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  • Donald E. Hester

Why Feedback is Key to Effective Leadership: Insights from Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership is a must-read for anyone who aspires to lead or currently leads. This groundbreaking book, co-authored by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, emphasizes the importance of emotionally intelligent leadership and the necessity of self-awareness, empathy, motivation, and collaboration in today's complex and volatile world.

At first, I wasn't sure why I had picked up this book. It had been a while since I had read anything on leadership, and I think I was drawn to it because it was on sale or recommended by Amazon. But as I delved deeper into the book, I realized that it had some valuable insights that were applicable not just in business, but in all areas of life.

Some of my observations

The authors make a compelling case that leadership is not just about technical expertise or positional power, but about emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with and inspire others. What I appreciated most about the book was the authors' willingness to cite studies and provide real-world examples of both good and bad leadership. They didn't shy away from highlighting the negative consequences of poor emotional intelligence, and this made their arguments all the more convincing.

One of the key insights from Primal Leadership that resonated with me was the importance of setting goals for self-improvement. The authors make the point that having a clear sense of purpose and direction can help leaders cultivate emotional intelligence and become more effective in their roles. This idea reminded me of Simon Sinek's book series on "Start with Why", which emphasizes the importance of understanding your purpose and values in order to achieve success and fulfillment in life. By setting goals for self-improvement and aligning them with our larger purpose, we can become more motivated, focused, and energized in our personal and professional lives.

Another point that really caught my attention in Primal Leadership was the generational difference in goal-setting. The book highlights how younger generations tend to set goals around personal values such as spirituality, family, and work-life balance, whereas older generations tend to focus more on career goals. This observation really hit home for me, as I realized that I had been primarily focused on career goals for much of my life. While I had worked on self-improvement, it was mostly related to my career and I had not set clear goals around family or spirituality. As I reflected on this, I realized that I had not achieved the work-life balance that I desired, and that setting goals around personal values could help me to live a more fulfilling and balanced life. It was a wake-up call that reminded me of the importance of setting goals that align with my personal values and not just my career aspirations.

The importance of aligning our values with our actions is a key theme throughout Primal Leadership, and it's an idea that resonated deeply with me. In fact, it reminded me of Franklin Covey's work on personal mission statements and living by our values. I remember creating my own list of values and virtues back in the early 2000s, and I've been revisiting and updating it ever since. I keep my notes on values in OneNote, and it's amazing to see how they have evolved over time. By taking the time to reflect on our values and how we want to live our lives, we can become more intentional and purposeful in our actions. And by aligning our actions with our values, we can create a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

The authors of Primal Leadership make a compelling case for the importance of honest feedback in leadership. They argue that failing to provide feedback to others on areas where they can improve is a disservice, and that this is particularly true when it comes to giving feedback to our bosses. As a boss, it can be hard to hear constructive criticism from those who report to us, but it's important to create a safe space where honest feedback can be given and received. By doing so, we can create a culture of growth and learning, and we can help our teams to develop and improve. On the other hand, if we fail to create a culture of open and honest feedback, we run the risk of missing out on valuable insights and opportunities for improvement. As leaders, it's our responsibility to model this behavior and create a culture of trust and transparency.

It is vitally important especially for top management to seek feedback. The authors argue that there is often a gap between how leaders perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others, and this gap can be especially pronounced at higher levels of leadership. As a result, it's crucial for leaders to seek out honest feedback from others, rather than just seeking platitudes or confirmation bias that reinforce their own misperceptions. By doing so, leaders can gain valuable insights into their own strengths and weaknesses, and they can take steps to address any blind spots or areas where they may need to improve. This kind of self-awareness and willingness to seek feedback is essential for effective leadership, and it's something that all leaders should strive for, regardless of their level of experience or expertise.

