Emotional Intelligence & the Resonant Leader


Hope. Mindfulness. Renewal. Relationship management. These terms may sound like the elements of a marriage encounter, but they are also at the heart of the emerging concept of “resonant leadership.”

The term resonant leader was popularized in a 2002 book titled Primal Leadership, written by Daniel Goleman, father of the concept of emotional intelligence, along with emotional intelligence researchers Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.

In that book, they argued that an organization responds to the energy and enthusiasm of its leader. If the leader expresses a positive attitude, an organization tends to thrive… if a leader spreads negative emotions, the organization struggles.

Since then, Boyatzis and McKee have continued their research in this field. In their recent book, Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion, they have come up with surprising recommendations for what it takes to achieve and sustain resonant leadership—not just corporate management, but leadership within any kind of organization, family, social group, and including what they call “leadership around your own life.”

Leadership as Relationship

The resonant leader is described as one who has developed the emotional intelligence to connect with and sustain relationships with his or her team in order to be able to manage the emotional content of the organization.

As Boyatzis puts it, “Leaders who can create resonance are people who either intuitively understand or have worked hard to develop emotional intelligence—namely, the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. In addition to knowing and managing themselves well, emotionally intelligent leaders manage others’ emotions and build strong, trusting relationships.”

A great leader, he says, is not a person, “it’s a relationship.”

Battling the Sacrifice Syndrome

Sustaining this level of resonant leadership can be challenging. Added to the normal stress of leadership is a growing list of demands—both internal and external—placed on leaders these days. Trying to meet these demands requires more and more time and energy. And without attending to themselves, leaders can slip into what has been denominated “sacrifice syndrome.”

The sacrifice syndrome is a vicious cycle in which the stress of sustaining a leadership role, coupled with some unexpected problems or crises, starts someone down a path of burnout. There can be numerous physical manifestations, including gastrointestinal disorders, high blood pressure, insomnia and a weakened immune system. But more importantly for the leader, burnout leads to dissonance, not resonance. Retaining the ability to resonate with your organization requires particular attention to three areas:

  • Mindfulness. This critical skill deals with maintaining awareness not only of what is going on inside yourself, but also to what is going on around you. There are many paths to mindfulness, from cognitive psychology to Buddhism. Suggestions include meditation, prayer, exercise, music and being in nature.
  • Hope. We can define hope as determining a plan of action based on clearly articulated goals and believing the goals can be met. Hope is a profound source of positive thoughts and emotions, and through the contagiousness of emotions, it can be the catalyst of positive energy in our organizations as well.
  • Compassion. Resonance, ultimately, requires caring about other people; in that sense, it depends fundamentally upon our capacity for compassion. By caring enough about people to try to figure out who they are and why they behave the way they do, the dissonant defenses of prejudice and pre-judgment are replaced with the resonant qualities of understanding and tolerance.

Mindfulness, hope and compassion… not a bad formula for the growing pressures of today’s world. And please do not get the impression that it is all just a little too soft. In fact, when employed properly and coming from the heart, it can be perfectly consistent with, and even complement other competencies, such as driving performance and challenging people to become their very best. The greatest news of all is that it delivers a strong dose of overall health and happiness to our people, our organization, and us as leaders.