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Primal Leadership

The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and

Annie McKee

Included with this full-text Harvard Business Review article:

The Idea in Brief—the core idea

The Idea in Practice—putting the idea to work

1

Article Summary

2

Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further

exploration of the article’s ideas and applications

11

Further Reading

We’ve known for years that

emotional intelligence

improves results—often by an

order of magnitude. Now, new

research shows that a leader’s

mood plays a key role in that

dynamic—a discovery that

should redefine what leaders

do first and best.

Reprint R0111CThis document is authorized for use only by Tylecia Westbrook in WMBA-6633-2/MGMT-6621-2/MHRM-6510-2/MMSL-6660-2/COMM-6506-2-Mentoring & Coaching-2022-Spring-SEM-Term-

wks-9-thru-16-(03/07/2022-05/01/2022)-PT4 at Laureate Education – Walden University, 2022.

Primal Leadership

The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

page 1

The Idea in Brief The Idea in Practice

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What

most

influences your company’s bottom-line performance? The answer will surprise you—and make perfect sense: It’s a leader’s own mood.

Executives’ emotional intelligence—their self-awareness, empathy, rapport with others—has clear links to their own performance. But new research shows that a leader’s emotional style also drives ev-eryone else’s moods and behaviors—through a neurological process called mood contagion. It’s akin to “Smile and the whole world smiles with you.”

Emotional intelligence travels through an organization like electricity over telephone wires. Depressed, ruthless bosses create toxic organizations filled with negative underachievers. But if you’re an upbeat, in-spirational leader, you cultivate positive employees who embrace and surmount even the toughest challenges.

Emotional leadership isn’t just putting on a game face every day. It means understand-ing your impact on others—then adjusting your style accordingly. A difficult process of self-discovery—but essential before you can tackle your leadership responsibilities.

STRENGTHENING YOUR EMOTIONAL LEADERSHIP

Since few people have the guts to tell you the truth about your emotional impact, you must discover it on your own. The following process can help. It’s based on brain science, as well as years of field research with executives. Use these steps to rewire your brain for greater emotional intelligence.

1. Who do you want to be? Imagine yourself as a highly effective leader. What do you see?

Example:

Sofia, a senior manager, often microman-aged others to ensure work was done “right.” So she imagined herself in the future as an effective leader of her own company, enjoying trusting relationships with co-workers. She saw herself as relaxed, happy, and empowering. The exercise revealed gaps in her current emotional style.

2. Who are you now? To see your leadership style as others do, gather 360-degree feed-back, especially from peers and subordinates. Identify your weaknesses and strengths.

3. How do you get from here to there? De-vise a plan for closing the gap between who you are and who you want to be.

Example:

Juan, a marketing executive, was intimidat-ing, impossible to please—a grouch. Charged with growing his company, he needed to be encouraging, optimistic—a coach with a vision. Setting out to under-stand others, he coached soccer, volun-teered at a crisis center, and got to know subordinates by meeting outside of work. These new situations stimulated him to break old habits and try new responses.

4. How do you make change stick? Repeat-edly rehearse new behaviors—physically and mentally—until they’re automatic.

Example:

Tom, an executive, wanted to learn how to coach rather than castigate struggling employees. Using his commuting time to visualize a difficult meeting with one em-ployee, he envisioned asking questions and listening, and mentally rehearsed how he’d handle feeling impatient. This exercise prepared him to adopt new behaviors at the actual meeting.

5. Who can help you? Don’t try to build your emotional skills alone—identify others who can help you navigate this difficult process. Managers at Unilever formed learning groups that helped them strengthen their leadership abilities by exchanging frank feedback and developing strong mutual trust.

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Primal Leadership

The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and

Annie McKee

harvard business review • december 2001 page 2

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We’ve known for years that emotional intelligence improves results—

often by an order of magnitude. Now, new research shows that a

leader’s mood plays a key role in that dynamic—a discovery that

should redefine what leaders do first and best.

When the theory of emotional intelligence atwork began to receive widespread attention,we frequently heard executives say—in thesame breath, mind you—“That’s incredible,”and, “Well, I’ve known that all along.” Theywere responding to our research that showedan incontrovertible link between an execu-tive’s emotional maturity, exemplified by suchcapabilities as self-awareness and empathy,and his or her financial performance. Simplyput, the research showed that “good guys”—that is, emotionally intelligent men andwomen—finish first.

We’ve recently compiled two years of newresearch that, we suspect, will elicit the samekind of reaction. People will first exclaim,“No way,” then quickly add, “But of course.”We found that of all the elements affectingbottom-line performance, the importance ofthe leader’s mood and its attendant behav-iors are most surprising. That powerful pairset off a chain reaction: The leader’s moodand behaviors drive the moods and behav-iors of everyone else. A cranky and ruthless

boss creates a toxic organization filled withnegative underachievers who ignore opportu-nities; an inspirational, inclusive leaderspawns acolytes for whom any challenge issurmountable. The final link in the chain isperformance: profit or loss.

