Primal Leadership by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, copyright 2013

cover image via Amazon
cover image via Amazon

Everyone knows smiles and yawns are contagious, but the authors of Primal Leadership contend emotions are, too; therefore, effective leaders are those who manage their own emotions — and the emotions of those they lead — in positive ways.

Reflect on your personal experiences in the work place. Could your boss’s bad mood bring down the morale of your entire team? When working in a small group, have you noticed one person’s attitude — positive or negative — can influence everyone else? Or perhaps you’ve been drawn into a live performance by the skill of an accomplished actor, someone who can, seemingly without effort, bring the audience to tears or laughter.

Leaders who express warmth and enthusiasm attract the most talented people, and retain them, research shows. In the business world, research has even quantified the relationship between attitude and profit: “For every 1 percent improvement in the service climate, there’s a 2 percent increase in revenue.”

On the flip side, the authors compare “dissonant” leaders — those who do not resonate emotionally with their teams — with the Dementors from the Harry Potter books: they “drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them.” (Gotta love a business book with an HP reference!)

By deftly presenting the findings of numerous research projects and focusing on brain research, the authors offer hard facts about the soft side of leadership: emotions. While intellect may open the door to leadership, “intellect alone will not make a leader; leaders execute a vision by motivating, guiding, inspiring, listening, persuading — and, most crucially, through creating resonance.”

Primal Leadership is divided into three parts: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, Making Leaders, and Building Emotionally Intelligent Organizations.

Part One lays the foundation by identifying and detailing the four domains of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Once this foundation is established, the authors introduce the six most common leadership styles and the reasons four of those effectively generate resonance and two do not. (Those four effective styles are visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic.) The authors compare the ability of effective leaders to switch styles as needed for any given situation to a golf pro selecting the right club for the conditions at hand.

Part Two begins with real-world examples of leaders in the business world and research related to how often leaders do not receive honest, constructive feedback. This lack of accurate feedback enables them to persist in believing they are effective leaders when they are not. The point the authors intend to establish early in this chapter is that, while emotional intelligence is partially determined by genetics, these leadership competencies can be learned and strengthened. The following chapters lay out the five discoveries required for becoming a resonant leader: the ideal self, the real self, a learning agenda, reconfiguring the brain, and the power of relationships. I appreciate the authors’ candor in making it clear developing the required emotional intelligence competencies to become a resonant leader is not easy, but it is possible with a desire to learn and a plan for doing so.

Part Three moves from the individual to emotional intelligence in teams and organizations. The authors address sustainable change on a large scale and incorporating emotional intelligence to organizational culture.

I liked this quote: “In the best organizations,  people share a vision of who they are collectively, and they share a special chemistry. They have the feeling of a good fit, of understanding and being understood, and a sense of well-being in the presence of others. It is the responsibility of emotionally intelligent leaders to create such resonant organizations.”

For anyone who has read this far: do you have any experiences with resonant leaders you can share in the comments? What traits did they demonstrate that contributed to effective leadership?

To read a 2001 article by these authors in the early stages of their research, visit the Harvard Business Review.

Daniel Goleman has a wealth of resources and information on his website.

Note: one of my professional goals this year is to read one book related to leadership, management or assertiveness each quarter and blog about it. I welcome your recommendations.

Author: Keri