A few years back I had a slave-driver of a boss. Regardless of how hard we worked, what we did or didn’t do, it was never good enough. She openly didn’t care about pushing her team into overwhelm. People were constantly exhausted. Self-confidence, positivity and hope for the future was being sucked from us. There were tears nearly every day. And resignations. Then recruiting new lambs for the slaughter. These were not happy days. And no, I didn’t stay long.

More recently, another boss bullied and steamrolled the team. It had to be his way or the highway. He always new best. His style was very hierarchical, looking down to us. He talked about our colleagues behind their backs – making us wonder what he was saying about us behind ours. It didn’t feel safe working on his team. We didn’t trust him. We certainly were too scared to be open with him. This impacted the team’s performance, reducing the potential for improvements, creativity and innovation.

You experienced leadership styles like this?

These are two examples of what’s called dissonant leadership. Let me explain.


Looking in the dictionary, and dissonance is defined as: “an inharmonious or harsh sound; discord; a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion;an unresolved, discordant chord or interval…”

So, dissonant leaders are often out of touch with the feelings of the people in the room, upsetting them, putting them off-balance and pushing them to perform badly. Sometimes they even drive people to frustration, even rage. Toxic or negative communication is often present, which can trigger a fight-or-flight reaction. Dissonance dispirits people, burns them out, drains them – think of the “Dementors” in the Harry Potter books.

You don’t want to have a dissonant leadership style now, do you?

Thought not.

No, rather have a resonant leadership style.


Resonance is: “the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation; the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus…”

The resonant leader drives emotions positively, attracting people and keeping people upbeat – vibrating – so they see the positive in a situation. (Research has found that the more positive the overall moods of people in the top management team, the more they cooperatively work together, the better the company’s results.)

Resonant leaders are attuned to people’s feelings; they move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically from their own values and resonate with the emotions of those around them. People are engaged and light up; they vibrate with the leader’s upbeat and enthusiastic energy. People feel a mutual comfort level; they share ideas, learn from each other, make decisions collaboratively and get things done.

Resonant leaders form an emotional bond that helps them stay focused, even amid profound change and uncertainty; this makes work more meaningful. These feelings drive people to do things together that no individual could or would do. The resonant leader knows how to bring that kind of bonding.

Ok… so this sounds great… but what are the actual qualities needed to deliver this resonant leadership?


Daniel Goldman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee in ‘The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership‘ have found that the emotional intelligent competencies (see below) are the key capabilities for delivering resonant leadership. These are the distinguishing competencies – abilities that star leaders exhibit and average performers don’t.

They are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

As you read these, consider how well you do these? It might be interesting to score your performance for each capability out of ten?

  1. SELF-AWARENESS. It starts with looking inside…

1.1 EMOTIONAL SELF-AWARENESS. Leaders high in emotional self-awareness are attuned to their inner signals, recognising how their feelings affect them and their job performance. They are attuned to their guiding values and can often intuit the best course of action, seeing the big picture in a complex situation. Emotionally self-aware leaders can be candid and authentic, able to speak openly about their emotions or with conviction about their guiding vision. Does this sound like you?

1.2 ACCURATE SELF-ASSESSMENT. Leaders with high self-awareness typically know their limitations and strengths and exhibit a sense of humour about themselves. They exhibit a gracefulness in learning where they need to improve, and welcome constructive criticism and feedback. Accurate self-assessment lets a leader know when to ask for help and where to focus in cultivating new leadership strengths.

1.3 SELF-CONFIDENCE. Knowing their abilities with accuracy allows leaders to play to their strengths. Self-confident leaders can welcome a difficult assignment. Such leaders often have a sense of presence, a self-assurance that lets them stand out in a group. This seem like you?


  1. SELF-MANAGEMENT. Then you need to manage yourself…

2.1 SELF-CONTROL. Leaders with emotional self-control find ways to manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and even to channel them in useful ways. A hallmark of self-control is the leader who stays calm and clear-headed under high stress or during a crisis – or who remains unflappable even when confronted by a trying situation. I know this is an area I need to work on, lol.

2.2 TRANSPARENCY. Leaders who are transparent live their values. Transparency – an authentic openness to others about one’s feelings, beliefs, and actions – allows integrity. Such leaders openly admit mistakes or faults, and confront unethical behaviour in others rather than turn a blind eye. I think I do this quite well – how about you?

2.3 ADAPTABILITY. Leaders who are adaptable can juggle multiple demands without losing their focus or energy, and are comfortable with the inevitable ambiguities of organisational life. Such leaders can be flexible in adapting to new challenges, nimble in adjusting to fluid change, and limber in their thinking in the face of new data or realities. An important quality in fast-paced sectors like the creative industries.

2.4 ACHIEVEMENT. Leaders with strength in achievement have high personal standards that drive them to constantly seek performance improvements – both for themselves and those they lead. They are pragmatic, setting measurable but challenging goals, and are able to calculate risk so that their goals are worthy but attainable. A hallmark of achievement is in continually learning – and teaching – ways to do better.

2.5 INITIATIVE. Leaders who have a sense of efficacy – that they have what it takes to control their own destiny – excel in initiative. They seize opportunities – or create them – rather than simply waiting. Such a leader does not hesitate to cut through red tape, or even bend the rules, when necessary to create better possibilities for the future.

2.6 OPTIMISM. A leader who is optimistic can roll with the punches, seeing an opportunity rather than a threat in a setback. Such leaders see others positively, expecting the best of them. And their “glass half-full” outlook leads them to expect that changes in the future will be for the better.


So, how did you score yourself? If you’re want a richer picture of your capabilities, you might consider asking your team to anonymously score your leadership against these qualities.

I think there’s enough here for you to chew on for now. Next time, I’ll go through the capabilities required to exhibit social awareness and manage relationships.

*With massive thanks to a brilliant book called ‘The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership‘ by Daniel Goldman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.


If you want to develop more resonant leadership, then contact me about leadership coaching. We’ll uncover the dissonance, what’s holding you back and get you moving forward to a more resonant leadership style.