Primal Leadership

Acting as a leader in a way that primes positive emotions in people


Primal leadership is the business application of "Emotional Intelligence".

It is the capacity of the leader to rouse and focus strong positive emotions in their followers and focus that energy on a specific direction.

A modern example of this was the speech given by Col. Tim Collins' speech to 1 Batt., Royal Irish Regiment, on 19 March 2003, immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq.



This is the emotional dimension of leadership. It is about the leader’s ability to frame and deliver a message that resonates with their followers’ emotional reality and sense of purpose, and it motivates them to take action in a specific direction.

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee in 2002, introduced the concept in a book of that name which was updated in 2013: Primal Leadership, With a New Preface by the Authors: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence







The importance of Primal Leadership

In an article in the Dec 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance Daniel Goleman introduces the concept and outlines research that he and his team conducted in a study of 3,871 executives and their direct reports and it shows that HOW a leader leads in terms of the emotional resonance they do or don’t generate matters for 2 reasons:

(1) A big part of the culture and “general feel” or “emotional tone” of what it is like to work in an organisation is determined to a very large extent by the leader.

(2) The leader’s style determines about 70% of the emotional climate which in turns drives 20-30% of business performance.

In the current climate of uncertainty people need leadership that offers a measure of re-assurance and certainty of conviction about the direction in which they are being led.

This is important because people cannot work effectively if they are experiencing emotional turbulence. Their ability to get work done depends on their emotions being under control. A leader has to address those often unconscious and unexpressed fears along the way in order to help people keep them under control.

As Goleman said:

"In the modern organization, this primordial emotional task—though by now largely invisible—remains foremost among the many jobs of leadership: driving the collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing the smog, created by toxic emotions. This task applies to leadership everywhere, from the boardroom to the shop floor."




The leaders emotions infect the organisation – the importance of resonance


The central finding of EI research is that emotions are essentially contagious, and thus a leader's attitude and energy can "infect" a workplace either for better or for worse.

With this in mind the authors stress the importance of resonance, which is the ability of leaders to perceive and influence the flow of emotions (including motivational states) between themselves and others they work with.

One of the keys to achieving resonance is empathic listening.
[See “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey]







Self awareness and the 4 building blocks of primal leadership


The 4 building blocks of primal leadership are:

(1) Self-awareness

(2) Self-mastery [or self-management of emotion]

(3) Empathy or social awareness

(4) Relationship management



    “Self-awareness is actually the fundamental ability of emotional intelligence, and probably the most ignored in a business setting."

    Goleman





Emotions are contagious - from the top down

In an interview [with Stephen Bernhut in "Leaders Edge", Ivey Business Journal May/June 2002] Daniel Goleman said:

"First, you have to reach within yourself to find out your own truth, because you can’t be resonant if you’re clueless, if you’re pretending, or if you’re just trying to manipulate people.

You have to speak from your heart, and you have to do it in a way that speaks to other people’s hearts. So it takes authenticity. And if you can articulate a positive goal, that is, stay optimistic, enthusiastic and motivated in delivering that message, then what you’re doing is spreading that message and those moods and predisposition to the people you’re talking to.

" Emotions are contagious, and they are most contagious from the top down, from leader to followers."




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