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Book Summaries

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

By: Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee
Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

This refreshed edition with a new preface by the authors, illustrates the power and necessity of leadership that is self-aware, empathic, motivating and collaborative. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence (2002) was basically refreshed in this newer, updated version. Primal Leadership means to “prime good feelings in those we lead.” That means to create resonance which is a “reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people.” Work on your own emotional intelligence (intelligence about your own and others’ emotions) and those around you can benefit and grow too! “Resonance comes naturally to emotionally intelligent leaders.” So basically, the primal job of a leader is his/her emotional responses and presence.

It was neuroscience that allowed this book to be written with evidence. The science shows why leaders’ moods and actions have enormous impact on those they lead. Eyes turn to leaders for emotional guidance in all kinds of situations, minor and major. The leader has the maximum power to sway everyone’s emotions. Emotions of excitement, joy, enthusiasm, and performance can help others soar and yet emotions that are anxious, stressful, angry, bitter, and in despair can throw others off and decrease achievement.

The primary research that helps the reader understand the power of a leader is based on the open-loop system research. We have two types of systems in our body: closed-loop and open-loop. The closed loop system such as the circulatory system is self-regulating and does not affect or impact other’s systems. On the other hand, the open-loop system can best describe our limbic system or emotional centers of our brain and bodies and can be affected by external sources, like other people. Scientists have captured this attunement of emotions by measuring the heart rate of two people having a good, 15 minute conversation. By the end of this conversation, the physiological profiles of these 2 people look remarkably the same. The scientists call this “mirroring”. It happens hardly at all with neutral, non-emotional conversations. It strongly occurs when anger and hurt reverberate and goes on more subtly during pleasant interactions. Mirroring even happens when the interaction is just nonverbal. We catch feelings from one another, but it’s the leader who adds the strongest “seasoning”.

The four emotional intelligences are interwoven. Self-awareness and self-management are the personal competence pieces while the social awareness and relationships management are part of the social competence category. Self-awareness is the foundation for the other three. If we can’t recognize our own emotions, we will be poor at managing them and less able to understand them in others. Self-awareness plays a big role in empathy – if we are not tuned into our own feelings, how can we be tuned into how others feel? Social awareness is the next step in a leader’s task: driving resonance. Being in tune with how others feel in the moment guides a leader of what to say and do next and that is part of the relationship managing piece.

I love page 100 that has a cyclical visual of Boyatzis’s Theory of Becoming a Resonant Leader. First we must determine our ideal self and our real self. Then we need to determine how we can build on our strengths while reducing our gaps. So we create a learning agenda and experiment with and practice the new behaviors and thoughts until mastery occurs. We bring the bad habits into our perception and practice the new habits. Improving Emotional Intelligence can take months, not weeks or days. Along this journey we will need supportive and trusting relationships that make change possible. We should converse often with this person for feedback on the goals and for the gaps, and how we are achieving these emotionally intelligent skills.

This book is full of specific examples and strategies to help a person truly become a resonant leader. I highly recommend reading it, highlighting the pieces that you want to incorporate into your leadership, and start making the changes in your life to make a huge difference in your school, business, home, church and other places of significance.

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The Upside of Stress

By: Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

I’m very thankful for this book, and I know that any reader that experiences high stress on a regular basis will WANT to read this book and incorporate the research into daily living strategies, or daily mindsets. This research explained in the book basically supports the saying that has been around for years: “Life is 10% of what actually happens to you and 90% of how you respond to it.” Another title for this book: Stress: Your New Friend.

Dr. McGonigal explains how one’s belief in the stress being harmful or positive can actually hurt or help. The recent research actually goes against our conventional wisdom throughout the years about stress being the “killer” of brain cells, harmful to health, one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, etc. This research used 30,000 American adults who experienced some kind of stress on a daily basis (this could be anyone). The researchers tracked the group’s mortality rates for eight years. The results surprised most people and so the entire book is about the results and what we can learn and change about our mindsets about stress’ effects.


SubGroups –

  • Those with low-stress lives
  • Those with high-stress lives and a mindset that stress was NOT bad for them
  • Those with high-stress lives and a mindset that their stress was harming them.

Those who led low-stress lives and those who led high-stress lives (but didn’t think the stress was bad for them) had almost identical mortality rates.

Those in the third category (high stress with belief that it’s harmful), had a 43% higher risk of dying. Conclusion: Attitudes and belief systems about the stress appear to be more significant than the actual stressors themselves. By changing your thoughts about stress, you can change your body’s response to this stress.

Dr. McGonigal shares a simple process that can help readers activate a more positive response to stress. People who have a positive perspective about stress are happier, healthier, have a higher self-efficacy, and achieve more.

My favorite quotes from the book: “Feeling burdened rather than uplifted by everyday duties is more a mindset than a measure of what is going on in your life.” “Choosing to view anxiety as excitement, energy or motivation can help you perform to your full potential.”

I highly recommend reading this book. We’ve held onto some negative mindsets about stress and its affect on us for too many years. I also recommend watching the following TED Talk from Kelly her research.

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Author: LeAnn Nickelsen, M.Ed. is the author of 11 books focused on teaching strategies: Deeper Learning (2008) and Bringing the Common Core to Life (2014) are the more recent books. LeAnn specializes in cognitive science in education by using the best tools to reach every student. LeAnn is passionate about schools becoming more empathy-centered. You can contact her: or visit her website: