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Primal Leadership Case Essay

The article Primal Leadership centres around emotional intelligence and the authors investigation into how a leaders mood or “emotional style” filters through the organisation and can affect the bottom-line results. If a leader is able to recognise this, they can monitor their own moods through self awareness, change them accordingly and act in the ways that will boost others moods which in turn will help the company’s performance. Studies show that when a leader is in a happy mood then the people surrounding them view things in a more positive light. An upbeat environment fosters mental efficiency – making people better at staying focussed, retaining information and therefore better at their jobs. Emotional intelligence affects the whole company’s performance, so it would be easy to assume that a manager with a positive outlook or disposition would raise the company’s performance.

But emotional leadership isn’t just fake or putting on a game face every day, it is necessary to understand the impact you have on other employees as a leader. The more we act a certain way – for example happy – the more the behaviour becomes ingrained in our brain circuitry, and the more we will continue to feel and act that way. The key points made in Primal Leadership are covered by the authors in the five step program they recommend to help leader’s achieve higher levels of emotional intelligence. This process is based on brain science rather than more traditional forms of coaching, and has been designed to help leader’s rewire their brain towards these more emotionally intelligent behaviours. Step 1 – “Who do I want to be?”

This step asks the leader to picture the kind of leader they aspire to be and what that emotional leadership looks like.

Step 2 – “Who am I now?”

This step is where the leader comes to terms with seeing their leadership style as others do, through receiving feedback from peers, bosses and subordinates. A key issue highlighted for this step is that as a society we tend to avoid talking about a leader’s emotional style and its impact in case we are perceived as being ‘soft’. Another key issue is that of resonance. How do leaders know if they have resonance within their organisation? Primal Leadership points out that employees don’t want to be the messenger for fear of being punished, and can often even feel as if it isn’t their place to confront a leader on this personal topic. So the way that they suggest CEO’s, manager’s and/or leader’s get the full picture is through feedback from not only subordinates but also peers, bosses and mentors.

Step 3 – “How do I get from here to there?”

The identification of the gap in emotional intelligence for the leader helps decide the action process of getting the leader from who they are now to the leader they aspire to be. Adapting in accordance with regular feedback, the leader can work on their mood and performance therefore affecting all the people they work with in a more positive way. Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee also state that leader’s should look at areas outside of work to close the gaps in their emotional intelligence, for example coaching a sports team or volunteering.

Step 4 – “How do I make the changes stick?”

Goleman, Boyatzis and Mc Kee explain that the way to lasting change and a leader’s growth in emotional intelligence is rehearsing or even visualising the new behaviour until it becomes automatic or implicitly learnt. Imagining an activity or response in vivid detail can fire up the same brain cells involved in actually doing that activity.

Step 5 – “Who can help me?”

The last step Primal Leadership recommends is the forming of a community of supporters. The authors emphasise how important it is to have these relationships and feedback from people you trust because these supporters are necessary in order to improve your emotional intelligence and help change leadership style. The bottom line in this case for me is emotional leadership is the spark that ignites a company’s performance, and leader’s need to understand how their mood is so influential to a business’s success, and therefore a leader’s most important task should be emotional leadership. It seems so obvious and full of common sense that advancing their emotional intelligence should be a leadership priority, and yet there are so many toxic work environments out there.

Happy, positive moods might filter down from bosses to floor staff, but it will only result in happy people if the sentiments are genuine. In my opinion, leader’s need to be aware that an overly enthusiastic, fake happy boss can be just as toxic to a work environment as a grouchy one. It is not often that someone is told how their current personal mood is affecting their job performance or the business’s success – especially in New Zealand, where the culture expects a “tough” attitude and unfortunately the topic may be considered as “soft”. I know from personal experience how hard it is to give honest feedback to a terrible or intimidating boss, but if all leader’s took the time to go through Goleman, Boyatzis and Mc Kee’s five step program and evaluate/improve themselves as leaders then there would be a lot more happy employees.


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