Resonant Leadership: A Comprehensive Report

Published 24 Feb 2017

Chronic stress is discussed as a problem affecting most leaders, thus causing stress to others involved. Boyatzis and McKee give sound advice backed with research demonstrating the need for techniques to reduce stress as well as dealing with it in a positive way. By doing so one is “invoking physiological and psychological changes that enable leaders to overcome the negative effects of chronic stress”.

The Resonant Leader’s Relevance in Today’s Leadership Styles

According to Franklin Covey, an online company specializing in coaching and leadership skills training, “leadership works best when people are able to manage themselves. When that happens, everyone on your team is working proactively. Everyone is participating in leadership. You create this type of environment through win-win agreements-and build relationships primarily on trust instead of authority.” This type of thinking has become popular amongst many corporations. Where several years ago autocratic leadership style was deemed effective, however with the rise of a more diverse workplace many companies have switch to democratic and free-rein style leadership. Democratic style leadership has been the most commonly used until recently; giving leaders more of a coaching position and giving subordinates decision making abilities. More recently, free-rein leadership has become popular. This extends from democratic leadership by giving more responsibility to employees; entrusting them with the ability to determine what, how and when something needs to be done by.

Resonant Leadership displays many of the same factors as both democratic and free-rein leadership styles. By giving employees decision making abilities, the leader is expressing trust, allowing an opening for communication. Diverse work places call for more sensitivity towards the values, needs and motives of others. By implementing a network amongst employees, one can experience a union by being in the others’ “shoes”. This demonstrates Boyatzis’ and McKee’s theory presented in Resonant Leadership; opening one’s mind in order to understand the present state of others. Although the idea of resonant leadership is based more on emotional awareness, it is this concept that will allow for better communication and understanding of the individuals involved. Thus creating a more cooperative and productive environment.

Resonant Leadership’s Personal Influence

After reading Resonant Leadership and responding to the in depth exercises, I found I was more aware of myself and the people around me. I worked harder at being more compassionate to those I worked with. My focus on stress management has become more of an inner balance than trying to change the circumstances surrounding the stressor. Although it is difficult at times to understand and relate to associates, I am more aware of the importance in doing so.

Reviews of Resonant Leadership

The two most comprehensive reviews were published in Publishers Weekly and Business Week. Although the actual ratings differed; both publications believed that leaders need stronger ethics, concluding that Resonant Leadership positively supported that theory.

Business Week Magazine was the more critical of the two, stating that Resonant Leadership had too much of a “New Age” feel to it. They also found that the authors’ tended to get off track during personal stories. Business Week was not thrilled with the overall book, suggesting the book was somewhat elementary.

The review from Publishers Weekly was positive, agreeing with both the theory of resonant leadership and the exercises to obtain such a status. The remedies for chronic stress were also accepted as highly effective.Personally, I found Publishers Weekly to be a more accurate and informational review. It concentrated more of the positives of Resonant Leadership, such as reader interaction and the authors’ well researched remedies. Business Week Magazine felt the book didn’t have enough substance; however Boyatzis and McKee had ten years of research backing their theories and remedies. I found Resonant Leadership to be a realistic view of the problems facing leaders today and having informative and practical advice on improving relationships between leaders and their charges.


Publishers Weekly Review

Building on the principles they laid out in their 2002 bestseller, Primal Leadership (coauthored with emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman), Boyatzis and McKee explain how managers and executives can employ mindfulness, hope and compassion to create—and maintain—exceptional business success. “Effective teams and powerful, positive organizational cultures do not happen by accident,” they write; they are created by “resonant” leaders who employ emotional intelligence to motivate and nurture their employees. Yet resonance can be exhausting to maintain, the authors have found, and even outstanding leaders can turn dissonant under the pressure of chronic business stress. When that happens, they say, “rest and relaxation” aren’t enough to restore a leader’s emotional resilience. Drawing upon cognitive psychology, Buddhist philosophy and their own research, the authors propose a series of more effective remedies. Among them: cultivating “openness, curiosity and awareness” about oneself and others; visualizing a positive, realistic dream; and working to understand and improve the situations of others. Boyatzis and McKee argue convincingly that such practices can “favorably impact the bottom line while enabling leaders to sustain their effectiveness for longer periods of time.” At a time when business leaders are under scrutiny for moral lapses on financial and social fronts, the exercises and arguments in this book can help executives learn to improve their interests by strengthening their ethics.

