Chain Reaction Foundation

Unengaged Leaders - The Effects of Chronic Stress

by Margaret Bell | September 24, 2018

In his 2002 book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman discusses the differences between resonance and dissonance in leadership. Resonant leaders, he explains, have high levels of social intelligence and are able to engage directly with their teams. This makes what they say, what they do, and how they relate more inspirational and empowering to individual team members.

Dissonant leadership styles, on the other hand, are more authoritative. They focus on clarity of speech rather than on human understanding, and on commanding and directing staff rather than building relationships. The direction is provided, orders are given, but no engagement takes place between the leader and his or her team. In effect, a gap forms between those looking for guidance and leadership and the guides and leaders themselves. And this distance causes severe issues.

We can observe that dissonant leadership styles contribute to stress and anxiety within the groups they are supposed to serve. Structures of authority are reinforced, and a climate of fear ensures that ‘things get done’. There is no warmth or togetherness. There is only the threat of punitive measures against those who can’t or won’t do what is expected.

Depending on our own personalities, we may react to this kind of environment in different ways. Some of us may feel persecuted or humiliated by such a leadership style and may kick back against the demands which are placed upon us. Enmity and animosity between the team and the structure of leadership make the team ineffective in achieving its collective aims, whether the team is a community group, business division, high school class, or a family unit.

Most of us, however, will accept and go along with the negative style of leadership we encounter. We will do our jobs, we will fulfil the functions of our roles, but we will do so with heavy hearts. Disengagement, apathy, and psychological disorders will begin to fester, further inhibiting the efficacy of the group. In fact, whether we choose to accept or rebel, the toll taken on our mental health can be enormous.

A leader must do more than police and enforce the teams and social groups they find themselves at the head of. A leader must do more than simply ‘tell’ people what must be done. Instead, they must demonstrate the importance of words and actions, and they must empower, embolden, and inspire team members in equal measure. This can only be achieved by focusing on social and emotional intelligence and placing this at the heart of the structure of leadership.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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