroscientists, many of whom are associated with leading institutions like Harvard University, have made startling discoveries in the last decade about the human brain. Some of these insights can help leaders dramatically improve employee morale, productivity, and retention. For example, increasing oxytocin can substantially enhance organizational trust and customer brand loyalty. Dozens of blue‐chip firms have also discovered that employing neuromarketing principles can offer marketers the equivalent of a flashlight and a roadmap into the decision‐making centers of a customer's brain.


The Greeks knew more about love and each other than we do. They promulgated the Enneagram personality profiler, which some believe is far more precise than Myers‐Briggs or similar systems. The modern world uses only one word for love; the ancient Greeks used seven. Each is directly related to and serves as a foundational element for the Seven Secrets of Neuron Leadership outlined in this book. For some readers, approaching leadership development from the perspective of “love” may seem a bit too touchy‐feely. After all, isn't this a business book? Shouldn't we be discussing the net net and the bottom line and quarterly business reviews?

For those who see a disconnect between business and the science of love—including an understanding of why employees love their jobs and customers love your brand—I recommend a great business book titled Conscious Capitalism, co‐written by John Mackey, the co‐founder of Whole Foods Market. In this popular book, Mackey explains why firms that have a passion and purpose, and aspire to make an impact rather than only money, often financially outperform competitors by a factor of eleven to one on Wall Street.

The bottom line is that the Greeks have a lot to teach us about the net net.


Before John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, he was a naval officer and the skipper of Motor Torpedo boat PT‐109. He commanded a crew of two officers and 14 sailors. These brave men charged headlong toward enemy warships that carried orders of magnitude more firepower.

One fateful night, Kennedy's PT‐109 was accidentally sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy led his team by example. He towed a badly burned enlisted man for four hours to reach a nearby island, and encouraged his men to help each other through their difficult ordeal. They were stranded on the island for almost a week, surviving on only coconuts and Kennedy's strong leadership. Many say this near‐death experience helped to create one of the most iconic and inspirational leaders of our time. Those who have served in small military units understand that team leadership does not start with a catastrophe. It starts with comradery, respect, and teamwork.

In modern society, experts now agree that the bottom‐up and top‐down leadership models of the past are no longer effective. In today's fast‐paced, internationally diverse, and Internet‐driven society, we need an entirely new form of team leadership that empowers each person on the team to contribute as leaders in the most optimal way.

The best team leadership examples can be found in tight military units such as Special Forces, submarines, platoons, air squadrons, and PT boats. In this book, dozens of former generals, admirals, Navy SEAL officers, and other military commanders with expertise in team leadership, many of whom are now corporate executives, share fascinating stories and insights to help us solve expensive and pervasive leadership problems.


The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river, and he's not the same man.” The speed of business today makes it impossible to stand still. The river of life will pass us by. To be successful leaders, we must continuously improve our knowledge and skills lest we become obsolete.

That said, if your only motivation to become a better team leader is to make more money, you bought the wrong book. Increased revenue and market share may well be the byproduct of improved leadership, but it should not be your only goal. This book is not a magical pair of slippers that can be clicked three times to find your way across a rainbow or to a pot of gold. It is not a get‐rich‐quick scheme or an instructional manual on how to bend the universe and everyone in it to your will. You will not consistently invoke positive change by manipulation, coercion, deceit, or force. People need to be inspired, not compelled.

Rather than focus outwardly on trying to change everyone else, great leaders seek to change themselves. They understand that we must first make the appropriate and wise changes to our life, to our reactions, to our expectations, to our attitudes, to our communication style, to our mind and heart, and to our leadership style. We can then see a magical change in us—and perhaps in everyone we lead.

It's obvious that our world is in desperate need of better leadership. My heartfelt desire is that the secrets revealed in this book will inspire, inform, and motivate you and others to lead us all toward a brighter and better future. If you agree to embark on this exciting journey, you must be open to new concepts, methodologies, sciences, viewpoints, teachings, and, of course, change. Your path will be lined with years of research, experience, and insights, as well as inspirational knowledge offered by dozens of military commanders, experts, philosophers, authors, executives, world leaders, and even poets.

One of these poets is the late Dr. James Kavanaugh. He was the bestselling author of more than a dozen books and the best friend of my late father, William J. Reed. Dr. Kavanaugh's widow, Cathy Kavanaugh, graciously granted permission for a few of her husband's writings and poems to be reprinted in this book.