Our observation about the overwhelmingimpact of the leader’s “emotional style,” as wecall it, is not a wholesale departure from ourresearch into emotional intelligence. It does,however, represent a deeper analysis of ourearlier assertion that a leader’s emotional in-telligence creates a certain culture or workenvironment. High levels of emotional intelli-gence, our research showed, create climatesin which information sharing, trust, healthyrisk-taking, and learning flourish. Low levelsof emotional intelligence create climates rifewith fear and anxiety. Because tense or terri-fied employees can be very productive in theshort term, their organizations may post goodresults, but they never last.

Our investigation was designed in part tolook at how emotional intelligence drives per-

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 3

formance—in particular, at how it travelsfrom the leader through the organization tobottom-line results. “What mechanism,” weasked, “binds the chain together?” To answerthat question, we turned to the latest neuro-logical and psychological research. We alsodrew on our work with business leaders,observations by our colleagues of hundreds ofleaders, and Hay Group data on the leader-ship styles of thousands of executives. Fromthis body of research, we discovered thatemotional intelligence is carried through anorganization like electricity through wires. Tobe more specific, the leader’s mood is quiteliterally contagious, spreading quickly and in-exorably throughout the business.

We’ll discuss the science of mood contagionin more depth later, but first let’s turn to thekey implications of our finding. If a leader’smood and accompanying behaviors are in-deed such potent drivers of business success,then a leader’s premier task—we would evensay his primal task—is emotional leadership.A leader needs to make sure that not only ishe regularly in an optimistic, authentic, high-energy mood, but also that, through his cho-sen actions, his followers feel and act thatway, too. Managing for financial results, then,begins with the leader managing his inner lifeso that the right emotional and behavioralchain reaction occurs.

Managing one’s inner life is not easy, ofcourse. For many of us, it’s our most difficultchallenge. And accurately gauging how one’semotions affect others can be just as difficult.We know of one CEO, for example, who wascertain that everyone saw him as upbeat andreliable; his direct reports told us they foundhis cheerfulness strained, even fake, and hisdecisions erratic. (We call this common dis-connect “CEO disease.”) The implication isthat primal leadership demands more thanputting on a game face every day. It requiresan executive to determine, through reflectiveanalysis, how his emotional leadership drivesthe moods and actions of the organization,and then, with equal discipline, to adjust hisbehavior accordingly.

That’s not to say that leaders can’t have abad day or week: Life happens. And our re-search doesn’t suggest that good moods haveto be high-pitched or nonstop—optimistic,sincere, and realistic will do. But there is noescaping the conclusion that a leader must

first attend to the impact of his mood andbehaviors before moving on to his wide pan-oply of other critical responsibilities. In thisarticle, we introduce a process that execu-tives can follow to assess how others experi-ence their leadership, and we discuss ways tocalibrate that impact. But first, we’ll look atwhy moods aren’t often discussed in theworkplace, how the brain works to makemoods contagious, and what you need toknow about CEO disease.

No Way! Yes Way

When we said earlier that people will likelyrespond to our new finding by saying “Noway,” we weren’t joking. The fact is, the emo-tional impact of a leader is almost neverdiscussed in the workplace, let alone in theliterature on leadership and performance.For most people, “mood” feels too personal.Even though Americans can be shockinglycandid about personal matters—witness theJerry Springer Show and its ilk—we are alsothe most legally bound. We can’t even ask theage of a job applicant. Thus, a conversationabout an executive’s mood or the moods hecreates in his employees might be construedas an invasion of privacy.

We also might avoid talking about a leader’semotional style and its impact because,frankly, the topic feels soft. When was the lasttime you evaluated a subordinate’s mood aspart of her performance appraisal? You mayhave alluded to it—“Your work is hindered byan often negative perspective,” or “Your en-thusiasm is terrific”—but it is unlikely youmentioned mood outright, let alone discussedits impact on the organization’s results.

And yet our research undoubtedly willelicit a “But of course” reaction, too. Every-one knows how much a leader’s emotionalstate drives performance because everyonehas had, at one time or another, the inspira-tional experience of working for an upbeatmanager or the crushing experience of toil-ing for a sour-spirited boss. The formermade everything feel possible, and as a re-sult, stretch goals were achieved, competi-tors beaten, and new customers won. Thelatter made work grueling. In the shadow ofthe boss’s dark mood, other parts of the or-ganization became “the enemy,” colleaguesbecame suspicious of one another, and cus-tomers slipped away.

Daniel Goleman

is cochairman of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, based at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Professional and Applied Psycholo-gy in Piscataway, New Jersey. He can be reached at goleman@javanet.com. Richard Boyatzis is chair of the de-partment of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Manage-ment at Case Western Reserve Univer-sity in Cleveland. He can be reached at reb2@weatherhead.cwru.edu. Annie McKee is on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, and directs lead-ership services for the Hay Group in Philadelphia. She can be reached at anniemckee1@aol.com. They are the authors of Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, forthcoming from Harvard Business School Press in March 2002.

