Posted December 15, 2016 by Joanna M. Iwata 

Primal Leadership: Insights During Turbulent Times

Read part one of Joanna’s series on primal leadership: Transformational Leadership and Restorative Justice: An Intro to Primal Leadership

In his New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence (1995), Daniel Goleman proposes important concepts of how we can tap into the more positive emotions, energy, and enthusiasm of leadership to create thriving conditions in our workplace versus succumbing to the negativity and discord around us.

In a unique collaboration with Richard Boyatzis (Case Western Reserve University) and Annie McKee (University of Pennsylvania), Goleman et al co-authored Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (2002). Together they explore the role of emotional intelligence (EI) in “primal leadership” and how it links to organizational success or failure.

As we reflect on what great leaders do, how do they move us? How do they inspire the best in us, if not ignite our passions? Goleman et al invites us to consider how we define what great leaders do in order to suggest that there is a “primal” element in effect; i.e., how leadership works through the emotions. Given the depth and scope of what we do within our college unions and leadership roles, EI has everything to do with our capacity to not only draw from our innate talents, but to go beyond them.

Goleman notes that followers look for “supportive emotional connection—for empathy” in a leader, which builds “resonance” among a leader and his/her teams. Yet there’s a flip side to this, as many of us can relate to what occurs when leaders spawn “dissonance.”

Whether we were ready or not, following Election Day we have had to step up into our respective leadership roles to mindfully manage the emotional impact it stirred within our teams and campus community. As leaders, we must pay attention to the emotional impact of our verbal and nonverbal messages, because it sets the stage of the mood and tone that will either divide a crowd or inspire them in the face of adversity.

Goleman states that EI competencies revolve around our learned abilities as we leverage from several key domains of personal competence (self-awareness, self-management) and social competence (social awareness, relationship management). Distilling this even further, there are associated competencies within each of these domains which looks something like this:

(how we manage ourselves)
(how we manage relationships)
  • Self-Awareness: emotional self-awareness, self-assessment, self-confidence
  • Self-Management: emotional self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, optimism
  • Social Awareness: empathy, organizational awareness, service
  • Relationship Management: inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, teamwork, collaboration

When we consider the “what ifs” related to utilizing or tapping into such EI competencies like empathy and self-awareness, he presents six different leadership styles, our “leadership repertoire,” to operate from: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. The different styles serve to create or sustain our ability to lead our teams during turbulent times on our campuses. However, he points out that the latter two styles must be used with caution.

In the midst of the challenges we face in working with our teams to respond to the unsettling effects of national elections, social justice movements, and fears associated with the uncertainties affecting our quality of life both inside and outside of the classroom, how we choose to constructively handle ourselves and our relationships with key stakeholders becomes even more critical now than ever before.

Next, we will examine how Goleman contrasts dissonance leadership to resonance leadership in order to better assess the traits you have chosen or will choose to implement in your primal leadership and management practices.


Joanna M. Iwata

Joanna M. Iwata is the AS Senior Coordinator for Governance and Operation at California State University–Monterey Bay.

Joanna has served ACUI in volunteer leadership roles since 1998, formerly as director of Region V and currently as inclusivity coordinator for Region I. She has authored articles on a wide range of topics, including leadership, management, diversity, teamwork, and organizational development, which have been featured in publications for ACUI, NACAS, and NASPA.


I definitely agree that emotional intelligence effects leadership within an organization.
Pa Vang
Comment posted 12/18/2016 10:22 PM
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