Kavanaugh's books have touched the hearts of millions, starting with his first poetry book, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. A dozen publishers turned down this inspirational book that eventually sold more than 1 million copies. Kavanaugh then wrote Search: A Guide for Those Who Dare to Ask of Life Everything Good and Beautiful, which launched a movement and a series of workshops based on his unique approach to introspection and self‐healing.

Dr. Kavanaugh once told me that a “searcher” must be prepared for a journey, not an overnight stay in a motel. He called this “the long game,” a philosophy that helps us view our profession, and our life's purpose, as a journey, not a temporary situation. We can't play a few holes, walk off the course, and expect miraculous changes to occur. Improving our team leadership skills requires playing all eighteen holes. In the next chapter, we'll tee off at the first hole and discover an ancient secret that many leaders have used to dramatically improve their game.


Grateful for the sight

 of a single star,

Grateful for the memories

 salvaged from afar.

Grateful for this time of silent peace,

Grateful beyond all words

 when the mad echoes cease.

Grateful for deliverance

 from a private hell,

Grateful beyond

 what a human voice can tell.

Grateful for the wonder of human love.

Grateful for some strange guidance from above.

 Grateful for life.

Grateful for rebirth,

 Grateful forever to live joyously on the earth.

—Dr. James Kavanaugh, Laughing Down Lonely Canyons


Chapter 1
The Secret of Persuasion

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?


Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Figure 1.1 Abraham Lincoln

Source: Historical photo from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Library of Congress, taken by Alexander Gardner.

On December 14, 1863, Ohio Congressman James Ashley opened more than a few eyes in the House of Representatives by introducing one of the most controversial constitutional amendments in history. Missouri Senator John Brooks Henderson brought the amendment to the Senate floor on January 11, 1864. Three months later, the Republican‐majority Senate approved the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, but the Democrat‐controlled House blocked the final passage. On June 15, 1864, the amendment failed to pass by a mere 13 votes.

During the heated summer of 1864, bloody battles pitted brother against brother on dusty fields across a dozen states. Convinced that final passage of the amendment might eventually heal a divided country, President Abraham Lincoln became impassioned to push it through. During his campaign, he called for the “utter and complete extirpation” of slavery as “a fitting, and necessary conclusion” to the war.

After winning the election, Lincoln kept his promise and petitioned for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In December 1864, as part of his annual message to legislators, Lincoln made it clear that he would not wait until the March 1865 congressional inauguration, but intended to fight for immediate passage. He wrote, “The next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. May we not agree that the sooner the better?”

House Democrats stonewalled. Backed into a corner, Lincoln faced a difficult, uphill battle. What did he do? Did he stand on a podium and berate all the dissenters for being malicious, injudicious, or un‐American? Did he blame them for all the perils of the world, or for potentially prolonging a costly and devastating war? Did he divide the country further by conceding defeat because winning was impossible?

He did none of these things. Instead, he gave the world a lasting and inspirational example of leadership. He climbed into his carriage and rode to the homes of every “fence‐sitting” Democrat. He spent long hours negotiating, pleading, and most importantly, persuading his opponents. He reached across the acrimonious aisle and twisted intransigent arms and negotiated difficult deals.

He did whatever it took to win their minds and hearts.

Some historians argue that he gave away too much or used shady tactics. While it's true that patronage jobs were offered to some Democrats in exchange for breaking ranks, and purists may be correct in calling this move a bit shady, it is also true that Lincoln did not compromise his core principles or resort to illegal or immoral tactics. He did what all true and great leaders must do: He brought to bear an equal measure of compromise and courage to ensure a greater good.

On January 31, 1865, a nervous Lincoln paced the floor as the world awaited the outcome. The Confederates were on the brink of defeat, and the Republicans thought this might sway several “swing” Democrats from voting in favor of the amendment. A hushed silence swept across the floor of the chamber as House of Representatives Speaker Schuyler Colfax stepped to the podium. He cleared his throat and said, “On the passage of the joint resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States, the ayes have 119, the noes 56.”

Lincoln exhaled a sigh of relief. The Thirteenth Amendment had passed by a narrow margin. The president had succeeded in convincing 16 Democrats to join all the Republicans in voting in favor of the measure. The rules of parliament were temporarily overlooked to allow a throng of congressmen to cheer and “weep like children.” One great leader, led by a heart filled with passion and purpose, had persuaded 16 minds and hearts to do the right thing. How had this one man changed the course of history?

By understanding and applying the art of persuasion.

