The Power of Resonant Leadership Style

Published On: August 1, 2023 08:45 AM NPT By: Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Fr. Augustine Thomas, S.J.

Father Augustine Thomas has a PhD in ‘Leadership Studies in Organization Development’ and currently serves as the Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Maitighar, Kathmandu.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) can make you the top ranker in school, help you write a well-researched thesis, and make you a great analyst and critic of theories. Still, IQ does not necessarily get you a passing mark in teamwork, empathy, or social connections. But Emotional Quotient (EQ)—the ability to understand and manage the emotions of oneself and others—does. The role of EQ in leadership roles has been established through the theory of Resonant Leadership.

Resonant leadership is a leadership style that focuses on creating a positive emotional climate within an organization. It emphasizes building solid relationships with employees and fostering meaningful and purposeful connections with them. Resonant leaders are adept at tuning into the emotions of others, cultivating a sense of empathy, and creating a shared understanding of vision and mission.

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee popularized the concept of resonant leadership through their book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (2002). The book presents a compelling argument that resonant leadership demands not only a high IQ but also adequate EQ. Resonant leaders are emotionally intelligent, attuned to the needs and feelings of others, and adept at creating a positive emotional climate within an organization.

Dissonant leadership vs resonant leadership

An extreme style that has significance for its worth is dissonant leadership, whose practitioners can be highly intelligent, strategic, and ambitious. However, dissonant leaders are unpopular for various reasons, being apathetic toward the employees is one of them. A company that is solely fixated on hitting sales targets may neglect the importance of fostering a positive emotional environment; it might bulldoze through odds and opposition to meet its business goals. The dissonant leader has found the right place here.

A dissonant leader not in sync with their team often stands alone, with only a handful of close associates by their side. Organizations like these can be extremely tense, leaving very little room for relaxation. Employees in such a demanding work setting are more prone to experience burnout. Working in such an environment also takes a toll on one's personal life.

On the contrary, resonant leadership imparts high positive energy and a vibrant vision. Most importantly, it provides the team with a well-balanced emotional and strategic support system. The leader resonates with the team members and facilitates the organization's growth by having all members on board as key players. The whole approach stems from the relational nature of the leader, who has a strong sense of compassion and indomitable altruism. Such a leader understands that the most productive energy of the employees emanates from a positive emotional environment created in the organization. Therefore, the leader provides ample space and opportunity for conversations and creativity. A resonant leader knows how to implement a 'bottom-up' approach that encourages team members to bring forth innovative ideas and make voluntary commitments that lead to positive change.

The DNA of resonant leadership

The frontal lobe, the brain's outer layer, is the rational brain with functions related to IQ. The limbic system of the brain, the inner part, is the area that deals with emotions and emotional memories, and that is where the seating point of EQ lies. No matter how sharp the rational brain is, the emotional brain can trick it into doing what is emotional and get the rational brain to justify the action. IQ can be a plaything in the hand of EQ. Moreover, neuroscientists claim that as we get older, the rational brain loses its sharpness and weakens its functions. Action and words become the outflux of what is stored in the emotional brain.

Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ) is the DNA of resonant leadership. It's a plus point for those gifted with EI because it's innate to them. But leaders with low EI must carefully process their emotional wing of personality. EI is the powerhouse of organizational energy, and the leader is the one who has the power to synergize the emotional health of the organization.

How is it relevant to South Asia?

A study analyzing the impact of resonant leadership in India amidst the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on valuable cultural insights and identified two poignant factors relevant throughout Asia. "By demonstrating that resonant leadership is crucial to the psychological capital and work performance of software professionals, this study highlights the cultural and practical relevance of resonant leadership in the Indian context wherein interpersonal relationships and selfless behavior play a vital role in making a leader competent in motivating and inspiring subordinates who are labeled as the knowledge workers of the IT industry." (Multilevel analysis of resonant leadership and subordinate's work performance during COVID-19: a study of the Indian software industry by Niharika Gaan et al.). Two Indian contextual factors highlighted in the article, 'interpersonal relationships' and 'selfless behavior,' stress that the cultural values of the context positively enhance resonant leadership.

Resonant leadership in the context of Nepal

Nepal is a country where citizens are ingrained with religious and familial values, resulting in a palpable socio-cultural fabric that is truly admirable. In South Asian culture, particularly among Nepalese families, living together as a joint family is common, and the elderly are highly regarded. Every festival has significance at the community or/and family level and extends beyond devotion to the deities. Relationships are venerated and marked with various meaningful celebrations, such as bhai tika, aama ko mukh herney din, and guru purnima, among others. Altruism is a value inculcated in an individual from childhood.

In the context of such psychology and spirituality, resonant leadership fits well more than any other leadership style. A leader with emotional discipline brings collective positive energy into the organization and helps unleash the employees' potential. Resonant leaders understand the employees' sentiments and empower them to their fullest competencies. The performance graph of the organization goes up when the emotional well-being of the employees is maintained.

Looming dangers when emotions are not intelligent

'Emotional intelligence' must be defined to fully grasp the risks of managing emotional aspects. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Therefore, it is a discipline, not merely an emotional outpouring done to connect to people or briefly win their favor.

The following are a few tips to watch out for when adopting resonant leadership.

First: Discipline emotional approach and empower the organizational culture: To be an effective resonant leader, the leader should harness his/her emotional and relational abilities and use them as effective skills. When being relational is part and parcel of the organizational culture, maintaining professionalism is a challenge. Loosening of the organizational behavior and compromise on the policies and standards are the frequently identified threats in such a scenario. To truly excel as a resonant leader, it is vital to educate the team members on the organizational culture and behavior and practice a leadership style that balances formal and personal approaches.

Second: Watch out to avoid any system failure: When employees' sentiments are over-considered, compassion loses its line of purpose. Compromising an organization's system makes system failure inevitable. The emotional approach should be managed considering its impact on the organizational culture, system, and process. Poor management of emotions can lead to system failure or stir up imbalances in the workplace. A controlled, consulted, and discerned emotional approach saves the organization from a major mishap.

Third: Give no room for confusion on who the leader is: When the team members are granted enough autonomy to take ownership of the organization and if the structure and policies are not well spelled out, many can be tempted to become decision-makers, even beyond their capacity. This can lead to mismanagement and confusion as to who calls the shots. The resonant leader empowers the team members to strengthen the organization, not weaken it. All must be clear on who is in the driver’s seat and what the boundaries of the subordinates are. 

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