Leaders’ influence on the emotional state of their team can fall anywhere from flatly instructing the team to “get on with it without complaint” to cheerfully telling them that they are all simply wonderful.

Whilst the former inspires no one, the latter can have a similar effect. When leaders are out of touch with their team – unable or unwilling to see that their people are frustrated, worried or otherwise unhappy – any positive and upbeat messages only serve to create more dissonance between themselves and their team.

Dissonance can be defined as ‘a lack of harmony among musical notes, people or things’; By contrast, resonance is ‘the prolonging of sound by reflection or the synchronous vibration of a nearby object.’ Resonant leadership is the emotionally intelligent leader seeing their team’s frustration or anger (and of course positive feelings too) and empathising, reflecting and expressing these feelings for the group. A ‘synchronous vibration’ of the team’s energy if you will!

So if we need to understand, reflect and express our team’s emotional state in order to be an effective, resonant leader; what do we do when our team is clearly feeling down, negative, upset or unmotivated?

If being cheery and positive is going to create dissonance; then doesn’t that mean a resonant leader would get alongside their team to whinge and complain with them?

How to solve this quandary?

As with many things about leadership, the situation requires you to walk a fine line and find a precarious balance; in order to practise resonance, you do need to listen, empathise and acknowledge the prevailing emotional state of your team. Some phrases you might use here are:

“I can see that you/the team are feeling a bit down today.”

“People seem a bit off at the moment.”

“I know that a lot of you are upset and angered by x”

“I’ve noticed we’re not as positive as we usually are.”

If you know the cause of the negative emotional state, or once you discover it, you can empathise with your team.

“I can understand how that would leave you feeling undervalued…”

“I can see why this has been hard for you.”

In taking these steps, you have “dipped your toe” into the emotional waters of your team. What you can’t afford to do, is jump into the pond and wallow around in the mud with them. This can be tempting, because you want to stay connected to your team and retain their loyalty, but it simply makes the problem worse by giving them your blessing to remain in their negative state.

Having dipped our toe in, we now need to use our strength, skills and emotional intelligence as a leader, as well as support from around and above us, to lift our team out of their negative state into a positive and productive one.

We can do this by helping them to reframe the situation positively or to problem-solve, by discussing avenues to provide feedback on their frustrations or concerns, helping them to re-focus on the team’s purpose and to look toward the future. And by modelling a positive, purposeful attitude.

A dissonant leader is disconnected from their team – their team says they are “on another planet,” “in la-la land,” “in their own little world.” When a team feels like their leader just “gets” them, you know you are on the right track as an emotionally connected, resonant leader.


Resonant Leadership is one of the topics covered in RJA Leadership


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