Leadership Approaches – Primal Leadership, Emotional Intelligence

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Part of the following ministry resources: Christian Leadership, Empowerment, Transformational Leadership. See also the closely related fields: Leadership and Values, Feelings, and Intuition; Leadership and Emotional Systems, Self-Differentiation.


Primal Leadership is closely associated with the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI). It conveys this idea:

The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance — a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root then, the primal job of leadership is emotional. (Primal Leadership, ix)

Biblical reflection

While few authors on this subject target their resources to churches, the foundational tenets of resonant leadership are congruent with biblical leadership. The apostles repeatedly describe their relationships with the early churches in terms of deep affection, sacrificial devotion, tireless nurturance, and radical hope in God and his people. This is evident in Paul (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2; Philemon), Peter (1 Peter 5:1-4) and John (1-3 John). Paul’s instruction to the Philippians on the conflict between two prominent members included framing the people and circumstances in the most hopeful terms possible. They were to fixate on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” (4:8)

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The chief proponent of primal leadership is Daniel Goleman, who teams with others in a number of books. Three are especially pertinent to leadership:

As indicated above, primal leadership reflects the larger concern of Emotional Intelligence (EI) with its insistence that focusing on intelligence (IQ) is not as important as the emotional and relational currencies between people. Consult these volumes as representative of the field:

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Relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Systems

A closely related field is Emotional Systems, with its emphasis on Self-Differentiated Leadership. Emotional Systems and EI are similar in that they both deal with emotional processes. They are also different in at least three ways. First, Emotional Systems sees all of our interactions in relationship to others in the system, especially in units such as “triangles.” EI is somewhat more individualistic. Second, Emotional Systems grows out of an interest in the emotional wiring one receives in family-of-origin and early life experiences, and how genograms and other methods increase self-awareness. EI respects these dynamics, but focuses more on skill development to improve a leader’s identification with emotional processes. At the risk of over-simplication, Emotional Systems focuses on altering behavior from the inside out through understanding one’s deep-seated emotional wiring, and EI focuses on altering behavior at the level of growth exercises. Third, Emotional Systems stresses “self-differentiation” where leaders, while indeed “connected” to others’ emotions, must “separate” by focusing not on others, but on one’s own functioning in the emotional system. EI, on the other hand, stresses identification or “resonance” with the emotional needs of others to be a more empathetic presence. Both make important contributions to the tasks and relationships of leadership.

Primal Leadership as Empowerment and Transformational Leadership

Primal leadership echoes the importance at least two of the four key competencies of transformatiional leadership. The first is “inspirational motivation,” that leaders behave in ways that motivate and inspire those around them. They arouse a team spirit of enthusiasm and optimism. The second is “individualized consideration,” where followers and colleagues are developed to successively higher levels of potential. Leaders create new learning opportunities in a supportive, encouraging climate that honors individual differences and needs, listens effectively, allows two-way exchange, and personalizes interactions. (Bass, Transformational Leadership)

A similar idea is found in the research on Empowering leadership as articulated by Max De Pree, Warren Bennis, Burt Nanus, James Kouzes, Barry Pozner, and others. De Pree says participative management arises out of the heart toward “organizational renewal,” by “combining the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.” He says, “From a leader’s perspective, the most serious betrayal has to do with thwarting human potential, with quenching the spirit.” He continues, “Leaders learn how to become abandoned to the needs of followers.” (see Leadership Jazz) Primal/Resonant leadership also integrates well with Kouzes and Posner’s volume, Encouraging the Heart.

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Related Ministry Resources

See Ministry Resources on Christian Leadership:

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