Great leaders like Abraham Lincoln know that you can never force change. Using coercion or fear to get your way might work temporarily, but the inevitable consequences are usually dismal. To inspire long‐term and effective change, leaders must win minds and hearts, which requires advanced skills in persuasion. Contrary to popular belief, this art is not new and has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle invented the Persuasion Model, which theorizes that persuading someone requires three primary arguments that appeal to instincts (ethos), emotions (pathos), and logic (logos) (Figure 1.2).

Illustration of Aristotle Pyramid.

Figure 1.2 Aristotle Pyramid

Source: Graphic created by author. Aristotle (384–322 BC). Bust White photo is from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to jlorenz1.

Aristotle developed The Art of Rhetoric starting in 367 BC, which detailed his triangle of persuasive arguments. Today, top speakers and leaders incorporate these principles into their speeches or approaches to persuade and inspire audiences and followers.

One corner of Aristotle's triangle, which he called Pathos, is defined as a “pathetic appeal.” From an emotional perspective, Pathos relates to feelings, suffering, pain, or calamity. Linguistic derivatives of Pathos include empathy, sympathy, and apathy. The goal of the speaker or leader is to appeal to heartstrings and create a shared emotional bond or connection.

Top leaders use a rhetorical approach called enumeration, which is strengthened by making an emotional appeal three times in succession while using three related but different examples. The speaker or leader seeks to trigger key audience emotions that can set up subsequent calls to action, which might be to take out your wallet or approve a purchase order.

Aristotle recommended seven positive emotions as compared to their contrasting negative emotions to accomplish this goal:

  1. Calmness vs. Anger
  2. Friendship vs. Enmity
  3. Confidence vs. Fear
  4. Shamelessness vs. Shame
  5. Kindness vs. Unkindness
  6. Pity vs. Indignation
  7. Emulation vs. Envy

When employed properly and passionately, with the right motives and intent, Aristotle's Pathos moves an audience to feel what the speaker or leader feels, which in turn creates a bond similar to what one might feel for a close friend or loved one. People want to follow people they trust and like. The right emotional appeal allows us to connect with others and lay a solid foundation for the second mode of persuasion.

When you step onto the stage, whether in front of your team, a large audience, or a single person, it's critical to connect emotionally, which is Pathos. Once this has been accomplished as noted above, you then need to build credibility and trust, which Aristotle called Ethos. The best way to do this is to appeal to someone's instinctual drivers. As humans, we are wired to avoid fear, harm, or pain. By informing our audience about a potential risk or action that could cause them harm, we can gain their trust. We must do this honestly and factually by researching our topic.

Aristotle used three additional terms to define his views about Ethos. Phronesis means good sense. When we communicate, it should be relevant, tasteful, and appeal to our audience's good senses.

Arête stands for good moral character. By showing our honest vulnerability, authenticity, and true heart, we allow our audience to see our arête.

Finally, eunoia refers to goodwill. Our audience needs to sense that our intentions are selfless and that our honest goal is to be helpful by informing them about something important, such as a pending calamity or consequence.

The third leg of Aristotle's persuasion triangle is Logos. This is where we make a logical argument supported by facts, figures, numbers, validation, case studies, evidence, and reason. There are two types of arguments that ensure we are properly delivering Logos: deductive and inductive.

Deductive reasons, or arguments, are generally based on specific premises, delivered in small steps, that are true. If one small premise is true, then the next, which builds upon the first, must also be true, and therefore the logical conclusion must be valid. Socrates also used this approach by effectively gaining agreement for a small truth and then using that as a steppingstone for the next one. For example, we might say:

After having said “yes” seven times to small unarguable truths, it's almost impossible for someone to then say “no” to question number eight.

Inductive reasoning, where the premises are not certain but offer strong evidence to support the truth, can also be used to invoke Logos. One application of this uses reverse psychology, and it can be a powerful technique to encourage someone to “sell themselves.” As an example, a clever salesperson with a gleaming smile might say to a prospect:

In this example, by offering a morsel of information that included strong evidence of truth, Linda used inductive reasoning to pique curiosity and then politely refused to satisfy the interest. She then used reverse psychology to “close” John by stating that he probably would not be interested.

Like many ancient Greeks, absent HBO® and Showtime®, Aristotle had a lot of time on his hands to conduct observational science to create his Persuasion Model. He studied how humans act and react and are persuaded through speech and action. He obviously had no idea that, more than 2,000 years later, modern neuroscientists would not only validate his theories but discover why they work from a scientific “human brain” standpoint.