Resonant leadership

Famed author Daniel Goleman explains four styles of leadership that get everyone moving on the same wavelength.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best-seller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry.

When golf champion Jason Day gets ready to hit the ball down the fairway he doesn’t pull the putter out of his bag. He selects the right club for the power and distance he needs. If his shot finds his way into a sand trap, Day uses a wedge to nudge the ball back up onto the green; then he grabs the putter to guide the shot into the hole.

How do a golfer and his clubs relate to leadership? You can judge the effectiveness of any executive by the skill with which that leader selects and uses the appropriate tool for each situation. Just as an experienced golfer chooses the right club, an effective CEO employs the right style to get the job done.

Whatever style of leadership the CEO picks, it should be resonant. Resonance is strengthening and reinforcement of sound by moving on the same wavelength. Executives can influence the emotional states of colleagues. They can draw others onto their own positive wavelength. Or they can create dissonance by letting their negativity come into conflict with others’ emotions. Here are four key styles that can improve a group’s results:


Visionary leaders see the big picture. They think about where they are headed in broad terms, share their vision, and inspire others to collaborate to reach their goals. These leaders convey a sense of where the group is going. They don’t tell their colleagues how to get there. They draw them into the vision. This establishes collaborative relationships that boost performance and productivity in the long run.


The coaching style of leadership works best in one-on-one situations. Leaders demonstrate interest in those around them, developing trust and rapport with individual employees and motivating them. This style links people's desires to the organization’s goals.


The affiliative style of leadership focuses on building relationships and collaboration. Affiliative leaders raise morale by showing that they value employees and their feelings. This style builds harmony by connecting individuals.


The democratic style of leadership draws on the knowledge of the entire group. It encourages employees to provide input and collaborate on decision-making. This style inspires loyalty, creates consensus, and builds resonance by placing a value on people’s input.

A golfer like Day doesn’t use a club in a tournament without practicing extensively with it. Before you can use a leadership style, you have to know yourself, to cultivate self-awareness. Ask for feedback from people you trust at all levels of your organization. Once you identify the emotional intelligence competencies you need to improve, work with a coach or study on your own to build and practice them. They will then be ready in your golf bag when you need them.