Business Week Magazine Review

Editor’s Review

Reuters Group (RTRSY ) Chairman Niall FitzGerald recalls a period when he became consumed with guilt and self-pity. Then a senior executive at Unilever PLC, he had launched a laundry soap so abrasive that it sometimes left clothes in tatters. His marriage was in shreds, too, largely because of his neglect of his family.

Friends who had supported FitzGerald in good times simply stopped calling. Then came a series of wake-up calls, including an emotional plea from a friend who was dying, urging the executive to pull his life together. FitzGerald began making the personal changes that ultimately helped him get beyond the debacle and reawaken his own zest for accomplishment. Today, with a new job, he runs marathons, raises money for charity, and strives to be an empathic and courageous leader. He’s even in a stronger marriage—albeit with another woman. In short, he has achieved what authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee call “resonant leadership.”

In their book of the same title, FitzGerald’s story makes for one of the more compelling tales. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence, the 2002 best-seller they wrote with Daniel Goleman, focused on the importance of the emotional aspects of leadership while showing readers how to be more engaged and effective at work. This one picks up where the last volume left off, reiterating the value of emotional intelligence.
What makes this account more than a simple clarion call for work-life balance are its fascinating if sometimes fawning profiles, as well as a simple framework for how to sustain inspired ways of working. Boyatzis and McKee look at how even great leaders can get trapped in what they call the “sacrifice syndrome”—becoming “mindlessly focused on getting things done” as stress mounts. The result is often a descent into “dissonance,” losing touch with customers, employees, and family or close friends. Sometimes, it takes several wake-up calls to get torpid executives to change their situations and recharge their morale. Those who succeed tend to cultivate what the authors cite, with a bow to Buddhist philosophy, as the three main elements of resonant leadership—mindfulness (being in touch with your environment and yourself), hope, and compassion.

Group hugs all around, right? Some of the descriptions do veer a little close to New Age gobbledygook. But the stories keep the account rooted in reality. Besides FitzGerald, there’s Roberto Nicastro of Italy’s UniCredit Bancas, whose “ruffled hair, quick smile, and restless inclination to act make him appear to be in perpetual motion.” Nicastro found that before he changed his ways, he was ruining his health and callously running over others. It’s rare to hear executives so openly describe their emotions, and many readers will be touched.

Other examples are less interesting because they focus only on the positive. The authors laud Colleen Barrett, president of Southwest Airlines Co., (LUV ) for the positive climate she has helped to foster at that company. John Studzinski, a senior executive at HSBC PLC (HBC ), is so accomplished at high-level volunteer work that he earned accolades from Pope John Paul II. A South African headmistress named Mrs. Zikhali (for some reason, they neglect to provide her first name) is hailed for her drive and vision in building a rural school.

Resonant leaders, say the authors, tend to strike an emotional chord in their work. They rally the troops, project excitement, and pursue tasks with passion. But sometimes they veer off track, a result of anything from a career setback to classic burnout. The fortunate ones take the time to figure out what matters to them and get back to living the life they want to lead. The unlucky continue to lose focus. They may be oblivious to others or find themselves surrounded by staffers who feel out-of-step with management. They have few habits conducive to well-being at work.

There are many exercises to help readers get in touch with what matters. Some of the drills, like one in which you describe your desired legacy, seem elementary. Others, such as a quiz to help clarify your values, may prompt worthwhile reflection.

In these high-stress, multitasking times, a book on the perils of mindlessly giving too much to the job is likely to find fans. What you do outside the office is just as important. That’s one reason corporations from General Electric Co. (GE ) on down have begun to put far more emphasis on social responsibility, saluting leaders who reach out to the communities in which they operate. Workaholics aren’t just at risk for burnout. Increasingly, they’re losing their places on the corporate ladder as well.


  • Boyatzis, R.E., & McKee, A. (2005) Resonant Leadership: Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Ebert, R.J., & Griffin, R.W. (1995) Business Essentials (5th ed., chap. 9) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • Small Business Administration, Change Management – It Starts at the Top. (n.d.) Leadership Traits.
  • Franklin Covey Coaching (2006)., Four Roles of Leadership. (n.d.)
  • Editor’s Review. (2005). “Om” In The Corner Office. Business Week Magazine. [Review of the book Resonant Leadership.]
  • [Review of the book Resonant Leadership] (2005) Publishers Weekly, (Electronic Version)
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