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Leadership Styles

We are living in a world which requires leaders to select and effectively deploy leadership styles suited to the needs of the people, the context, and the situation.

Today’s blog focuses on the excellent work of Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their international best-selling book Primal Leadership. If you prefer to watch our short video on this, please click here.

Why Leadership Styles Matter

The Conference Board (2006) reviewed definitions through a meta-analysis of 12 largely consultancy based studies of employee engagement and proposed a composite definition that ‘employee engagement is a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organisation, manager or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work’.

Emotions drive human behaviour. We know from neuroscientific evidence that the emotional brain as part of the limbic system is the first responder to new information coming into the brain. The amygdalae controls our instantaneous emotional responses & is always on guard to filter-check incoming information via our senses. The emotional centre then passes this information to the pre-frontal cortex where the thinking brain has a chance to analyse the information.

An Example Of Emotions Driving Behaviour

Paresh leads a customer service team, his Sales Director has just ranted and raved about the targets not being hit this month, and so Paresh has just shared this with his team via video call. Despite saying she’d be happy to help and work through this, Sharon (a member of Paresh’s team) is annoyed and aggrieved after the call. She’s on call duty, so when she answers the next incoming call, the caller hears a sharp “Customer service centre, how can I help you?” followed by an audible sigh.

Do Emotions Play A Role In Your Behaviour?

Think back to when you’ve been emotionally frustrated or withdrawn at work, did it impact your behaviour?

Are You A Resonant or Dissonant Leader?

The authors of Primal Leadership, assert that leadership styles fall into two categories; resonant or dissonant leadership.

Resonant Leadership

The resonant leadership styles evoke positive emotions for the people whom the leaders serve. The term resonant is used because the positive emotions reverberate. Resonant leaders have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Goleman’s model of EI, highlights these four key areas:

  • Awareness of self

  • Awareness of others

  • Self-Management

  • Relationship Management

Resonant leadership is about creating meaningful, authentic, interpersonal relationships with others.

Dissonant Leadership

If resonant leadership evokes positive emotions, dissonant leadership does the opposite, the styles predominantly reduce social and emotional engagement and therefore create a sense of compliance in followers rather than a sense of engaged commitment. Dissonant leadership lacks emotional intelligence, which is driven by a lack of awareness of self and others, a challenge in terms of emotional self- management and/or a gap in building strong, long lasting, authentic relationships.

The Six Leadership Styles

Goleman et al. (2002) defined six leadership styles or behaviours that leaders deploy in their roles and studies show that resonant leadership impacts the bottom line. One example of this is a large study on nursing leadership (Cummings, 20041).

Image of The Six Leadership Styles

Goleman et al. emphasise that there’s not one ‘right style’ for all situations, leaders must consider the people, the context and the situation. They assert that there are pros and cons for each style and the leader’s task is to choose the right style at the right time.

The following excerpt from Primal Leadership shows when each style is most appropriate.

Image showing when each style is most appropriate

It’s clear to see that Pacesetting and Commanding styles have a place in leadership styles, however Goleman et al. encourage these styles to be used cautiously, with the right behaviours and for a limited amount of time.

Time To Reflect

Next we’d like to encourage you to reflect on the styles and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is your primary style? Would your team agree?

  2. Which style(s) suit the current people, context and situation you are facing right now?

  3. What one step will you take next to further your use of the leadership styles?

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Blog written by Zoe Lewis, Director of Coaching, The Leadership Coaches


1Study: Cummings –Brady-Germain P & Cummings GG (2010) The influence of nursing leadership on nurse performance: a systematic literature review. Journal of Nursing Management 18, 425-439



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