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How Purpose and Emotional Intelligence Connect

How Purpose and Emotional Intelligence Connect

by Daniel Goleman

When I wrote Emotional Intelligence in 1995, only a handful of organizations were talking about the environmental crisis and even fewer had the language to address issues like cyberbullying or digital safety. In those days the ‘profit-above-all’ model was in full swing. Purpose wasn’t an imperative, it was a “nice to have,” on par with, say, lavish benefits as a lever for increasing employee engagement.

It’s 2020 now and the tides have changed. Not only are Millennials five times more likely to stay when they have a strong connection to their employer’s purpose (compared to the rate for non-millennials) but the data shows that purpose-driven companies are more profitable over the long-haul. Based on 10 years of empirical research involving 50,000 companies, Millward Brown and Jim Stengel developed a list of the world’s 50 fastest-growing brands (FedEx, Coca-Cola, and Starbucks, for example). This list, called the Stengel 50, reveals that purpose-driven companies saw 400% greater returns on stock market value than the S&P 500, on average.

How does emotional intelligence, or EI, play into the burgeoning purpose-first movement? Let’s start with empathy, understanding others. This sense of how we might help other people very often leads to the conviction that we have a purpose greater than just helping ourselves – and this compels us to take action on their behalf. Empathy seems essential for caring about more than the bottom line.

But while empathy helps put purpose on the agenda, it’s not enough. After all, intentions are one thing and actions are another.

Howard W. Buffet, Warren Buffet’s only grandson, is a professor of public policy and international affairs. Speaking with leaders around the world, Buffet has examined how they approach planning, management and measurement for achieving positive impact. Early on his investigation revealed a trend: to achieve positive impact, many of these leaders had engaged in cross-sector partnerships.

“Cross-sector partnerships can help society move past individualistic rent-seeking and free-rider behavior that dominates traditional views of economic self-interest…partnerships have the potential to meet public objectives efficiently and effectively and at a scale not otherwise possible,” he writes in the first chapter of his 2018 book, Social Value Investing.

This takes teamwork, the ability to work with others toward a shared goal. Leaders skilled at teamwork participate actively, build positive relationships, draw others into active commitment to the team’s effort, share responsibility and rewards, and create an atmosphere of respect, helpfulness, and cooperation.

In the purpose-driven economy, I would argue that if empathy is what starts the engine, teamwork is what drives the train. As the management consultant Peter Drucker once observed, “The most successful company is not the one with the most brains, but the most brains acting in concert.”

The lack of diversity in the workplace, inequality, climate change, healthcare, cyber safety; such problems are too complex for any one person or sector to solve on their own. If we are going to drive change and make purpose a real part of how we do business, it will help to boost our empathy, our ability to collaborate, and to relate.

If businesses want to survive and succeed in today’s world—where purpose is becoming an economic imperative—EI is a necessary skill set. EI enables us to put our purpose into practice.



Originally published by KornFerry. Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body,” is available now. 

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