Author: Henry L. Thompson, Ph.D.
Publisher: Jossey-Bas,
ISBN 978-0-470-58903-8

Click Here To Purchase The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions--And What to Do About It

Dr. Thompson has authored numerous books and articles while working for various organizations specializing in leadership potential, mentoring, and selection, as well as, consulting through transitions and succession planning on decision making, stress management, and organizational development. (2010, p.315) His personal experience spans from the battlefield to the board room from determining ones emotional intelligence through systems thinking and more. Currently Dr. Thompson is president, founder, and CEO of HPS [High Performing Systems], an internationally known management consulting and training firm.

The Stress Effect uses many modern day examples of how various leaders have made decisions during times of stress, and sometimes duress, and the outcomes of same. The book begins with one of the most poignant stories of recent times with U.S. Airways flight 1549 that was forced to land in the Hudson River after running into a flock of birds shortly after takeoff. The decisions and actions made by Captain Sullenberger managed to land his engine less plane safely and save lives.  (2010, Introduction) There are critical lessons that all leaders and managers can take from this tough decision making example.

Chapter one (2010) opens with the financial meltdown of 2007 and how that highlighted many leadership shortfalls, and the outcome of bad decisions, in dealing with this crisis and more. According to Dr. Thompson, this pathetic scenario reminded us of how important it is to have “…the right person in the right job.” (p.16) Dr. Thompson adheres to a Sigma Six mentality whereby one can, at least to some degree, “predict the potential success of a leader.” (p.19) Obviously many on Wall Street and elsewhere could learn much from this systems thinking program and following the causal loops to logical ends. Furthermore, he [Dr. Thompson] states that “Leaders are not created with equal amounts of all abilities and cannot be randomly assigned or promoted.” This lacking in critical abilities may have come into play in this debacle as well.

Organizations can be broken down into five basic categories according to function: production, tactical, organizational, strategic, and visionary. (2010, p.21) Production is the most basic level and least complex. Tactical is next in terms of complexity, and so on, with the pinnacle being visionary or the most complex of this strata. (pgs.22-3) It is imperative that leaders in these areas be an exact match for their job. Doing so means finding the right mix of knowledge, skills, experience, and decision making that comes from learned and innate abilities. (p.24)

Learned abilities can range from leadership skills that are industry specific to a combination of business and employment experiences that lead to making consistently good decisions.  Innate abilities, according to Dr. Thompson, fall into four categories: “cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, motivation, and personality.” (2010, p.25) The innate abilities are those that determine how a leader will interact with others, approach the task of problem solving, and making decisions. This all boils down to how one processes the information as it becomes available to them. (p.26) Data collected from various studies tends to suggest that achievement and drive are innate in most leaders. (p.28)

Dr. Thompson has created many charts and diagrams that simplify the entire decision making and problem solving process which he says should be logical and founded on a fully understanding the problems to be solved and/or the decisions to be made, including the ramifications of such. (2010, pgs.31-33) Strategies for doing so are either, rational or intuitive and can take place consciously or unconsciously depending on the situation at hand and the leadership experience of the individual making the decisions.

One such model is what Dr. Thompson calls the “Perception-Appraisal-Motivation-Action” model or PAMA. (2010, p.41) PAMA is tied to ones cognitive intelligence or their ability to quickly assimilate, factor, and recall knowledge that allows them to logically siphon through complex situations and locate the best decision. (p.53) Dr. Thompson offers many tests that can aptly measure the cognitive intelligence of leaders based on an array of factors ranging from age to gender to memory, and more. (pgs. 59-66) All can be useful tools in consulting and/or mentoring at the leadership level in businesses and organizations.

There are chapters that go into detail about what specific portions of the brain control in humans and how emotions interact with decisions and actions. (2010, Ch.3) Again, there are a plethora of tests, charts, and tables offered by Dr. Thompson via his extensive research that can, at least with some degree of certainty, measure such things, and to the degree allowable, ascertain how good one might be at leading.

Chapter four (2010) introduces how stress affects our decision making process and what chemically occurs inside our bodies in relation to that stress. Chapter five goes into detail about the various types of stress and how long term stress degrades our abilities to make good decisions. Chapter six talks about management of stress and building our “stress management capacity”, which Dr. Thompson says [paraphrase] is the amount of stress a leader can effectively function with at any given time. (p.172) Resilience is the heading for chapter seven. Commitment, control, and challenge are the capstone of a leaders ability to be resilient. (p.198) The remainder of this valuable book targets ways to prevent stress and how one can recalibrate their focus to maintain control over stress.

This was one of the best books on leadership and stress that I have ever had the pleasure to read and review. I would suggest it as a text for all leadership, management, and business courses at the Master’s level and above in universities around the world. Thank you Dr. Thompson for a very comprehensive and fresh perspective on this evolving topic.  

 Click Here To Purchase The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions--And What to Do About It