Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Building on the lead author’s prior book, Emotional Intelligence, this book is about “leadership resonance.” The authors also warn about the opposite effect, dissonance, which destroys motivation and productivity.  “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions.” The authors cite a University of Maryland study showing that good morale has a positive effect on revenue and customer satisfaction.

Empathy is a recurring theme in the book. “Social awareness—particularly empathy—is crucial for the leader’s primal task of driving resonance… An emotionally intelligent team, then, has the collective equivalent of empathy, the basis of all relationship skills. It identifies other key groups in the organization (and beyond) that contribute to the team’s success, and it takes consistent action to foster a good working relationship with those groups.”

“Relationship management is friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the right direction, whether that’s agreement on a marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a new project… Here we find the most visible tools of leadership—persuasion, conflict management, and collaboration among them.”

Six leadership styles are profiled:  visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. The first four are considered resonant styles. The last two are dissonant styles which should be used sparingly, such as in a crisis when decisive action is needed.  Most leaders use a combination of the styles.

“Resonant leaders know when to be collaborative and when to be visionary, when to listen and when to command. Such leaders have a knack for attuning to their own sense of what matters and articulating a mission that resonates with the values of those they lead. These leaders naturally nurture relationships, surface simmering issues, and create the human synergies of a group in harmony. They build fierce loyalty by caring about the careers of those who work for them, and inspire people to give their best for a mission that speaks to shared values.”

“CEO disease” is another term introduced in the book. This refers to an information vacuum around the leader when there is a climate of fear to share bad news.

Part Two is about leadership development. Leadership development goals should build on one’s strengths, not weaknesses. “Our strengths reveal the important things that we have learned as leaders over the course of our lives and careers. They are the bottom line of our experience, our retained learnings—quite parallel to the retained earnings on a company’s balance sheet. Strengths displayed over the years—sometimes called signature themes—typically represent aspects that leaders want to keep, even if those themes are dormant for a period of time.”

Part Three is about building emotionally intelligent teams and organizations. “The true work of the leader [is] to monitor the emotional tone of the team and to help its members recognize any underlying dissonance… Then, once a leader has helped the team uncover its less-productive norms, the group can come together around new ways of doing things.” The authors note that there are many leaders in an organization, not just one.

For a basic introduction to emotional intelligence, see my review of The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

Goleman, Daniel, and Richard E. Boyatzis. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 2004. Buy from

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