Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership

I thought it might be time to do something a bit different with the site. In order to invite more participation from everyone out there, I thought I would use the site as a book club of sorts. You will see the book listed on this site that I have selected to have everyone read: Primal Leadership written by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. If anyone knows anything about the field, they will know that this book has almost become a standard on the subject.

I chose the book for a couple of reasons. One, I am familiar with the subject matter, as I worked as an editor on a trade magazine that covered workforce and human resource issues. Also, my brother is at work establishing a leadership center at the school where he teaches, and he is using the text as a guide. I thought we would read the book together, and invite your commentary as well.

To prime the well, so to speak, I am including an interview that I had the pleasure of conducting when I worked at Training magazine. While I will include posts on the book that “we” are reading together, I will also continue to include regular posts dealing with other biblio-topics. This Q&A was first published in September 2002. Let me know your thoughts:

I recently spoke with Primal Leadership co-author Annie McKee about the state of corporate leadership in America today. McKee teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, and is the co-chair of Teleos Leadership Institute in Philadelphia, where she makes the case for developing emotional intelligence in the workplace. McKee has been a leadership consultant to some of the world’s largest corporations, such as Merrill Lynch, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Unilever.

How well do you believe corporate America’s leaders are leading in light of current issues in the headlines? What’s most needed right now?

It’s a mixed bag. You have unbelievable pressures that started several years ago, came to a head last September and escalated around the world. On top of that you have market and business pressures unlike anyone has experienced in more than a decade.

A number of our leaders are simply not prepared for the challenges and pressures they face on a daily basis.

On the other hand, individuals that understand and accept that the world is radically different now and can look inside themselves for strength, integrity and their own values to guide their decisions—I think some of them are doing astoundingly well.

What are the most important leadership competencies in your opinion?

The most important leadership competencies are self-awareness and what we call empathy. Those two competencies are foundational for the others: influencing, communication and change management. Being able to understand yourself—understanding your values, strengths and weaknesses, and how to manage your hot buttons—differentiates a great leader from a good leader. And empathy—by that we mean the ability to read other people and truly understand what motivates them, what their needs are, what they care about, whether they work inside your organization or outside your organization—in fact is a foundational competency for vision.

How well are companies supporting leadership development, as far as it relates to training programs? Are they teaching the right things?

Most companies fall far short of the mark in leadership development. Most of the training programs that I’ve seen, and that’s internationally, are quick fixes for pretty simple problems—like management training, negotiation skills and communications workshops—all of which are important, but they are superficial. And, generally speaking, they are not engaging or designed well. Many of my training colleagues are true professionals, but unfortunately many of them are not.

Leadership can be learned. People can get better at leading others. It takes hard work, time and true desire on the part of the individual and support from the organization, but it is possible.

What will be the most critical leadership challenge facing managers over the next five years?

We know which leadership competencies really matter, and we are more courageous stating what they actually are. Five years ago, you couldn’t talk about self-awareness or empathy as a leadership competency because people might turn up their noses. That’s not true today.