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 4

Our research, and research by other socialscientists, confirms the verity of these experi-ences. (There are, of course, rare cases whena brutal boss produces terrific results. Weexplore that dynamic in the sidebar “ThoseWicked Bosses Who Win.”) The studies aretoo numerous to mention here but, in aggre-gate, they show that when the leader is in ahappy mood, the people around him vieweverything in a more positive light. That, inturn, makes them optimistic about achievingtheir goals, enhances their creativity andthe efficiency of their decision making, andpredisposes them to be helpful. Researchconducted by Alice Isen at Cornell in 1999,for example, found that an upbeat environ-

ment fosters mental efficiency, makingpeople better at taking in and understandinginformation, at using decision rules in com-plex judgments, and at being flexible in theirthinking. Other research directly links moodand financial performance. In 1986, forinstance, Martin Seligman and Peter Schul-man of the University of Pennsylvania dem-onstrated that insurance agents who had a“glass half-full” outlook were far more ablethan their more pessimistic peers to persistdespite rejections, and thus, they closedmore sales. (For more information on thesestudies and a list of our research base, visitwww.eiconsortium.org.)

Many leaders whose emotional styles cre-ate a dysfunctional environment are eventu-ally fired. (Of course, that’s rarely the statedreason; poor results are.) But it doesn’t haveto end that way. Just as a bad mood can beturned around, so can the spread of toxic feel-ings from an emotionally inept leader. A lookinside the brain explains both why and how.

The Science of Moods

A growing body of research on the humanbrain proves that, for better or worse, leaders’moods affect the emotions of the peoplearound them. The reason for that lies in whatscientists call the open-loop nature of thebrain’s limbic system, our emotional center. Aclosed-loop system is self-regulating, whereasan open-loop system depends on externalsources to manage itself. In other words, werely on connections with other people todetermine our moods. The open-loop limbicsystem was a winning design in evolution be-cause it let people come to one another’s emo-tional rescue—enabling a mother, for exam-ple, to soothe her crying infant.

The open-loop design serves the samepurpose today as it did thousands of yearsago. Research in intensive care units hasshown, for example, that the comfortingpresence of another person not only lowersthe patient’s blood pressure but also slowsthe secretion of fatty acids that block arteries.Another study found that three or more inci-dents of intense stress within a year (for ex-ample, serious financial trouble, being fired,or a divorce) triples the death rate in sociallyisolated middle-aged men, but it has no im-pact on the death rate of men with manyclose relationships.

Those Wicked Bosses Who Win

Everyone knows of a rude and coercive CEO who, by all appearances, epito-mizes the antithesis of emotional intelli-gence yet seems to reap great business results. If a leader’s mood matters so much, how can we explain those mean-spirited, successful SOBs?

First, let’s take a closer look at them. Just because a particular executive is the most visible, he may not actually lead the company. A CEO who heads a con-glomerate may have no followers to speak of; it’s his division heads who ac-tively lead people and affect profitability.

Second, sometimes an SOB leader has strengths that counterbalance his caustic behavior, but they don’t attract as much attention in the business press. In his early days at GE, Jack Welch exhibited a strong hand at the helm as he undertook a radical company turnaround. At that time and in that situation, Welch’s firm, top-down style was appropriate. What got less press was how Welch subsequently settled into a more emotionally intelli-gent leadership style, especially when he articulated a new vision for the company and mobilized people to follow it.

Those caveats aside, let’s get back to those infamous corporate leaders who seem to have achieved sterling business results despite their brutish approaches to leadership. Skeptics cite Bill Gates, for

example, as a leader who gets away with a harsh style that should theoretically damage his company.

But our leadership model, which shows the effectiveness of specific lead-ership styles in specific situations, puts Gates’s supposedly negative behaviors in a different light. (Our model is ex-plained in detail in the HBR article “Leadership That Gets Results,” which appeared in the March—April 2000 is-sue.) Gates is the achievement-driven leader par excellence, in an organization that has cherry-picked highly talented and motivated people. His apparently harsh leadership style—baldly challeng-ing employees to surpass their past per-formance—can be quite effective when employees are competent, motivated, and need little direction—all character-istics of Microsoft’s engineers.

In short, it’s all too easy for a skeptic to argue against the importance of lead-ers who manage their moods by citing a “rough and tough” leader who achieved good business results despite his bad be-havior. We contend that there are, of course, exceptions to the rule, and that in some specific business cases, an SOB boss resonates just fine. But in general, leaders who are jerks must reform or else their moods and actions will even-tually catch up with them.

