Primal Leadership is a good book to understand the different types of leadership and when to better deploy each one.
It loses steam in the second part of the book, but Daniel Goleman makes it worth your while with good descriptions and examples for the 6 styles of leadership.
- We can recognize 6 different types of leadership
- Each style has its place, but you must limit the commanding (bossy) and pacesetting (only accepting high performance) ones
- You can learn leadership and leadership styles, and you should strive to master several of them
Daniel Goleman has done his name writing about emotional intelligence, and Primal Leadership is, basically, a look at leadership from the lenses of emotional intelligence.
It makes sense, because emotional intelligence in the sene of understanding oneself and the people around is crucial.
However, there is much debate on whether or not we can isolate and measure a construct such as “emotional intelligence”.
You can read more about it in Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (I’m a big advocator of working on our EI, but I find his claim that EI accounts for 80% of success marketing and not science).
The 6 Leadership Styles
According to Daniel Goleman we can identify six styles of leadership:
- Visionary: the leader who rallies the troop behind is grand vision and dreams
- Coaching: helps develop people over the long term
- Affiliative: focused on harmony and human connections
- Democratic: hears everyone and builds consensus build consensus
- Pacesetting: demands and expects excellence and results
- Commanding: bellows order and demand immediate compliance
The Best Leadership Style
I can almost hear you asking: so, what’s the best leadership style?
Well, each one is “best” depending on the situation, but Goleman says that pacesetting and commanding should be limited in time and space or they will poison the environment and lead to poorer results.
However, the author also clearly says that the best leaders are the ones who can switch from one to the other depending on the situation.
This is a concept I fully agree with and which I also apply to the submissive-dominance scale in Social Power.
The best mixes of leadership styles are the following: authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching.
When to Use Which Leadership Style
Here is an overview of the pros and cons:
- Commanding / coercive
While it’s poisonous in the long run, it can be effective during disasters where a quick and energetic response is indeed, during turnarounds or with difficult employees.
It’s very bad in keeping great employees though. As Daniel Goleman says:
Who wants to work for an SOB?
- Visionary / authoritative
The visionary style is also sometimes referred to as “authoritative” because it has a strong undertone of “come with me” (or you’re out).
It can work well when the business is adrift.
It’s not effective when working with a team of experts who know more about the leader.
In this case, they can become disillusioned and cynical about the leader.
The strong focus on encouragement and praise helps the team’s mood, but it can allow for poor performance to go unnoticed.
When the affiliative style does not provide for corrective feedback or criticism, it can leave employees wondering.
It makes people feel heard and understood. But when it’s too much democracy and less decision making, people can feel like they are in a leaderless organization.
And when decisions take too long, it can result in many meetings and little decisions.
A leader who sets high standards and shows he meets and exceeds them is highly motivating for those employees who are equally competent and self-motivated.
Other employees who are not as good can feel overwhelmed and they can end up resenting him.
It works great when the leader is competend and well learned and employees want to learn from him and want to improve.
It doesn’t work nearly as good with unmotivated employees or with employees who don’t want to change and improve (and with employees with a fixed mindset, such as employees who don’t even believe they can even improve).
Examples of Leadership Styles
The author talks a bit about Al Dunlap, a self-styled psychopath, who was “good” at turning around businesses but who could not manage to run one well to save his life.
And he says that most people misunderstand Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of GE and author of Winning.
He says that Welch got famous for being a commanding boss, but few realize that he was only commanding in the beginning. And once he turned around GE, he later settled into a more emotionally intelligent leader.
Daniel Goleman uses the term “resonant leaders” to describe leaders who understand human nature and leverage their emotional intelligence to connect with people and get the most out of them.
Resonant leaders embrace emotions and humanity.
Of the four leadership styles we saw earlier, resonant leaders are:
Dissonant leaders instead don’t understand or actively try to cut out the human side of business.
Of the four leadership styles that we saw earlier, dissonant leaders are:
- command / authoritative
Can we learn leadership skills?
Absolutely we can, says Daniel Goleman.
It will take time and dedication, but you can learn it.
Learning Leadership Styles
We can also change leadership style, but we are not going to change that just by sitting in a classroom.
Competencies part of emotional intelligence like empathy and self-regulation are linked to the limbic system, which is not the rational part of our brain.
To change the limbic system, we need to unlearn old habits, develop new habits and repeat them over time until a new neural pathway is formed (neurons that fire together wire together, says Doidge in The Brain That Changes Itself).
Real Life Applications
- Stay Upbeat and Positive Under Stressful Situations
Leaders who can stay positive and upbeat during stressful and difficult situations radiate positive resonance.
- Stronger Self-Management Wins The Frame
Goleman says that when two people with different emotional state meet there is a tug of war at an amygdala level.
He says that when a confrontational person meets an unflappable one, if the unflappable one keeps his cool, he ends up changing the confrontational persons’ attitude.
This is very important in negotiations.
It’s all a matter of holding out for so long my friends.. :).
- Some important questions are left unanswered
The author is a big promoter of emotional intelligence -and so am I-. However, Travis Bradberry notes, while EI rises along management lines, it drops in CEOs.
Why is that so?
What does it tell us?
Does it say maybe that when action and directions need to be set EI is less important?
Those are the important questions I wanted to see tackled.
- One research backing most of the book
Personally, I’m always very skeptical of generalizations “based on research” when it comes to human behavior.
And most of Primal Leadership references one single research.
Primal Leadership, for me, has been a seminal text in classifying the different styles of leadership.
The first part of Primal Leadership is wonderful.
Worth a 5/5.
The second part starts getting duller, verbose and fluffy.
It lost me on several occasions.
I had to listen to it twice and still I didn’t get much out of it (it reminded of Social Intelligence from Daniel Goleman as well: lots of talk, little substance).
Do I recommend it? Yes, get the most out of the 6 styles of leadership and if the rest doesn’t speak to you, skim through.