Books: Shaking off power stress

Emotional intelligence helps to improve performance, but it's hard to sustain; this book provides the tools for renewing your well of positive spirit, says Todd Stitzer.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This book is a good read for aspiring business leaders and adrenalin junkies. The authors describe resonant leaders as those who blend financial, human, intellectual and social capital into a potent recipe for the pursuit of company performance. Resonant leaders use high degrees of self-awareness, emotional control and compassion.

They seek to resonate with the positive energy of their people, and so lead them to exceptional heights of achievement.

'Being motivated themselves, resonant leaders radiate their positivism, igniting and mobilising positive attitudes in those around them', as Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee phrase it.

Early on, the authors acknowledge a truth that successful business leaders have long struggled with - resonant leadership is hard to maintain over time. The book provides academically robust and practical guidance on how to sustain yourself as a resonant leader over the long term.

The authors advise that emotional intelligence is a key ingredient of resonant leadership, which their research shows is 85%-90% of the difference between outstanding leaders and their more average peers. However, they also state that of equal importance is being 'mindful': fully conscious of oneself, others, nature and society. The other key features are hope and compassion (described as a predisposition to help others).

Resonant leaders address uncertainty with hope, inspiring optimism and profound belief in the ability of their people to achieve. They address challenges with empathy and compassion for the people they lead and serve.

Boyatzis and McKee admit that resonant leadership is a 'soft' concept and the reader needs to be prepared for the vocabulary that accompanies the concepts. However, they make a compelling and data-based business case that resonant leadership generates superior performance. They also admit that adopting a resonant leadership approach is much easier for those predisposed to this style.

Resonant leadership will deliver enhanced performance, but it is hard to sustain over time because, as the research shows, busy leaders who lead with compassion have to give of themselves constantly and eventually sacrifice too much. The burdens and loneliness of leadership - which the authors define as 'power stress' - sap the capacity for resonant leadership.

Leaders become exhausted, impatient, judgmental, emotionally volatile and ultimately unknowing victims of a negative 'sacrifice syndrome'.

The book provides tools to identify power stress and the sacrifice syndrome, and whether you need a wake-up call on your capacity to be a resonant leader. It offers checklists and guidance on how to renew your well of positive spirit.

A number of these are useful, but readers subject to power stress might reject them as too time-consuming or conjectural.

The authors believe that renewal comes from finding time to stop and reinvest in those aspects of your leadership that are personally rewarding.

Personal cases from business leaders such as Niall FitzGerald and Colleen Barrett are used to illustrate situations. I did not find all of them uniquely reflective of the paradigms; however, the cases are both open and frank. The reader is left with a sense that Resonant Leadership is not an academic exercise, but a book for them as a leader, a family member and a human.

As a CEO, I was made to stop and think. I'd like to believe I'm predisposed to a resonant style of leadership, but I recognise its challenges. I often describe my first year as CEO as standing in front of a fire hydrant with my mouth open - ideas and challenges came at me so fast, I barely had time to breathe. Since I too am an adrenalin junkie, my reaction was to try to handle everything.

Although this technique had worked before, I found myself tested on a vastly larger playing field. I didn't retain a coach, as the authors suggest, but I could rely on my chairman, who had occupied the role for six years before me, our HR director and longstanding colleague, and my family to help me keep things in perspective.

I maintain my ability to execute resonant leadership by strategies such as blocking out mornings to focus on strategy, to reflect and correspond.

Meetings are scheduled in the afternoon. I speak with people rather than e-mail them - I like to hear the emotion in their voice and ensure they hear mine. I try to exercise regularly, and not to work over the weekend so that I can spend time with my family engaged in things they want to do.

I have tried to lead by doing, and have encouraged this as a style and culture of working. I believe that by embracing resonant leadership, we improve performance. But make no mistake, performance - and at high levels - is the goal.

Todd Stitzer is CEO of Cadbury Schweppes.

Resonant Leadership Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee Harvard Business School Press £14.99. To order, visit

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