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 5

Scientists describe the open loop as “inter-personal limbic regulation”; one persontransmits signals that can alter hormone lev-els, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms,even immune functions, inside the body ofanother. That’s how couples are able to trig-ger surges of oxytocin in each other’s brains,creating a pleasant, affectionate feeling. Butin all aspects of social life, our physiologiesintermingle. Our limbic system’s open-loopdesign lets other people change our veryphysiology and hence, our emotions.

Even though the open loop is so much apart of our lives, we usually don’t notice theprocess. Scientists have captured the attune-ment of emotions in the laboratory by mea-suring the physiology—such as heart rate—oftwo people sharing a good conversation. Asthe interaction begins, their bodies operate atdifferent rhythms. But after 15 minutes, thephysiological profiles of their bodies lookremarkably similar.

Researchers have seen again and again howemotions spread irresistibly in this way when-ever people are near one another. As far backas 1981, psychologists Howard Friedman andRonald Riggio found that even completelynonverbal expressiveness can affect otherpeople. For example, when three strangers sitfacing one another in silence for a minute ortwo, the most emotionally expressive of thethree transmits his or her mood to the othertwo—without a single word being spoken.

The same holds true in the office, board-room, or shop floor; group members inevita-bly “catch” feelings from one another. In2000, Caroline Bartel at New York Universityand Richard Saavedra at the University ofMichigan found that in 70 work teams acrossdiverse industries, people in meetings to-gether ended up sharing moods—both goodand bad—within two hours. One study askedteams of nurses and accountants to monitortheir moods over weeks; researchers discov-ered that their emotions tracked together,and they were largely independent of eachteam’s shared hassles. Groups, therefore, likeindividuals, ride emotional roller coasters,sharing everything from jealousy to angst toeuphoria. (A good mood, incidentally, spreadsmost swiftly by the judicious use of humor.For more on this, see the sidebar “Smile andthe World Smiles with You.”)

Moods that start at the top tend to movethe fastest because everyone watches the boss.They take their emotional cues from him.Even when the boss isn’t highly visible—forexample, the CEO who works behind closeddoors on an upper floor—his attitude affectsthe moods of his direct reports, and a dominoeffect ripples throughout the company.

Call That CEO a Doctor

If the leader’s mood is so important, thenhe or she had better get into a good one,right? Yes, but the full answer is more compli-cated than that. A leader’s mood has thegreatest impact on performance when it isupbeat. But it must also be in tune with thosearound him. We call this dynamic resonance.(For more on this, see the sidebar “GetHappy, Carefully.”)

We found that an alarming number ofleaders do not really know if they have reso-nance with their organizations. Rather, theysuffer from CEO disease; its one unpleasantsymptom is the sufferer’s near-total ignoranceabout how his mood and actions appear tothe organization. It’s not that leaders don’tcare how they are perceived; most do. Butthey incorrectly assume that they can decipherthis information themselves. Worse, theythink that if they are having a negative effect,someone will tell them. They’re wrong.

As one CEO in our research explains, “I sooften feel I’m not getting the truth. I cannever put my finger on it, because no one is

Smile and the World Smiles with You

Remember that old cliché? It’s not too far from the truth. As we’ve shown, mood contagion is a real neurological phenomenon, but not all emotions spread with the same ease. A 1999 study conducted by Sigal Barsade at the Yale School of Management showed that, among working groups, cheerfulness and warmth spread easily, while irrita-bility caught on less so, and depression least of all.

It should come as no surprise that laughter is the most contagious of all emotions. Hearing laughter, we find it almost impossible not to laugh or smile, too. That’s because some of our brain’s

open-loop circuits are designed to de-tect smiles and laughter, making us re-spond in kind. Scientists theorize that this dynamic was hardwired into our brains ages ago because smiles and laughter had a way of cementing alli-ances, thus helping the species survive.

The main implication here for leaders undertaking the primal task of managing their moods and the moods of others is this: Humor hastens the spread of an up-beat climate. But like the leader’s mood in general, humor must resonate with the organization’s culture and its reality. Smiles and laughter, we would posit, are only contagious when they’re genuine.

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 6

actually lying to me. But I can sense that peo-ple are hiding information or camouflagingkey facts. They aren’t lying, but neither arethey telling me everything I need to know.I’m always second-guessing.”

People don’t tell leaders the whole truthabout their emotional impact for many rea-sons. Sometimes they are scared of being thebearer of bad news—and getting shot. Othersfeel it isn’t their place to comment on such apersonal topic. Still others don’t realize thatwhat they really want to talk about is theeffects of the leader’s emotional style—thatfeels too vague. Whatever the reason, theCEO can’t rely on his followers to spontane-ously give him the full picture.

Taking Stock

The process we recommend for self-discoveryand personal reinvention is neither newfan-gled nor born of pop psychology, like so many

self-help programs offered to executives to-day. Rather, it is based on three streams of re-search into how executives can improve theemotional intelligence capabilities mostclosely linked to effective leadership. (Infor-mation on these research streams can also befound at www.eiconsortium.org.). In 1989,one of us (Richard Boyatzis) began drawingon this body of research to design the five-step process itself, and since then, thousandsof executives have used it successfully.

