There is a lot of literature about leadership, there even is a lot of literature about political leadership, written by political scientists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuro-scientists ...
- but which of those books are the classics, which maybe the most innovative or most insightful, which the most controversial or most influential?
And there is a lot of talk about leadership, in the media, at the pup, even at work ... , almost always demanding more, better, stronger or just questioning current political leadership.
We are concerned about and we talk passionately about leadership, we write about and research political leadership - but what do we really know?
And why is it even important to understand?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Daniel Goleman [2013*]

Primal Leadership
Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.

Quote: "Gifted leadership occurs where heart and head - feeling and thought - meet." [pos. 566] "A leader who misreads people, on the other hand simply can't inspire them." [pos.1067] "The reason a leader's manner - not just what he does, but how he does it - matters so much lies in the design of the human brain." [pos.248] "No leader is perfect, nor does he need to be. Our idealizations of leaders can lead us to set unreasonable standards, wanting them to be paragons of every virtue." [pos.1396]

Abstract: In Primal Leadership (first published in 2002) psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes, in collaboration with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, about the role of emotional intelligence in leadership.  He and his co-authors propose a concept of so-called primal leadership - leadership based on creating resonance. Supported by recent brain studies, the authors argue that emotionally intelligent leaders are more successful, more efficient than leaders who avoid emotions.

Key-Words: leadership - emotional intelligence - resonant leadership - EI-competencies - leadership styles

Definition of Leadership: relational - not exclusive i.e. you find leaders on every Level and everyone is or at least can be a leader - leaders can be made and leadership can be learned

  • emotional intelligence and the 4 domains of EI-competencies
The authors of Primal Leadership  argue, that "great leadership works through the emotions" [pos.203], therefore emotional intelligence does not only matter, but is actually decisive for successful leadership: "If leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should." [pos.205]

The design of the human brain, especially the open-loop nature of the limbic system, seems responsible, since it forces us to "rely on connections with other people for (..) emotional stability" [pos.250], that's why emotions spread inevitably. Good moods are more contagious than bad ones, but bad moods can get disruptive, they raise stress and stress, triggers survival reactions (flight, fight or freeze) which counter-acts emotional intelligence as well as cognitive abilities. Good moods on the other hand can be described as a positive climate that allows for peak performance.

The four intertwined domains of emotional intelligence are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

They are based on eighteen EI-competencies, such as emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, self-confidence, emotional self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, optimism, empathy, organizational awareness, service, inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, teamwork and collaboration, which "are not innate talents, but learned abilities." [pos.715]

"Emotional intelligent leaders build resonance by turning into people's feelings - their own and others' - and guiding them in the right direction." [pos.563]

  • resonant leadership -
If leaders drive emotions positively, the result is resonance, if negatively, it is dissonance. "The more resonant people are with each other, the less static are their interactions; resonance minimizes the noise in the system," [pos. 465], the more resonant, the more they feel in synch.

But "leaders cannot effectively manage emotions in anyone else without first handling their own." [pos.858] They have to lead by skillfully choosing between six different leadership-styles, the visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and commanding style. The styles demand different EI-competencies, "having a larger repertoire of emotional intelligence strengths can make a leader more effective because it means that the leader is flexible enough to handle the wide-ranging demands of running an organization." [pos.1432]

A flexible leader adapts to the emotional climate, the cultural norms and the situative necessities through not only choosing and changing but also successfully combining the various styles.

  • primal leadership -
"This (primordial) emotional task of the leader is primal - that is, first - in two senses: it is both the original and the most important act of leadership" [pos.229] and it is the leader who has "maximal power to sway everyone's emotions" [pos.236], because (s)he is the one who is most closely watched.

Leaders are the most important agents of change, but "leaders who wish to instill widespread change need to first recognize that they are working against a paradox: Organisations thrive on routine and the status quo" [pos.3527], therefore leaders themselves need courage, stamina and commitment. They have to communicate the change and they have to respect - even if they want to change them in the long term -  existing cultural norms.

Sustainable change is gained through leadership development processes. It has to focus on emotional and intellectual learning.

Understanding primal leadership and leadership processes seems even more important today - in a time of transformational change and ever-accelerating rate of change - than ever: "The old model of leaderhip had a functional focus, one without regard to the emotional or personal dimension; people were seen as interchangeable parts." [pos.3878] Successful leadership in the 21st century has to be resonant, nurturing relationships, strengthening shared values and creating a climate of enthusiasm and flexibility.

  • learning leadership - the five discoveries
Leaders can learn to develop the necessary skills, they normally have done so gradually since late childhood, but they literally have to keep learning, because "the higher up the ladder a leader climbs, the less accurate his self-assessment is likely to be" [pos.1527], because of an increasing lack of feedback, which they would need even more the higher their position.

Though they have to do it voluntarily since the improvement of skills based in the limbic areas, depend on motivation, lots of practise and feedback.

Thanks to the brain's lifelong ability to learn it is possible to keep learning i.e. change behaviourial patterns throughout adulthood and not only through adolescence into the early twenties. It's best achieved by self-directed learning through strengthening aspects of who you are or want to be.

Self-directed learning involves the so-called five discoveries that make lasting change feasible: identifying the ideal self, uncovering the real self, targeting and preparing a learning agenda, experimenting and practising new behaviours (striving for mastery), thoughts and feelings and finally developing supportive and trusting relationships.

Mentors and coaches might help, as well as choosing suitable learning methods, e.g. mental rehearsals and accompanying self-improvement by adjusting group-norms and the organization's culture in so far advancing individual and collective emotional intelligence.

"Change begins when emotionally intelligent leaders actively question the emotional reality and the cultural norms underlying the groups daily activities and behaviour" [pos.3082], which requires attunement. However, ideally the people (followers) should be in charge of the change process (bottom-up strategy).

Primal leadership, though obviously focused on business leaders and business leadership, gives an insigtful look into the inner, the emotional workings of leadership on the whole, based on recent findings in neuro-science and psychology.

Though it only includes few passages on political leadership (concerning demagogues), you can easily find paralleles between the economic and political spheres and draw conclusions not only for organisational leadership in politics (political parties, cabinets, governments...), which are often very similar to corporations, but also for public leadership.

The many descriptive examples of leadership can get a bit distracting and tiring to read, and therefore maybe seen as a slight weakness of the book. A real strength on the other hand are the proposed methods and specific instruments for individual and organizational improvement, an aspect of the book that will for sure appeal to coaches, consultants, present and prospective mentors and of course current and aspiring leaders.

It is important to keep in mind that Primal Leadership though focused on the role of emotions and emotional intelligence in leadership processes does not argue against intellect and cognitive abilities as part of the leadership-game. it just explains that emotional intelligence works as a prerequisite, you need to manage emotions (constructive as well as desruptive) in order to be able to think: "the best (...) lead not by virtue of power alone, but by excelling in the art of relationship." [pos.3880]
First Sentence: "Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us" [pos. 203]

Last Sentence: "Most especially, they (refers to emotional intelligent leaders) exude resonance: They have genuine passion for their mission, and that passion is contagious. Their enthusiasm and excitement spread spontaneously, invigorating those they lead. And resonance is the key to primal leadership." [pos. 3891]
Language: english - needs time to read

Assessment: influential model of leadership - useful für scholars as well as coaches
Link to Author's Site: Daniel Goleman, psychologist: 
there you can also find a booklist and various videos.

Link to Author's TED-Talk:

*: The book, originally published in 2002, has been republished in 2013, the quotes have been taken from the kindle edition 2013.