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Book Review:  The Political Brain by Drew Westen

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, by Drew Westen

Reviewed by Glenn Kaufman on Feb. 9, 2015 in Biz Lit


If we define leadership in terms of influencing others, then one form of influence is the use of persuasion to get people to do something or believe in something, or both.  One field that has made great use of persuasion (or some might say misuse) is politics.  We don’t think of corporate leaders as politicians as a matter of course, but their jobs often depend on how well they use the “politics of persuasion” to achieve organization goals.  As leaders, we can learn a lot about messages, beliefs, and how to package and use them effectively from the realm of politics.

In The Political Brain, Drew Westen takes us on a journey through some of the most significant political campaigns of recent decades, and with an abundance of stories and facts, helps dissect why some have worked, and led to election, while others have failed and taken a party years to overcome.  While polls and focus groups and all of the other tools of modern marketing are useful windows into the demographics of issues, preferences, and beliefs- whether “red” or “blue”, it all boils down to the messaging used by the candidates themselves and reinforced by their political machines that determines who actually wins elections.

For some, this may not sound like a revelation. However, Westen uses the latest in brain research to shed light on how we are wired and how our culture influences our beliefs, and how to “play” to this or even change them. If we pay attention to the way our minds process information and how our more primitive nature interacts with our logical “thinking brains”, we can all learn how to be more effective at getting results as leaders.

Westen’s book is a great read, and even if you have a distaste for politicians or politics as a field, you’ll be able to set that all aside and marvel at how even these very beliefs about politics are formed by the same basic mechanisms as the “red” or “blue” messages themselves.

We recommend this book as an important one for leaders to read.


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