Resonance and Dissonance…and the sounds of leadership– DeMarco Banter

Think for a moment about a great leader you knew…or maybe know…how did he/she make you feel?

Great leaders lead emotionally.  Leadership is not only intellectual; it is also emotional…great leaders ARE inspiring!

Great leaders build people up…stoke their passions…and rouse their emotions…Relooking at Daniel Goleman’s book Primal Leadership as we prepare a few projects at work, I came across the concept of Resonance and Dissonance again and found my inner voice saying YES several times over and over again. You see generally leaders have two kinds of emotional impact.  Resonance is the positive emotional affect of leadership: those who are led resonate in harmony with the leader’s emotions.  Dissonance is the leadership’s negative emotional affect; those who are led break away emotionally from the leader.  Because the human emotion system is more or less an open loop, people depend on others for emotional stimulus and reaction.  In fact… emotions are contagious.


“An unstable tone combination is a dissonance; its tension demands an onward motion to a stable chord. Thus dissonant chords are ‘active’; traditionally they have been considered harsh and have expressed pain, grief, and conflict.”

—Roger Kamien (2008)

So dissonance is a sort of poison…usually a product of a “personal power leader“….it is unhealthy physically and psychologically to an organization.  Poor leaders spread dissonance…like a disease–examples are manipulative and/or tyrannical bullies who intentionally practice demeaning and humiliating subordinates, peers, and people in general.  Others are just hypocrites…who say what they don’t mean and only care about self promotion and getting ahead…or there is the “clueless” leader who tries to create resonance, but doesn’t notice that their employees are LOCKED in negative emotions.

Goldman mentions…“When a leader triggers resonance, you can read it in people’s eyes:  They’re engaged and they light up.”

Good leaders are effective because they create resonance.  Resonance comes from the Latin word resonareto resound. Effective leaders are attuned to other people’s feelings and move them in a positive emotional direction. They speak authentically about their own values, direction and priorities and resonate with the emotions of surrounding people. Under the guidance of an effective leader, people feel a mutual comfort level. Resonance comes naturally to people with a high degree of emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management) but involves also intellectual aspects.

These leaders work at developing their emotional intelligence — “the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.”

Resonant leaders know how to mobilize energy in people, teams and other groups… how to inspire and motivate through hope and VISION, meaning, and purpose; how to increase productivity while also releasing people’s talent, creativity, and resilience… they can truly build a resonate culture that calls for everyone’s best.

And now…the question becomes, how do we train tomorrow’s leaders to resonate?  More as we try to figure that one out.  Anyone with ideas, please comment or email.  Thank you.

4 Replies to “Resonance and Dissonance…and the sounds of leadership– DeMarco Banter”

  1. Bill, it begins with finding and developing one’s inner voice. This is a journey of continuous personal development rather than a bespoke training. A great resource I often refer back to on this subject is Terry Pearce, a leadership coach, who back in 1995 authored “Leading Out Loud – The Authentic Speaker, the Credible Leader”. It is still, if not more, pertinent today. Very insightful and great guidance for those who want to create resounding leadership narratives.

    1. Thanks Roger, will check the book out…I imagine the real key is to build the desire in these young leaders to want to step out on the path to a continued leadership learning and personal development journey

      1. Good point, Bill. While we are on that path we need a good support team. You provided a list of great leadership books the other day. One of them was written by Bill George about authentic leadership. He also wrote about leaders needing a good support team in a HBR article.
        “Authentic leaders build extraordinary support teams to help them stay on course. Those teams counse them in times of uncertainty, help them in times of difficulty, and celebrate with them in times of success. After their hardest days, leaders find comfort in being with people on whom they can rely so they can be open and vulnerable. During the low points, they cherish the friends who appreciate them for who they are, not what they are. Authentic leaders find that their support teams provide afflrmation, advice, perspective, and calls for course corrections when needed.”
        Other leadership sources refer to this group as a “personal board of directors”. We are never too old or too young to have our own “support team” or “personal board of directors” to help us on our leadership journey. This network of close personal advisors takes time to build so better that young leaders get started on it now.

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