Unlike more traditional forms of coaching,our process is based on brain science. A per-son’s emotional skills—the attitude and abili-ties with which someone approaches life andwork—are not genetically hardwired, like eyecolor and skin tone. But in some ways theymight as well be, because they are so deeplyembedded in our neurology.

A person’s emotional skills do, in fact,have a genetic component. Scientists have dis-

Get Happy, Carefully

Good moods galvanize good performance, but it doesn’t make sense for a leader to be as chipper as a blue jay at dawn if sales are tank-ing or the business is going under. The most effective executives display moods and be-haviors that match the situation at hand, with a healthy dose of optimism mixed in. They respect how other people are feeling—even if it is glum or defeated—but they also model what it looks like to move forward with hope and humor.

This kind of performance, which we call res-onance, is for all intents and purposes the four components of emotional intelligence in action.

Self-awareness,

perhaps the most essen-tial of the emotional intelligence competen-cies, is the ability to read your own emotions. It allows people to know their strengths and limitations and feel confident about their self-worth. Resonant leaders use self-awareness to gauge their own moods accurately, and they intuitively know how they are affecting others.

Self-management

is the ability to control your emotions and act with honesty and in-tegrity in reliable and adaptable ways. Reso-nant leaders don’t let their occasional bad moods seize the day; they use self-manage-ment to leave it outside the office or to explain its source to people in a reasonable manner,

so they know where it’s coming from and how long it might last.

Social awareness

includes the key capabil-ities of empathy and organizational intuition. Socially aware executives do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. Further, they are experts at reading the currents of office politics. Thus, resonant leaders often keenly understand how their words and actions make others feel, and they are sensitive enough to change them when that impact is negative.

Relationship management,

the last of the emotional intelligence competencies, includes the abilities to communicate clearly and con-vincingly, disarm conflicts, and build strong personal bonds. Resonant leaders use these skills to spread their enthusiasm and solve dis-agreements, often with humor and kindness.

As effective as resonant leadership is, it is just as rare. Most people suffer through disso-nant leaders whose toxic moods and upset-ting behaviors wreck havoc before a hopeful and realistic leader repairs the situation.

Consider what happened recently at an experimental division of the BBC, the British media giant. Even though the group’s 200 or so journalists and editors had given their best ef-fort, management decided to close the division.

The shutdown itself was bad enough, but the brusque, contentious mood and manner of the executive sent to deliver the news to the assembled staff incited something be-yond the expected frustration. People be-came enraged—at both the decision and the bearer of the news. The executive’s cranky mood and delivery created an atmosphere so threatening that he had to call security to be ushered from the room.

The next day, another executive visited the same staff. His mood was somber and re-spectful, as was his behavior. He spoke about the importance of journalism to the vibrancy of a society and of the calling that had drawn them all to the field in the first place. He re-minded them that no one goes into journal-ism to get rich—as a profession its finances have always been marginal, job security ebb-ing and flowing with the larger economic tides. He recalled a time in his own career when he had been let go and how he had struggled to find a new position—but how he had stayed dedicated to the profession. Fi-nally, he wished them well in getting on with their careers.

The reaction from what had been an angry mob the day before? When this resonant leader finished speaking, the staff cheered.

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 7

covered, for instance, the gene for shyness—which is not a mood, per se, but it can cer-tainly drive a person toward a persistentlyquiet demeanor, which may be read as a“down” mood. Other people are preternatu-rally jolly—that is, their relentless cheerful-ness seems preternatural until you meet theirpeppy parents. As one executive explains, “AllI know is that ever since I was a baby, I havealways been happy. It drives some peoplecrazy, but I couldn’t get blue if I tried. And mybrother is the exact same way; he saw thebright side of life, even during his divorce.”

Even though emotional skills are partly in-born, experience plays a major role in howthe genes are expressed. A happy baby whoseparents die or who endures physical abusemay grow into a melancholy adult. A crankytoddler may turn into a cheerful adult afterdiscovering a fulfilling avocation. Still, re-search suggests that our range of emotionalskills is relatively set by our mid-20s and thatour accompanying behaviors are, by thattime, deep-seated habits. And therein lies therub: The more we act a certain way—be ithappy, depressed, or cranky—the more thebehavior becomes ingrained in our brain cir-cuitry, and the more we will continue to feeland act that way.

That’s why emotional intelligence mattersso much for a leader. An emotionally intelli-gent leader can monitor his or her moodsthrough self-awareness, change them for thebetter through self-management, understandtheir impact through empathy, and act inways that boost others’ moods through rela-tionship management.

The following five-part process is designedto rewire the brain toward more emotionallyintelligent behaviors. The process beginswith imagining your ideal self and then com-ing to terms with your real self, as others ex-perience you. The next step is creating a tacticalplan to bridge the gap between ideal andreal, and after that, to practice those activi-ties. It concludes with creating a communityof colleagues and family—call them changeenforcers—to keep the process alive. Let’slook at the steps in more detail.

