Primal Leadership

I recently read Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee and found it has profound applications in the preparation of the adult for our work with children.

Consider these passages ( where the word “leader” appears in the original text I have substituted guide, other substitutions are also in italics)

Great guides move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great guiding works through the emotions.

No matter what guides set out to do—whether it’s creating strategy or mobilizing children to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if guides fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.

While most people recognize that a guide’s mood—and how he or she impacts the mood of others—plays a significant role in any environment, emotions are often seen as too personal or unquantifiable to talk about in a meaningful way. But research in the field of emotion has yielded keen insights into not only how to measure the impact of a guide’s emotions but also how the best guides have found effective ways to understand and improve the way they handle their own and other people’s emotions. Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the environment sets the best guides apart from the rest—not just in tangibles such as better education results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.

This emotional task of the guide is primal—that is, first—in two senses: It is both the original and the most important act of guiding.

Leaders have always played a primordial emotional role. No doubt humankind’s original leaders—whether tribal chieftains or shamanesses—earned their place in large part because their leadership was emotionally compelling. Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there’s a job to be done. The leader acts as the group’s emotional guide.

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.

I am enthralled by the idea that there is neuroscience research into specific emotional intelligence skills that we can developed and strengthened to better guide a group.


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