Primal Leadership Book Summary - Primal Leadership Book explained in key points
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Primal Leadership summary

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee

Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

4.1 (265 ratings)
6 mins
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    Primal Leadership
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    Set the emotional standard

    The reason that emotionally intelligent leadership is so crucial in the workplace has to do with the “open-loop” nature of the limbic system – the emotional center of our brains. 

    Many other systems in our bodies are closed-loop, meaning they aren’t impacted by external factors. For instance, the circulatory system of the person sitting next to you has no direct effect on your own bodily functions. In contrast, open-loop systems are highly dependent on external sources. That’s why our limbic system is able to receive signals from people around us that can alter our hormones, sleep rhythm, and even immune system functions. In other words: our peers have the power to physiologically influence our emotions.

    Good leaders can make use of this fact. Throughout history, groups of humans have looked to them for emotional assurance and certainty when facing threats or accomplishing tasks. It’s likely that ancient leaders were placed in their roles because their leadership style was emotionally compelling.

    In modern organizations, this primal aspect of leadership is often overlooked – but the concept remains just as important. Especially in the workplace, people often take their cues from the top. The way that a leader approaches and executes their work carries special weight. Leaders “manage meaning” for the group as a whole, setting the emotional standard for how to interpret and react to any situation.

    Leaders who learn to maximize the benefits of primal leadership can drive the emotions of their employees in a positive direction. And the better they are at transmitting positive emotions, the more powerfully the good feelings are spread.

    Of course, this isn’t to say that leaders have to be overly nice or fake positivity when things go wrong. Instead, what matters is communicating the realities of worklife without causing undue stress. The more demanding the work, the greater the need for a supportive, empathetic leader.

    Not only does an emotionally intelligent leadership style benefit the well-being of employees – and the organization as a whole – but it has also been shown to improve efficiency. After all, we’re not robots … yet! The way we feel at work directly impacts the effort we’re willing to put in. 

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    What is Primal Leadership about?

    Primal Leadership (2013) argues that the fundamental task of any great leader is to engage the emotions of their followers and guide them in a positive direction. Offering up an emotionally intelligent, resonant style of leadership, it delves into the skills and qualities needed to become a better leader and bring out the best in your team.

    Who should read Primal Leadership?

    • Managers looking to improve their skills
    • Workers seeking ways to convince their peers
    • Anyone who wants to become a better leader

    About the Author

    Daniel Goleman is an author and former science reporter for the New York Times. His other works include the international best sellers Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence, and Social Intelligence.

    Richard E. Boyatzis is an author and distinguished professor who teaches organizational behavior, psychology, and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University.

    Annie McKee is an author and cofounder of the Teleos Leadership Institute, a coaching consultancy. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

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