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May 2010


Resonant Leadership


by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (Harvard Business School Press, 2005)


What are the big take-aways?


I love this book. The authors co-wrote Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman, the researcher who developed the concept of “emotional intelligence,” and then continued their work together on how great leaders use emotional intelligence to build resonant relationships. The subtitle of this volume is “Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion.” Boyatzis and McKee explain on page 3:


Great leaders are awake, aware and attuned to themselves, to others and to the world around them. They commit to their beliefs, stand strong in their values, and live full, passionate lives. Great leaders are emotionally intelligent and they are mindful: they seek to live in full consciousness of self, others, nature, and society. Great leaders face the uncertainty of today’s world with hope: they inspire through clarity of vision, optimism, and a profound belief in their – and their people’s – ability to turn dreams into reality. Great leaders face sacrifice, difficulties, challenges as well as opportunities, with empathy and compassion for the people they lead and those they serve.


Leaders who are not resonant are “dissonant,” either because they haven’t developed the skills and attributes of resonance, or because they had them and lost them due to any number of factors, the most significant of which is what the authors call the “Sacrifice Syndrome.” The Sacrifice Syndrome kicks in when times are tough and the leader’s reflexive response is to just work harder. However, Boyatzis and McKee argue, that dynamic can lead to stress, emotional turmoil, poor judgment and burn-out; in short, the leader defaults to dissonance. Instead, they say, leaders should proactively engage in ongoing practices that offer continuous renewal through developing their capacities for mindfulness, hope and compassion.


Why did I like it?


I liked this book because it is well-grounded in research and presents a straightforward argument that simply makes sense. There are no redundant or gratuitous case examples, either – each of the leaders cited in the book have a story that uniquely underscores the book’s main points. It’s engagingly written, with check-ins and quick exercises throughout the book for the reader’s immediate benefit.  It has two useful appendices: one describes in detail the chemical and neurological consequences of the chronic stress associated with the Sacrifice Syndrome, and the other provides a few additional exercises and resources that I thought were very practical starting places.


In what situations would this be useful?


This is the perfect resource for leaders who are either experiencing, or want to be sure to get out ahead of, any subtle messages they may be receiving from their body, mind or spirit that something is “not quite right” or which cause them to ask themselves “what am I missing here?” It is also a great resource for leaders who are interested in a thorough yet accessible introduction to the brain science of healthy and effective leadership.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


I happened to read this book simultaneously with Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson (which I’ll review next) and it was a powerful combination. The theses of the two books overlap nicely in both obvious and less-obvious ways. Buddha’s Brain develops the scientific explanation for how your states of mind and behavior affect the way your brain functions, and how you can therefore make positive changes in your brain structure by intentionally modifying your states of mind and behavior. This would be an excellent resource for anyone who became intrigued enough by Resonant Leadership to wish to delve more deeply into the personal, professional and spiritual benefits of engaging in brain-altering practices.


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