“Who do I want to be?” Sofia, a seniormanager at a northern European telecommu-nications company, knew she needed to under-stand how her emotional leadership affectedothers. Whenever she felt stressed, she tended

to communicate poorly and take over subordi-nates’ work so that the job would be done“right.” Attending leadership seminars hadn’tchanged her habits, and neither had readingmanagement books or working with mentors.

When Sofia came to us, we asked her toimagine herself eight years from now as an ef-fective leader and to write a description of atypical day. “What would she be doing?” weasked. “Where would she live? Who would bethere? How would it feel?” We urged her toconsider her deepest values and loftiestdreams and to explain how those ideals hadbecome a part of her everyday life.

Sofia pictured herself leading her owntight-knit company staffed by ten colleagues.She was enjoying an open relationship withher daughter and had trusting relationshipswith her friends and coworkers. She saw her-self as a relaxed and happy leader and parentand as loving and empowering to all thosearound her.

In general, Sofia had a low level of self-awareness: She was rarely able to pinpointwhy she was struggling at work and at home.All she could say was, “Nothing is workingright.” This exercise, which prompted her topicture what life would look life if everythingwere going right, opened her eyes to the miss-ing elements in her emotional style. She wasable to see the impact she had on people inher life.

“Who am I now?” In the next step of thediscovery process, you come to see your lead-ership style as others do. This is both difficultand dangerous. Difficult, because few peoplehave the guts to tell the boss or a colleaguewhat he’s really like. And dangerous, becausesuch information can sting or even paralyze.A small bit of ignorance about yourself isn’talways a bad thing: Ego-defense mechanismshave their advantages. Research by MartinSeligman shows that high-functioning peoplegenerally feel more optimistic about theirprospects and possibilities than averageperformers. Their rose-colored lenses, in fact,fuel the enthusiasm and energy that makethe unexpected and the extraordinary achiev-able. Playwright Henrik Ibsen called suchself-delusions “vital lies,” soothing mistruthswe let ourselves believe in order to face adaunting world.

But self-delusion should come in very smalldoses. Executives should relentlessly seek the

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 8

truth about themselves, especially since it issure to be somewhat diluted when they hearit anyway. One way to get the truth is to keepan extremely open attitude toward critiques.Another is to seek out negative feedback,even cultivating a colleague or two to playdevil’s advocate.

We also highly recommend gathering feed-back from as many people as possible—including bosses, peers, and subordinates.Feedback from subordinates and peers is es-pecially helpful because it most accuratelypredicts a leader’s effectiveness, two, four, andeven seven years out, according to research byGlenn McEvoy at Utah State and RichardBeatty at Rutgers University.

Of course, 360-degree feedback doesn’tspecifically ask people to evaluate yourmoods, actions, and their impact. But it does

reveal how people experience you. For in-stance, when people rate how well you listen,they are really reporting how well they thinkyou hear them. Similarly, when 360-degreefeedback elicits ratings about coaching effec-tiveness, the answers show whether or notpeople feel you understand and care aboutthem. When the feedback uncovers low scoreson, say, openness to new ideas, it means thatpeople experience you as inaccessible or un-approachable or both. In sum, all you need toknow about your emotional impact is in 360-degree feedback, if you look for it.

One last note on this second step. It is, ofcourse, crucial to identify your areas of weak-ness. But focusing only on your weaknessescan be dispiriting. That’s why it is just as im-portant, maybe even more so, to understandyour strengths. Knowing where your real selfoverlaps with your ideal self will give you thepositive energy you need to move forward tothe next step in the process—bridging the gaps.

“How do I get from here to there?” Onceyou know who you want to be and have com-pared it with how people see you, you need todevise an action plan. For Sofia, this meantplanning for a real improvement in her levelof self-awareness. So she asked each memberof her team at work to give her feedback—weekly, anonymously, and in written form—about her mood and performance and theiraffect on people. She also committed herselfto three tough but achievable tasks: spendingan hour each day reflecting on her behavior ina journal, taking a class on group dynamics ata local college, and enlisting the help of atrusted colleague as an informal coach.

Consider, too, how Juan, a marketing ex-ecutive for the Latin American division of amajor integrated energy company, com-pleted this step. Juan was charged with grow-ing the company in his home country ofVenezuela as well as in the entire region—ajob that would require him to be a coachand a visionary and to have an encouraging,optimistic outlook. Yet 360-degree feedbackrevealed that Juan was seen as intimidatingand internally focused. Many of his direct re-ports saw him as a grouch—impossible toplease at his worst, and emotionally drainingat his best.

