Resonant Leadership


In recent months, I’ve been reading a lot about the emergence of MOOC’s (massive open online courses) impact on education so I decided to sign up for a class called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence taught by Dr. Richard Boyatzis, an expert scholar in the areas of emotional intelligence, behavior change, competencies and leadership. I’ve read some of Dr. Boyatzis’ work in graduate school and was very excited to take a class with him. Best of all it’s free, it’s online and something I can commit to as a busy mom of toddlers. In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my reflections about the readings, discussions and insights gleaned from this class.

The class began with modules focusing on RESONANT LEADERSHIP. Drawing from the extensive research by Boyatzis and colleagues, the focus was on qualities of an effective leader (note the term effective not good) and how resonant leaders evoke feelings of hope and compassion. While the concept of emotional intelligence has received much attention in research and popular literature, this class provided deeper assertion that “leader’s emotional intelligence creates a certain culture or work environment. High levels of emotional intelligence…create climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Low levels of emotional intelligence create climates rife with fear and anxiety. Because tense or terrified employees can be very productive in the short term, their organizations may post good results, but they never last” (Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2001).

First introduced in the book Primal Leadership, a “resonant” leader, is an individual who is in tune with him or herself and the people around them. These are leaders who foster a positive work space where creativity is thriving and productivity is increasing. These are individuals who are deeply self-aware and have a strong ability to create, foster and nurture a positive and emotionally intelligent workplace. Unfortunately, many of us succumb to work stress, having to deal with the complexity and ambiguity in the organization, managing daily crises, implementing unclear visions, executing difficult management or financial decisions and dealing with difficult colleagues and managers. Resonant leadership (and even navigating workplace or our own relational complexity) requires mindfulness, hope and compassion according to Dr. Boyatzis.

Mindfulness, as a concept used in this context, is drawn from both cognitive psychology and the Buddhist philosophy. It is being present and fully attuned to what is happening in the moment or what Donald Schön would describe as reflection-in-action. Perhaps pausing mid-task and asking ourselves: How do I feel about what I’m doing? Why am I doing it? How do other people in the room feel about this?

We know that one of the tenets of why adult learn according to Malcolm Knowles is that we need to attach relevance of an experience into our lives. That is what resonant leaders are good at- they help us find meaning and relevancy of what we’re doing in light of the larger picture and this in turn stimulates hope. Knowing that we are working and striving for something bigger and a having a clear vision of the future inspires hope and creates a sense of well-being and purpose.

Lastly, to be a resonant leader, one must genuinely care about others. The term compassion here is described as showing empathy and trust, and caring about people and not just the bottomline. A compassionate leader creates a healthy and positive workplace where they are willing to dialogue about difficult and uncomfortable issues, listen to their subordinates share about what works and what didn’t and why, putting themselves in other people’s shoes and seeing things from their lenses. When we feel we have a compassionate leader who has our back, we don’t want to let them down and we care back.

I would love to hear your thoughts and insights about resonant leadership. Have you experienced working for a resonant leader? If so, what makes them so effective and inspiring? On the contrary, what makes a toxic boss? How do we stop the cycle of toxicity at work so we don’t get sucked into that negativity and it doesn’t spill over to the home? 

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