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Primal Leadership - Book summary

This book explains why emotions are such a primal part of how our brains operate, and why emotional intelligence (EI) is so prime/ core to leadership. Resonant leaders are emotionally intelligent—they move others, igniting positive feelings that bring out the best in people and drive performance. EI is built on various competencies that can be learned. This book explains the EI competencies and leadership styles, and how to use them to create a positive emotional climate that fosters creativity, innovation, strong teams and great performance. In this Primal Leadership summary, we’ll outline some of the key concepts in the book – including why Emotional Intelligence is powerful, how to develop Resonant Leaders, and how to Build Emotionally Intelligent Organizations. For more details, do get our complete book summary bundle in text, infographic and audio formats.

Primal Leadership summary - book summary bundle

Leaders’ effectiveness depends on the emotional responses that they elicit. Many factors behind great performance—like morale, motivation and commitment—are driven by emotions.

Why Emotional Intelligence


EI is powerful because of how our brain is designed:

• Our brain has an emotional center, called the limbic system. This is an open loop system which requires external inputs to function, i.e. we rely on our connections with others for stability. Our emotional and physiology states (e.g. hormones, heartbeat) are affected by the signals transmitted by others. In the book, the authors elaborate on why emotions are contagious and how they can spread in a group. [You can also get a detailed overview from our full book summary].  Primal leadership is about mastering the dialogue between the emotional and intellectual circuits of your brain, so you can manage your emotions to make better decisions, and also effectively shape your team’s emotional climate to deliver positive results.Primal Leadership summary_primal leadership and brain

Great leaders instill resonance and positive moods like enthusiasm, hope, and cooperation, which spread in the team and improve performance. On the other hand, dissonance brings negative feelings and a downward cycle of discord and disharmony.

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In their earlier works, the authors detailed 25 EI competencies in 5 categories. In this book, they’ve regrouped them into 18 competencies within 4 key EI domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

Here’s an overview of the 4 dimensions, which form the foundation of primal leadership. In our complete Primal Leadership summary (get full summary here) we elaborate on each of the 18 competencies and how they are inter-related:

Primal Leadership summary_4 dimensions of emotional intelligence

There’s no perfect leader who has all 18 competencies. However, effective leaders are usually strong in at least 1 competency from each of the 4 EI areas. This allows them to effectively switch between 6 key leadership styles (below).


There are 6 key leadership styles and with associated EI capabilities from the list above.  While all 6 styles are important, the first 4 are resonant approaches, while the other 2 need to be used with caution as they can become dissonant.  Here’s a detailed summary of the 6 leadership styles and associated EI competencies.  For more details, please refer to our complete summary.
Primal Leadership summary_6 leadership stylesThe strongest leaders are able to deploy all 6 styles, and switch between styles depending on the situation and people involved. By strengthening the core competencies underlying a leadership style, you can expand your repertoire of leadership styles.

Developing Resonant Leaders

Leadership styles can be changed. However, most leadership training and workshops don’t deliver lasting results because they tackle mainly the pre-frontal cortex. Competencies like self-regulation, empathy etc. are linked to the limbic system, which learns through habits and reinforcements. The right training model changes the links between the limbic system and prefrontal lobes. To master new leadership skills, we must unlearn old habits and relearn new ones, through repetition and practice, until new neural pathways are forged.

Review & apply these tips easily with our book summary and infographic!


Self-directed learning is about deliberately developing aspect(s) of ourselves to become the person we want to be. To sustain learning to the point where new leadership skills and habits are forged, there are 5 key discoveries, which can happen in a random sequence and repeat themselves in different ways. Here’s the model at a glance:Primal Leadership summary_self-directed learning

Since cultivating EI is a long process, we need a way to sustain our change and learning efforts. Essentially:
• Discoveries 1-2 give you the motivation to change;
• Discovery 3 provides a roadmap for your change efforts; and
• Discoveries 4-5 sustain the change to make learning an ongoing part of your life as a leader.

Do get more details, including application tips, from our full Primal Leadership summary (click here for full 14-page summary).

Building Emotionally Intelligent Organizations

Group EI competencies follow the same 4-part framework as individuals, but can be more complex as they relate to both the individuals and the group. The challenge is to nurture EI leaders in all levels of the organization, and to foster norms and culture that support the vision. In our full book summary, we break down the 3 key areas (including dos and don’ts) for developing a resonant, EI culture:

• Uncover the Emotional Reality : how to unearth the underlying norms and culture, and build self-awareness amongst team-members, using tools like dynamic inquiry;
• Visualize the Ideal: inteprete data and subtle cues, digging deep to identify  a meaningful vision that resonates with everyone in the organization.
• Sustaining EI and Change: Have leaders walk the talk, to take concrete action, build systems and model new behaviours to support long-term change.

Other Details in “Primal Leadership”

The book includes a range of research/studies, stories and anecdotes, to explain how you can build up your emotional intelligence to positively impact people around you. It also includes appendices to explain the difference between EI and IQ, and the various EI competencies. Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our full Primal Leadership book summary bundle for a detailed overview of the various ideas and tips, or check out

If you wish to learn more about emotional intelligence, do also check out the Emotional Intelligence summary (another book by Daniel Goleman) or Emotional Intelligence 2.0 summary. (by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves).

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Start sharpening your Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Skills today!

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