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Summary: Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

  • The book explains how emotional intelligence (EI) is crucial for effective leadership, as leaders can create resonance or dissonance in their organizations, depending on how they manage their own and others’ emotions.
  • The book introduces the concept of primal leadership, which is the ability to influence the emotional state of others through one’s own emotional state, and identifies four domains and 18 competencies of EI that are essential for primal leadership.
  • The book also describes six leadership styles that are derived from these competencies, and provides practical guidance on how to develop one’s EI skills and choose the appropriate leadership style for different situations.

Primal Leadership (2013) argues that the fundamental task of any great leader is to engage the emotions of their followers and guide them in a positive direction. Offering up an emotionally intelligent, resonant style of leadership, it delves into the skills and qualities needed to become a better leader and bring out the best in your team.

Introduction: Discover the importance of emotionally intelligent leadership.

What does it take to be a great leader? People might say it’s about having a clear goal, strong plans, and fresh ideas. But great leadership isn’t just about what a leader does – it’s also about how they do it.

In fact, Primal Leadership suggests that emotional intelligence is the most vital part of being an excellent leader. Leaders who are deeply attuned to emotions can inspire their teams by understanding – and speaking to – the things that make them tick.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to explore in this very short summary.

Book Summary: Primal Leadership - Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

Set the emotional standard

The reason that emotionally intelligent leadership is so crucial in the workplace has to do with the “open-loop” nature of the limbic system – the emotional center of our brains.

Many other systems in our bodies are closed-loop, meaning they aren’t impacted by external factors. For instance, the circulatory system of the person sitting next to you has no direct effect on your own bodily functions. In contrast, open-loop systems are highly dependent on external sources. That’s why our limbic system is able to receive signals from people around us that can alter our hormones, sleep rhythm, and even immune system functions. In other words: our peers have the power to physiologically influence our emotions.

Good leaders can make use of this fact. Throughout history, groups of humans have looked to them for emotional assurance and certainty when facing threats or accomplishing tasks. It’s likely that ancient leaders were placed in their roles because their leadership style was emotionally compelling.

In modern organizations, this primal aspect of leadership is often overlooked – but the concept remains just as important. Especially in the workplace, people often take their cues from the top. The way that a leader approaches and executes their work carries special weight. Leaders “manage meaning” for the group as a whole, setting the emotional standard for how to interpret and react to any situation.

Leaders who learn to maximize the benefits of primal leadership can drive the emotions of their employees in a positive direction. And the better they are at transmitting positive emotions, the more powerfully the good feelings are spread.

Of course, this isn’t to say that leaders have to be overly nice or fake positivity when things go wrong. Instead, what matters is communicating the realities of worklife without causing undue stress. The more demanding the work, the greater the need for a supportive, empathetic leader.

Not only does an emotionally intelligent leadership style benefit the well-being of employees – and the organization as a whole – but it has also been shown to improve efficiency. After all, we’re not robots … yet! The way we feel at work directly impacts the effort we’re willing to put in.

Lead with resonance

In some ways, leading people is like making music. When a leader positively affects a group’s emotions, they’re leading with resonance; if a leader uses negativity to undermine the group’s emotional foundations, they’re creating dissonance.

So, how do you become a resonant leader? There are four domains of emotional intelligence you need to master.

The first domain is self-awareness. While the ability to be self-aware is often neglected in business settings, it’s arguably the most important factor of good leadership. If a leader can’t understand and manage their own emotions, how can they expect to understand the emotions of others? Also, a leader who’s attuned to their inner signals can recognize a feeling like anger or resentment, and work through it constructively before it crescendos into an outburst.

Flowing directly from self-awareness comes the domain of self-management, which encompasses the focus and drive that all great leaders need to achieve their goals. This domain acts as a constant inner dialogue that keeps leaders moving in the right direction.

The key to the third domain – social awareness – is practicing empathy. By paying close attention to how others are feeling, a leader can say exactly what’s needed in the moment and act appropriately for each situation. Resonant leaders are able to convey their feelings honestly, in a way that propels their reports toward positive action.

The first three domains come together to support the fourth – relationship management. This domain comprises some of the skills most commonly associated with leadership, including collaboration, conflict management, and persuasion.

Your ability to effectively manage relationships boils down to how well you can embrace other people’s feelings, act with empathy, and become aware of your own emotions. This is where you, as a leader, truly get to put your primal leadership skills to the test.


Throughout history, groups have turned to their leaders for emotional guidance. Though often overlooked in today’s modern workplace, this primal leadership ability is more important than ever.

Together, the four domains of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management – form the skillset needed to become an emotionally intelligent and resonant leader. These domains aren’t inherent skills that all great leaders are born with, but they can be learned and perfected with patience and lots of practice.


Business, Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, Management, Organizational Behavior, Psychology, Neuroscience, Self-Help


Primal Leadership is a book that explains the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) for effective leadership. The book argues that leaders can create resonance or dissonance in their organizations, depending on how they manage their own and others’ emotions. Resonance is a positive emotional climate that fosters creativity, innovation, collaboration, and performance. Dissonance is a negative emotional climate that breeds stress, conflict, apathy, and poor results.

The book introduces the concept of primal leadership, which is the ability to influence the emotional state of others through one’s own emotional state. Primal leadership is based on the idea that emotions are contagious and that leaders have a disproportionate impact on the mood and morale of their followers. Primal leadership is also rooted in neuroscience, which shows that the brain has an emotional center (the limbic system) that interacts with the rational center (the cortex) and affects how we think and act.

The book identifies four domains of EI that are essential for primal leadership: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within these domains, there are 18 EI competencies that can be learned and developed. The book also describes six leadership styles that are derived from these competencies: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, and the best leaders are those who can switch among them according to the situation.

The book provides practical guidance on how to become a primal leader by developing one’s EI skills and choosing the appropriate leadership style. The book also offers tools and techniques for creating a resonant organization that supports EI development and fosters a culture of learning, trust, and excellence.

Primal Leadership is a book that offers a comprehensive and compelling framework for understanding and practicing effective leadership. The book is based on extensive research and evidence from various fields, such as psychology, neuroscience, business, and education. The book is also written in a clear and engaging style that makes it easy to follow and apply.

The book does not present a simplistic or one-size-fits-all formula for leadership, but rather a nuanced and flexible approach that recognizes the complexity and diversity of human emotions and interactions. The book acknowledges that there is no perfect leader or leadership style, but rather a range of possibilities that can be adapted to different contexts and challenges. The book also emphasizes that leadership is not a fixed trait or talent, but rather a skill that can be learned and improved through practice and feedback.

The book is not only useful for leaders or aspiring leaders, but also for anyone who wants to improve their EI and their relationships with others. The book can help you gain more insight into your own emotions and motivations, as well as those of others. The book can also help you develop more empathy, compassion, and understanding for yourself and others. The book can also help you create more positive and productive environments at work and at home.

Primal Leadership is a book that can help you unleash the power of your emotions and your potential as a leader. It can help you transform your emotions into assets, your followers into partners, and your organization into a community. It can help you become a primal leader who inspires others to achieve greatness.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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