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Resonant Leadership: Review of Book

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Resonant Leadership by David Boyatzis and Annie McKee (Harvard Business School Press, 2005).  Reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D. December 2010

The bottom line of this book is found in its subtitle: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion.  This might well be one of the most important leadership books I’ve read. Boyatzis and McKee—well respected researchers, professors and authors—use the physics concept of “resonance” (being in tune) to explain a simple biologic principle that rules our lives: We’re creatures whose behaviors and motivations are fueled by our emotions and stimulated by our leaders. And if those leaders are negative in thought, word or deed, they will produce a negative climate and culture, with a negative impact on employee performance.

On the other hand, if they approach leadership with a positive vision, they create a culture of employees who succeed and who are renewed, creative, hopeful and compassionate. The authors describe The Sacrifice Syndrome that produces negative attractors and eventually a default state of dissonance. They also describe how such dissonant, even depressed, workers can learn how to climb out of such a negative syndrome by learning and employing The Cycle of Renewal that produces positive attractors—and makes people want to be around you, as a person and as a leader. This week I will be reviewing this book in some detail. I might add that I now recommend it without reservation to every executive client—it’s that big a deal.

1. The Sacrifice Syndrome: You’ve seen this dozens of times in the workplace. The company has a crisis or hits a rough patch. The manager or leader or even CEO begins to bear down, actually sacrificing herself or himself for the cause—works harder, eats poorly, stays longer hours to “fix” the problem. S/he has everyone focused on the problem with what I would call a “do not” focus—do not screw this up, do not let your guard down, do not let things slip. Whatever the “do not” thing is, when a leader approaches this negative stressor (or negative attractor), s/he begins a stress cycle not unlike the early days when we hunted wild game to survive. In the best of circumstances, there is a long period of recovery between stressors.

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