Identifying this gap allowed Juan to craft aplan with manageable steps toward improve-ment. He knew he needed to hone his powers

Resonance in Times of Crisis

When talking about leaders’ moods, the importance of resonance cannot be overstated. While our research suggests that leaders should generally be upbeat, their behavior must be rooted in real-ism, especially when faced with a crisis.

Consider the response of Bob Mulhol-land, senior VP and head of the client relations group at Merrill Lynch, to the terrorist attacks in New York. On Sep-tember 11, 2001, Mulholland and his staff in Two World Financial Center felt the building rock, then watched as smoke poured out of a gaping hole in the build-ing directly across from theirs. People started panicking: Some ran frantically from window to window. Others were paralyzed with fear. Those with relatives working in the World Trade Center were terrified for their safety. Mulholland knew he had to act: “When there’s a cri-sis, you’ve got to show people the way, step by step, and make sure you’re tak-ing care of their concerns.”

He started by getting people the in-formation they needed to “unfreeze.” He found out, for instance, which floors em-ployees’ relatives worked on and assured them that they’d have enough time to escape. Then he calmed the panic-stricken,

one at a time. “We’re getting out of here now,” he said quietly, “and you’re com-ing with me. Not the elevator, take the stairs.” He remained calm and decisive, yet he didn’t minimize people’s emotional responses. Thanks to him, everyone es-caped before the towers collapsed.

Mulholland’s leadership didn’t end there. Recognizing that this event would touch each client personally, he and his team devised a way for financial consult-ants to connect with their clients on an emotional level. They called every client to ask, “How are you? Are your loved ones okay? How are you feeling?” As Mulholland explains, “There was no way to pick up and do business as usual. The first order of ’business’ was letting our clients know we really do care.”

Bob Mulholland courageously per-formed one of the most crucial emo-tional tasks of leadership: He helped himself and his people find meaning in the face of chaos and madness. To do so, he first attuned to and expressed the shared emotional reality. That’s why the direction he eventually articulated reso-nated at the gut level. His words and his actions reflected what people were feel-ing in their hearts.

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Primal Leadership

harvard business review • december 2001 page 9

of empathy if he wanted to develop a coach-ing style, so he committed to various activitiesthat would let him practice that skill. For in-stance, Juan decided to get to know each ofhis subordinates better; if he understoodmore about who they were, he thought, he’dbe more able to help them reach their goals.He made plans with each employee to meetoutside of work, where they might be morecomfortable revealing their feelings.

Juan also looked for areas outside of his jobto forge his missing links—for example,coaching his daughter’s soccer team and vol-unteering at a local crisis center. Both activitieshelped him to experiment with how well heunderstood others and to try out new behaviors.

Again, let’s look at the brain science atwork. Juan was trying to overcome ingrainedbehaviors—his approach to work had takenhold over time, without his realizing it. Bring-ing them into awareness was a crucial steptoward changing them. As he paid more at-tention, the situations that arose—while lis-tening to a colleague, coaching soccer, ortalking on the phone to someone who wasdistraught—all became cues that stimulatedhim to break old habits and try new responses.

This cueing for habit change is neural aswell as perceptual. Researchers at the Univer-sity of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon Uni-versity have shown that as we mentally preparefor a task, we activate the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that moves us into ac-tion. The greater the prior activation, thebetter we do at the task.

Such mental preparation becomes particu-larly important when we’re trying to replacean old habit with a better one. As neuroscien-tist Cameron Carter at the University of Pitts-burgh found, the prefrontal cortex becomesparticularly active when a person prepares toovercome a habitual response. The arousedprefrontal cortex marks the brain’s focus onwhat’s about to happen. Without thatarousal, a person will reenact tried-and-truebut undesirable routines: The executive whojust doesn’t listen will once again cut off hissubordinate, a ruthless leader will launch intoyet another critical attack, and so on. That’swhy a learning agenda is so important. With-out one, we literally do not have the brain-power to change.

“How do I make change stick?” In short,making change last requires practice. The rea-

son, again, lies in the brain. It takes doing andredoing, over and over, to break old neuralhabits. A leader must rehearse a new behavioruntil it becomes automatic—that is, until he’smastered it at the level of implicit learning.Only then will the new wiring replace the old.

While it is best to practice new behaviors,as Juan did, sometimes just envisioning themwill do. Take the case of Tom, an executivewho wanted to close the gap between his realself (perceived by colleagues and subordi-nates to be cold and hard driving) and hisideal self (a visionary and a coach).

Tom’s learning plan involved finding oppor-tunities to step back and coach his employeesrather than jumping down their throats whenhe sensed they were wrong. Tom also beganto spend idle moments during his commutethinking through how to handle encountershe would have that day. One morning, whileen route to a breakfast meeting with an em-ployee who seemed to be bungling a project,Tom ran through a positive scenario in hismind. He asked questions and listened to besure he fully understood the situation beforetrying to solve the problem. He anticipatedfeeling impatient, and he rehearsed how hewould handle these feelings.

