What makes a great leader? Is it the technical expertise? Is it the IQ? Does one become a great leader by nature or after RECEIVING an MBA? We can PROBABLY agree that a great leader is: somebody that BRINGS the best out of each person in a team, a person that engages team members, somebody who evokes positive emotions, and inspires OTHERS; a person that resonates with us.
What is Resonant Leadership?
Resonance is the capacity to synchronize with each other; therefore, resonant leadership is the capacity to tune in to the needs of a team of people. According to psychologist and best-selling author David Coleman, when talking about top managers, emotional intelligence (EQ) is twice as important as skills + IQ. Effective leadership doesn’t have to do with who invented a product, who is the smartest, or who has more skills; it is about the relationship that a leader establishes with his or her team. Resonant leaders have a higher degree of EQ and more abilities to connect themselves with their teams. They are more trusted by their employees because they show empathy during times of downsizing, challenges, and personal crises. They create harmony in a group and motivate workers to follow a vision, even when the situation is tense.
Resonant leadership doesn’t always mean being nice; it means being assertive. It means knowing your position, knowing what you want from that person or situation, and achieving it without aggression while providing context, care, and understanding.
Is there any science behind this idea?
Yes, there is. Neuroscience has studied the reactions of executives depending on the kinds of leaders they have. In the study, Examination of the neural substrates activated in memories of experiences with resonant and dissonant leaders i at the Cleveland Clinic, scientists showed that executives that had resonant leaders were able to activate the social and approach networks in their brains that were associated with positive emotions. Those executives that had dissonant leaders suppressed the social networks in their brains, instead activating the networks associated with avoidance behaviors and negative emotions. These activations are unconscious; they occur in less than a second and sometimes even in less than one hundredth of a millisecond.
Let’s analyze why resonant leadership works in the long run, and why this style of leadership is more efficient and lasting.
Reason #1 – Resonant leaders prevent burnout
We feel burnt out when we are fatigued, cynical, and inefficient at work. Sometimes it happens because we are not being heard, other times because we have worked too hard and haven’t been recognized, and sometimes it happens because there are too many changes and we cannot handle them anymore.
A resonant leader will prevent burnout by building a positive work environment. How? According to Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee in their book Resonant Leadership,ii an effective leader will create a resonant relationship via mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Let’s see how these concepts influence leadership style:
- Mindfulness: A regulation of emotions will help avoid burnout. The leader will see the issues, problems, and challenges of projects from a calm and accepting perspective. This sense of serenity will be sensed by team members and adopted. This doesn’t mean that the leader is not going to react; he/she will react from a very steady and strong position.
- Compassion: Practice active listening and speaking from the heart. The leader will not only practice empathy but will also be caring, so team members feel like a part of the team. Burnout and loneliness sometimes merge together; if team members feel that their manager truly understands them, there will be less possibilities of burnout.
- Hope: The leader will, constantly and creatively, remind us of the meaning of our work. If we have a very clear idea of why our work is important, burnout will have no chance.
Reason #2 – Their teams are more motivated
The number one motivation, the one that lasts throughout the years, is to share the vision of the organization. Resonant leaders help us understand the purpose of what we do, and they are constantly reminding team members why they are important in achieving the vision of the company or team. Regular repetition of why we are there, why the organization was created, and how it is helping others brings a higher meaning and hope to team members. Effective leaders use this context to increase motivation and to make employees thrive in it.
An effective leader will be emotionally intelligent, aware, and mindful so he/she can understand the emotions that are spreading within the team and work on them. We have to keep in mind that emotions, both positive and negative, are contagious. When a leader is authentically motivated, the team will also become motivated as these emotions quickly spread. Neurological studies show that this contagion spreads in milliseconds, and it is also unconscious.
Reason #3 – Their teams are more committed
Resonant leaders are empathetic, understanding, and they deeply care about others. Think about your life: when somebody shows that they really care about you, how do you react? That’s right; you give them your best. What happens when you feel like part of a group or team that you like? How do you react? You try to not let them down. This is why, by showing care and promoting the team identity, companies with resonant leaders are more committed to the mission and goals of the organization.
Tense and scared employees can be very productive in the short term, but their results will not last. When a leader creates an environment that promotes empathy, where emotions are well managed, people have self-awareness, and social skills are embraced, the team feels trust and feels comfortable taking healthy risks and learning flourishes. On the other hand, when emotional intelligence is not used, team members feel fear and anxiety; two concepts that go against the idea of commitment, sustainability, and efficiency.
Reason #4 – Resonant leaders get a better response during tough times
Opposite to what some may believe, when there are layoffs and changes in an organization, teams with resonant leaders respond better and are less stressed by the changes. When a leader is empathetic, genuine, authentic, and acts with integrity, team members will recognize that transparency and value it. They will feel close to that person and deal with the changes together. At work, similar to a friendship, when somebody is there during the hard times, you create a bond with that person and you will always stick with him/her. This is why resonant leaders have lower turnover rates, and their teams perform better.
A study published by the University of Alberta in Edmonton (Canada)iii shows that nurses with resonant leaders that experienced intense stress during reorganization and layoffs were less stressed than the rest. When these nurses had negative feelings, they felt that they could talk to their managers, who responded with empathy and support and provided them with the sensation that they were not alone in the chaos they perceived. Here, the three elements of a resonant leader come into play: compassion, mindfulness, and hope. Nurses with dissonant leaders felt exhausted four times more frequently than the nurses with resonant leaders and reported three times more often that the needs of their patients were not being met. This study helps us to understand how crucial the style of leadership can be in high-stress workplaces, times of crisis, or during changes in the organization.
Reason #5 – Resonant leaders build sustainable teams
Resonant leaders tend to inspire others by creating and maintaining resonance. Most of the time, when you leave a meeting with an efficient leader, you feel charged up, thrilled, and inspired. From that conversation, the manager also feels fulfilled and recognized, thus entering an endless circle of motivation and satisfaction that will lead to a sustainable team. Even when the leader feels stressed and exhausted, if he/she has been doing a good job in the past, the energy from the team will get back to him/her.
We feel attracted toward resonant leaders, and we want to be around them. They give meaning to our jobs, they recognize our talents, and they show us the path through empowerment. On the other side, we tend to be repelled by dissonant leaders, and when that happens, we leave the company. Some say that you don’t leave a company; you leave a boss.
In the case of downsizing, what teams are the ones that are going to stay? The most efficient and productive ones will. Who will have the most productive team? Will it be the scary boss that got the best results for the company during the first quarter, but has an entire new team every 6 months because people don’t want to be around him/her? No. It will be the boss that has built a strong team, created a positive environment, motivated his/her workers by reminding them about the purpose of the organization, and has been consistent in productivity and improvements. That is the team that will stay; the really sustainable one.
Can you be a resonant leader?
If you want, you can become one. The capacity of being a resonant leader is not something that you are born with. It is something that we must learn and practice through the years; it is a style of leadership that can be trained and acquired through consciousness.
Emotional intelligence has no gender. EQ is measured by a range of factors including self-awareness, the capacity to manage your emotions, innovation, empathy, and social skills, and so far, studies show that both men and women are in very similar EQ ranges.
It’s never too late to be a resonant leader as long as you sincerely make an effort. Sure, it takes time but the results will be rewarding. If you are learning how to be a resonant leader, let us know how’s things going on for you. If you are already one, we would love to hear of your tips!
PS: Have some burning questions to ask? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer every email.