Reflecting on the insights from Primal Leadership, it's clear that providing honest and constructive feedback to colleagues is a vital skill for any leader. However, I freely admit that this is an area where I need to improve. Sometimes I struggle to know how to provide feedback in a way that is helpful and constructive, without damaging the relationship with the colleague in question. It can be frustrating to see someone's behavior holding them back or having a negative impact on the organization, and I want to help them to improve. But all too often, my attempts to provide feedback have not been well-received, and I worry that I am not doing enough to support my colleagues in their development. This is an area where I know I need to continue to learn and grow as a leader, and I am committed to doing so in the years ahead.

The authors provide valuable insights into how a lack of emotional intelligence can negatively impact people and organizations. One term they use to describe this phenomenon is CEO Sickness, where the higher up a person is in management, the less in touch they become with the emotional reality of the organization. This can lead to clueless leaders who are insulated from the concerns and issues of their staff, especially in pace-setting and authoritarian leadership styles that can create a toxic work environment. It begs the question of whether these leaders truly care about their people or if they are only focused on results.

These leaders can also set cultural norms that further exacerbate the problem, creating an environment where people do not feel inspired or ready to come to work. The authors emphasize the importance of honest feedback for leaders to improve their emotional intelligence and create a healthier work environment. However, this can be challenging since people often tell bosses what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

Providing candid feedback can be especially difficult when the boss has low emotional intelligence and is prone to reacting poorly. In such cases, giving false platitudes to the boss may seem like the easiest path, but it ultimately harms both the organization and other staff. The authors make it clear that leaders with higher emotional intelligence are more likely to succeed in creating positive work environments and inspiring their employees. Thus, it is crucial for leaders to cultivate their emotional intelligence and seek honest feedback from their staff to create a healthy and thriving organization.

The use of dynamic inquiry and 360 degree evaluations are powerful tools for leaders to improve their emotional intelligence and leadership skills. It takes courage to open oneself up to feedback from all angles, including subordinates, peers, and superiors. However, this feedback is essential for leaders to understand their impact on others and to make changes where necessary. Unfortunately, not all leaders are willing to accept this kind of feedback. As the author mentioned, some managers may be afraid of receiving negative feedback, which ultimately hinders their growth as a leader. It takes a certain level of self-awareness and humility to recognize the need for constructive criticism and to act upon it for the benefit of the organization and its people.

It's important to recognize that feedback can come from all areas of our lives, not just our work. Seeking feedback from family, friends, and social groups can provide valuable insights into our leadership style and how we interact with others. As the authors suggest, this type of feedback can help us become more self-aware and improve our emotional intelligence. In fact, getting feedback from a variety of sources can help paint a more complete picture of our strengths and weaknesses. So, don't be afraid to ask for feedback from all areas of your life and be open to hearing what others have to say. It could be the key to becoming a more effective leader.

For example, once during a meeting with my veteran's group, I found myself in the midst of a disagreement between two members. Seeking to avoid conflict, I attempted to please everyone, but it was unsuccessful. Later, when I asked for feedback from the group, I learned how my leadership style impacted the situation. They shared that my desire to avoid confrontation made them feel unheard and unimportant. This experience made me realize that addressing the issue head-on while being sensitive to their emotions would have been a more effective approach. This feedback was valuable and helped me to grow as a leader.

After writing this blog, it dawned on me that the most valuable takeaway from the book was giving and receiving feedback. I guess that is an important part of emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, the authors of "Primal Leadership" provide valuable insights into the importance of emotional intelligence for effective leadership. Leaders must be intentional and invest in developing their emotional intelligence to read the emotional status of their organization, build a positive culture, and foster healthy relationships. While traditional MBA programs do not focus on emotional intelligence, studies have shown that developing emotional intelligence pays more dividends than a high-priced MBA. Leaders should aim to lead with resonance leadership styles and only use dissonance leadership styles in limited cases. Ultimately, it all comes down to relationship management, and relationship currency is vital for a leader's success. Leaders can inspire and engage their teams to achieve outstanding results by investing in emotional intelligence.


Primal Leadership, With a New Preface by the Authors: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Start with Why Series (3 books)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition by Stephen R. Covey


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