Primal Leadership

I’ve featured Daniel Goleman’s writings in two prior posts – one on meditation and another on emotional intelligence (EQ). In partnership with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, he applied his teaching on EQ to the subject of leadership.

teamwork The central thesis of Primal Leadership is that great leadership works through the emotions. Whatever they set out to do, leaders mobilize followers by driving emotions in the right direction. If they engender confidence, enthusiasm, and an esprit de corps, performance soars. Optimism and positive regard enhance creativity, decision-making, and cooperation. People work best when they feel good. By contrast, if leaders instill fear, anxiety, and rancor, the entire group will be thrown off stride.

To achieve improved business performance, leaders need to take their self-development seriously. That effort requires connecting to what really matters to them while working on key markers of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social competence, social awareness, and relationship management.

Research from those who have taken up this mantle tells us:

  • Goals should build on one’s strengths, not one’s weaknesses.
  • Goals must be a person’s own, not goals that someone else has imposed.
  • Plans should flexibly allow people to prepare for the future in different ways; a single “planning” method imposed by an organization will often prove counterproductive.
  • Plans must be feasible, with manageable steps. Plans that don’t fit smoothly into a person’s life will likely be dropped within a few weeks or months.
  • Plans that don’t suit a person’s learning style will prove demotivating and quickly lose his attention.

The authors claim that “emotional intelligence and resonance in a workplace may draw on the ancient human organizing principle of the primal band – those groups of fifty to one hundred people who roamed the land with a common bond and whose survival depended on close understanding and cooperation.” They find meaning in connection and attunement with one another. They share a collective identity, a sense of “fit” within their group, and a sense of well-being in community.

Rules of engagement for effective leadership:

  • Discover the Emotional Reality: Know and respect the group’s values and the organization’s integrity. If something fundamental needs to change, start at the top with a bottom-up strategy. Core beliefs, mindsets, and culture cannot be imposed forcibly; people need to drive change organically. Think about how you’ll bring everyone into the conversation. Discuss what is and is not working; imagine a world in which a high percentage of activity works.
  • Visualize the Ideal: Formulate a vision that will resonate with others on a deep and personal level. Avoid abstractions; communicate so that people can see, feel, and touch the values and mission of the revitalized organization. Find a way to connect high-level goals with each individual’s dreams, beliefs, and values. Build a culture that supports a healthy bottom-line as well as a healthy tribe.
  • Sustain Emotional Intelligence: With each interaction and decision, demonstrate alignment between personal values and those of the greater whole. Lead through fidelity to the shared mission, open communication, effective coaching, and respect for the individual. Call on everyone to act in integrity. Attend to organizational realignment, job definition, support infrastructure, and performance expectations to match the vision.

Leadership development needs to be a strategic priority of the enterprise. It does not happen naturally by promoting individuals into supervisory roles. Leaders need dedicated time to work on themselves while acquiring the skills to excel in relationship with others. They need a safe place for learning in which they can have experiences that are both relevant and challenging. They need strong mentors and coaches with whom they can have meaningful dialog and secure expert advice. And they need the freedom to use what they’ve learned to pursue new opportunities and solve real problems in their organizations. As the authors tell us:

“For most leaders, and even most managers, it is not more clarity about the strategy that will make the difference. It is not yet another five-year plan, and it is not another mundane leadership program. What makes a difference is finding passion for the work, for the strategy, and for the vision – and engaging hearts and minds in the search for a meaningful future. One more intellectual planning exercise is not going to get people engaged, and it certainly won’t change a culture.”