Primal Leadership argues that the ability of a leader to engage and direct the emotions of his followers is a critical component in effective leadership. “The emotional task of the leader is primal – that is, first – in two senses: It is both the original and most important act of leadership.”(pg. 5) Because a leader has the strongest influence on the collective emotions of a group of people, it is primarily their responsibility to move the emotions of the group in a positive direction and help clear away negative ones. This process of moving collective emotions in a positive direction is called resonance, while the opposite effect is dissonance. The ability to effect the emotions of others is based on the open-loop system of our brains that allows for outside forces to affect our emotional systems. Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee draw on a number of studies to show the direct correlation of positive emotions with high performance in organizational settings.
Resonant leadership does not only imply the use of positive emotions, but more a dependence up empathy to connect with others at an emotional level in a way that leaves them feeling cared for. Resonant interactions help to produce an ongoing, positive feeling in people that translates over into greater productivity. Dissonance on the other hand, involves feelings such as anger or fear that leave a lingering negative emotion. Examples include leaders who are manipulative, tyrannical, or inauthentic.
Primal leadership draws upon the Emotional Intelligence of a leader. Emotional Intelligence is made up of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management. Of the four, self-awareness is the most critical as it lays the foundation for empathy and the remaining three domains. Being self-aware involves one having an understanding of their emotions, strengths, limitations, values, and motives. As resonant leadership requires authenticity, self-awareness is critical. Self-management is then the ability to manage ones emotions which allows a person to live with transparency which then allows integrity, also critical in resonant leading. “Effective leadership demands…the capacity for managing one’s own turbulent feelings while allowing for full expression of positive emotions.” (pg. 47) Social awareness and social management relate to a leaders ability to empathize, understand others and then know how to respond appropriately. Tools such as persuasion, conflict management, and collaboration all fall under social management.
The authors go on to list six different leadership styles. While they encourage the use of the four resonant styles, they acknowledge the situational effectiveness of the two dissonant styles. The four resonant styles include visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic. Visionary leaders inspire others to a new vision of the future. They have a highly positive effect on group climates and allow for innovation by only painting a picture of where the group is going, not how they will get there. The coaching style takes place in a one-on-one dynamic where the leader connects with the person and helps them to develop in light of their goals and the organizations goals. The affiliative style builds connections among the group by valuing the emotional needs and building strong personal relationships. Democratic leaders develop consensus and helps people to feel valued for their input. The two dissonant styles include pacesetting and command. Pacesetters expect excellence and thrive when they have highly competent, motivated followers with clear objectives. Leading by command, or “do it because I said so,” is effective in times of emergency and can help people feel confident in uncertainty. Both of these dissonant styles tend to have toxic effects on group climate when used more than in specific situations. The authors say that while most people tend to favor particular leadership styles, it is valuable to be familiar with, and develop each one to use at the most appropriate times.
Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee offer that resonant leadership, and the four emotional competencies, are all things that can be learned. While learning these abilities takes a lot of work they can be more easily retained and developed through self-directed learning. For the individual, this learning process involves “Five Discoveries.” The first discovery is the ideal self. “Who do I want to be?” Considering this helps the individual develop a vision of where they want to go and provides motivation or excitement to get there. In the second discovery, a person takes an honest assessment of themselves and identifies strengths and gaps between their “real self” and “ideal self.” Next, a learning agenda is developed to provide a road map for moving between the two. The fourth discovery involves the person experimenting with and practicing new behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Finally, the fifth discovery binds them all together through supportive and trusting relationships that provide a safe community where this process can take place. The process of becoming a resonant leader is a long one that faces a variety of challenges that Primal Leadership offers a variety of techniques in overcoming.
Taking the previous lessons a step further, Primal Leadership offers insight on the process of developing emotionally intelligent teams and organizations. Doing so requires a slight reversal from personal change in that it begins with identifying the groups ideal vision of itself before taking a hard look at the ‘emotional reality’, or group dynamics. They argue that operating with resonance among a team is critical to unlocking its potential. While teams are more straightforward in addressing than entire organizations, they do have similarities regarding the process of change. In both cases, norms that function against positive growth need to be carefully identified and brought out into the open so that a new climate can be created. Also, in both situations, the development of leaders is critical to success. It is more complicated with organizations though with the larger amount of leaders. Dealing with norms and people is an iterative process as norms can prevent effective leadership and effective leaders, particularly at the top, are need to change norms.
Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee wrap up Primal Leadership by discussing how to make these changes sustainable through the creation of new norms that foster emotionally intelligent environments. They also offer that there is enduring value in resonant leadership because in our rapidly changing society where trends, models, and strategies are quickly changing, leaders will need to be emotionally capable to withstand these things and lead their organizations through them.