Studies on the brain affirm the benefits ofTom’s visualization technique: Imaginingsomething in vivid detail can fire the samebrain cells actually involved in doing that activ-ity. The new brain circuitry appears to gothrough its paces, strengthening connections,even when we merely repeat the sequence inour minds. So to alleviate the fears associatedwith trying out riskier ways of leading, weshould first visualize some likely scenarios.Doing so will make us feel less awkward whenwe actually put the new skills into practice.

Experimenting with new behaviors andseizing opportunities inside and outside ofwork to practice them—as well as using suchmethods as mental rehearsal—eventually trig-gers in our brains the neural connectionsnecessary for genuine change to occur. Evenso, lasting change doesn’t happen throughexperimentation and brain-power alone.We need, as the song goes, a little help fromour friends.

“Who can help me?” The fifth step in theself-discovery and reinvention process is creat-ing a community of supporters. Take, for ex-ample, managers at Unilever who formed

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Primal Leadership

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learning groups as part of their executivedevelopment process. At first, they gathered todiscuss their careers and how to provide lead-ership. But because they were also chargedwith discussing their dreams and their learninggoals, they soon realized that they were dis-cussing both their work and their personallives. They developed a strong mutual trustand began relying on one another for frankfeedback as they worked on strengtheningtheir leadership abilities. When this happens,the business benefits through stronger perfor-mance. Many professionals today have createdsimilar groups, and for good reason. Peoplewe trust let us try out unfamiliar parts of ourleadership repertoire without risk.

We cannot improve our emotional intelli-gence or change our leadership style withouthelp from others. We not only practice withother people but also rely on them to create asafe environment in which to experiment. Weneed to get feedback about how our actionsaffect others and to assess our progress on ourlearning agenda.

In fact, perhaps paradoxically, in the self-directed learning process we draw on othersevery step of the way—from articulating andrefining our ideal self and comparing it withthe reality to the final assessment that affirms

our progress. Our relationships offer us thevery context in which we understand ourprogress and comprehend the usefulness ofwhat we’re learning.

Mood over Matter

When we say that managing your mood andthe moods of your followers is the task of pri-mal leadership, we certainly don’t mean tosuggest that mood is all that matters. Aswe’ve noted, your actions are critical, andmood and actions together must resonatewith the organization and with reality. Simi-larly, we acknowledge all the other chal-lenges leaders must conquer—from strategyto hiring to new product development. It’s allin a long day’s work.

But taken as a whole, the message sent byneurological, psychological, and organiza-tional research is startling in its clarity. Emo-tional leadership is the spark that ignites acompany’s performance, creating a bonfire ofsuccess or a landscape of ashes. Moods matterthat much.

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Primal Leadership

The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

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Further Reading

A R T I C L E

Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups

by Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B. WolffHarvard Business ReviewMarch 2001Product no. 620X

Just as individual leaders can boost their emo-tional intelligence (EI), so can teams. Indeed, EI at the group level lays the foundation for col-laboration and cooperation, helping teams ful-fill their highest potential. As the authors ex-plain, teams can build their EI by honing their awareness of and regulating the emotions of 1) individual team members, 2) the whole group, and 3) other key groups with whom the team interacts. Using examples from celebrated in-dustrial-design firm IDEO, this article reveals what EI looks like in action from all three angles.

B O O K SPrimal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKeeHarvard Business School Press2002Product no. 486X

In this book, the authors transform the art of leadership into the science of results—by building on the EI concepts they explore in their article. They argue that the primal task of leaders is not driving earnings or strategy, but driving emotions—and consequently organi-zational performance—in the right direction. Basing their argument on years of psychologi-cal, neurological, and organizational research, they include suggestions for strengthening and sustaining EI competencies; extending EI skills throughout teams, departments, and entire organizations; knowing when to apply the right leadership style; recognizing and managing employees’ emotions; and leverag-ing the contagious effects of primal leader-ship to motivate talent.

Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman

Bantam Books

1997

This groundbreaking book riveted the public’s attention on the field of emotional intelli-gence. In it, Goleman draws on brain and be-havioral research to show that our traditional IQ-idolizing view of intelligence is too narrow. It’s emotional intelligence, he argues, that most determines human success—in our personal and professional lives. The book contains a wealth of engaging vignettes and describes the core EI competencies in detail. Goleman also maintains that EQ, unlike IQ, can keep developing through life experiences. He suggests ways to combine emotions and thinking to build a flourishing career and culti-vate lasting, meaningful relationships.

Working with Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman

Bantam Books

2000

Goleman takes his concepts of emotional in-telligence directly into the workplace, laying the foundation for understanding EI’s impact on employees’, teams’, and leaders’ perfor-mance. As he explains, the ability to manage one’s feelings, interact effectively with others, and communicate are more than twice as important as IQ or job skills in determining workplace success. Goleman draws on analy-ses from 500 corporations, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations and explores these studies’ implications for job training, team learning, and management.

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