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Primal Leadership: Realizing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence

Primal Leadership: Realizing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence

By Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie Mckee

First off, I really hate the title "Primal Leadership." I picture a gorilla beating the ground with a branch to show he's dominant, which isn't quite what this book is about. The authors use 'primal' to mean primary, as in first and most basic. The basic underpinning of great leadership is emotional intelligence.

Primal Leadership is written to help leaders become better leaders by improving their emotional intelligence. The book gives insight into the collective feeling of an organization, or its emotional climate, and how this is influenced by the people at the top of the organization and the leadership methods adopted by the organization.

The authors identify four key aspects of personal competency in emotional intelligence:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management

The stronger a person is in these, the better leader he or she will become. Unless we are aware of our own emotions, we won't know how to control them. For example, if you make a unintentional, snide remark to an employee, because you're frustrated with the employee, the employee will probably not benefit, nor will the work environment. But, to prevent such a remark means you first must accept that you're feeling frustrated and, secondly, control that emotion.

Being socially aware means that you understand the power structure of the organization and it means you have empathy. As an extreme case of lack of empathy, suppose an employee's wife just dumped him and you enter his office and say, "Hey, Jack. Won't ask about the wife. Ha, ha. Just kidding. But, I need that report today, so focus. Don't worry about your personal, little life."

Obviously, that wouldn't go over too well! A great film of unmotivating leadership is "Office Space." The CEO is too funny. He walks around talking in monotone and he doesn't hear what the employees are saying. Again, an extreme case.

A leader must understand the emotional state of his/her employees and take it into consideration. That doesn't, of course, mean you must agree or tolerate unacceptable behavior.

After discussing these core competencies, the authors discuss different leadership styles, including:

  • Visionary
  • Coaching
  • Pacesetting
  • Democratic
  • Commanding

The authors argue that visionary, coaching, and democratic leadership styles are beneficial to an organization. But, many leaders rely upon the more tenuous pacesetting and commanding methods of leadership, which can backfire or be overdone. For example, a pacesetting, commanding leader often makes people feel irrelevant and stressed out. That makes them less effective and motivated.

And, stress isn't good personally. Quoting the authors: "When stress is high and sustained, the brain reacts with sustained cortisol secretion, which actually hampers learning by killing off brain cells in the hippocampus that are essential for new learning." (Well that sucks!)

However, there is hope for stressed-out leaders or followers. Quoting the authors again: "Human brains can create new neural tissue as well as new neural connections and pathways throughout adulthood."

The authors argue that most leadership training fails because it teaches the neocortex brain or the learning brain. But, leadership skills require more limbic learning. The limbic part of the brain is the more emotional part that learns via repetition and personal experience. The authors compare learning leadership to learning to play the slide guitar. You must practice good habits.

To motivate oneself to improve as a leader, the authors suggest forming an image of your ideal self, acquiring a realistic image of your present self, and then practicing behaviors (until they become automatic) that have you act more like your ideal self.

The authors argue that this is the best way to improve, because it's a positive way of seeing yourself in the future and seeing a positive goal. Plus, as you improve your EI skills, not only will your leadership skills be enhanced, but so too will your personal relationships. Don't look at your weaknesses as 'gaps' that need to be improved.

The authors write: "Emphasis on gaps often arouses the right prefrontal cortex--that is, feelings of anxiety and defensiveness. Once defensiveness sets in, it typically demotivates rather than motivates, thereby interrupting, even stopping, self-directed learning and the likelihood of change."

Focusing upon how good you can become versus fixing gaps seems akin to looking at the glass half full versus half empty, but apparently that makes all the difference.

Primal Leadership: Realizing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence
Primal Leadership: Realizing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence

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