Harness Purpose & Discipline to Achieve Success

June 16, 2020

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

After the cold war, the Army War College in the United States coined the acronym VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity to describe the new military landscape. For aspiring business leaders, VUCA describes the new normal for you too.

In his new book, Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams, retired Navy SEAL Commander, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author Mark Divine warns that VUCA demands a level of elite performance from teams that most leaders are unable to deliver. The traditional command-and-control model of organizational leadership cannot produce the communication, commitment and culture that enables elite teams to “challenge themselves to step-up every day––to be, and do, the uncommon.”

Your Fear Wolf

The author argues that the biggest obstacle to elite performance is FEAR, presented as an acronym for Failure Expected Are you Ready? The metaphor for this fear is a “fear wolf” from Native American lore that resides in your mind and thrives on drama and “incessant negative self-talk.” That wolf must be stared down if you are going to be able to overcome your “deeply ingrained fears, negative reactionary patterns, and biases.” Only then will you be able to unlock your potential and operate at your fullest capacity. This is the foundation stone to the development of your elite team.


Staring down the fear wolf is not a one-and-done event. It requires vigilance and a long-term commitment to never handing back control of your mental self-talk. Divine identifies seven separate commitments that you must make with your team if you are to conquer the battleground of VUCA:

  1. Courage to embrace the reality of a situation, however harsh it may be, and to accept a high tolerance for risk in planning the best possible solution.
  2. Trust that is earned through three distinct elements––transparency, follow-through, and humility.
  3. Respect, like Trust, is earned through three character traits––integrity, authenticity, and clarity.
  4. Growth is a commitment to constantly challenging yourself and the status quo. Solving a problem is only the first step to improving that solution. Every member of your team should have clear career goals, and it is your obligation to help them achieve them.
  5. Excellence is also expressed in three distinct elements––curiosity, innovation, and simplicity. Elite teams never stop questioning the status quo; constantly seek opportunities for improvement; and remain focused on maximizing the simplicity of those improvements.
  6. Resiliency is key to the vigilance needed to stare down the fear wolf. Here again, Divine identifies three distinct traits––adaptability, persistence, and learning. Elite teams recognize the need to be highly selective in their learning practices; knowing which information is mission-critical, and which is just a distraction.
  7. Alignment is the hardest commitment because it demands the most from you as the team’s leader. Combining the radical focus of individual top performers into a well-oiled machine demands empowerment and a pragmatic communication style.

Divine underscores each of these commitments with detailed examples from his extensive military career. The scenarios may be battle-centric, but the lessons to be learned are equally valuable in corporate confrontations.

Staring Down the Wolf shares a unique perspective on how to stare down your own fear wolf and to unlock the tremendous potential of your team.


Andy Ghillyer

Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.


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