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Primal Leadership - Book summary

This book by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee explains why emotions are such a primal part of how our brains operate, and why emotional intelligence (EI) is so core to leadership. Resonant leaders are emotionally intelligent—they move others, igniting positive feelings that bring out the best in people and drive performance. In this free Primal Leadership summary, you’ll receive an overview 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.

Why Emotional Intelligence is Powerful

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

Emotional Intelligence (EI) & our Brain

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. 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. You can get more details from our complete Primal Leadership summary.

EI Dimensions & Competencies

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. Our 14-page Primal Leadership summary elaborates 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).

The Leadership Repertoire

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 quick overview of the 6 leadership styles and associated EI competencies.
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. Our complete, 14-page Primal Leadership summary covers these styles in more detail.

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.

Self-Directed Learning (The 5 Discoveries)

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.

Building Emotionally Intelligent Organizations

Group Emotional Intelligence (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. Our complete Primal Leadership summary breaks down the 3 key areas (including dos and don’ts) for developing a resonant, EI culture:

• Uncover the Emotional Reality;

• Visualize the Ideal; and

• Sustaining EI and Change

Getting the Most from Primal Leadership

Ready to learn how you can foster creativity, innovations, strong teams and great performance via EI competencies and associated leadership styles? Do get more insights, practical tips and examples from our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.

Primal Leadership summary - book summary bundle

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.  You can purchase the book here or check out for more details.

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

About the Authors of Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence is written by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee.

Daniel Goleman is an author, psychologist, and science journalist. He was awarded The Wall Street Journal Top 10 Influential Thinkers in 2008, and named one of the top 10 business intellectuals by the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change in 2002. He worked as a reporter for the New York Times and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Goleman has written many articles and books including “Emotional Intelligence” which was named one of the 25 most influential business management books.

Richard Boyatzis is an American organizational theorist and professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, a Professor in Human Resources at ESADE in Barcelona, and former CEO of McBer & Co. He has written upwards of 150 articles on leadership, human resources, behavioral change, emotional intelligence, among other topics.

Annie McKee is an author and speaker. She is best known for her book “Becoming a Resonant Leader”. She was named by Business Week as the high priestess of executive coaching.

Primal Leadership Quotes

“The fundamental task of leaders…is to prime good feelings in those we lead.”

“Great leadership works through emotions.”

“Resonant leaders, by establishing deep emotional connections with others, bring out the best in their people and build resilient, adaptive organizations.”

“Gifted leadership occurs where heart and head – feeling and thought – meet. These are the two wings that allow a leader to soar.”

“Resonant leaders know when to be collaborative and when to be visionary, when to listen and when to command.”

“Anyone who has the will and motivation can get better at leading, once he understands the steps.”

“Not only can emotional intelligence be learned, but it also can be retained over the long term.”

“Your leadership strengths—what you want to preserve—lie at the intersection of where your real self matches your ideal.”

“Great athletes spend a lot of time practicing and a little time performing, while executives spend no time practicing and all of their time performing.”

“Increasingly, the best of breed lead not by virtue of power alone, but by excelling in the art of relationship.”

Click here to download Primal Leadership book summary and infographic

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