Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s international bestseller Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a global movement has developed to bring “EQ” into practice in businesses, schools, and communities around the globe.  How did it start, what does it mean – and where is it going?


From American Express to Avon, businesses have begun to embrace the concept. Jack Welch was even discussing EQ [1] and the Harvard Business Review calls it “the key to professional success.”[2] Schools, hospitals, and government agencies world-wide are adopting EQ practices. From elementary school students to army officers, a curriculum of emotional awareness is providing a new perspective on people.

According to Dr. Goleman, it all began with two psychology professors on a summer’s day:

“John Mayer and Peter Salovey invented the whole field,” Goleman explains, “when they were chatting about politics while painting a house.” Salovey (now President of Yale University) and Mayer (now Professor at University of New Hampshire) were talking about their research on cognition and emotion, and got to discussing a politician. They wondered: How could someone so smart act so dumb? Their conclusion:

Smart decision-making requires more than the intellect as measured by traditional IQ.

Goleman continues the story, “And because of that conversation, they published a wonderful seminal article — but in an obscure journal. The moment I saw their concept of emotional intelligence all kinds of bells went off. And I thought, ‘I have to write about this!'” With over 5 million copies in print in 30 languages, Goleman was right: The world was ready to learn about this powerful concept.

Goleman, Salovey, and other leaders in the field met to share best practices and current research at the 5th annual NexusEQ Conference, in Holland in 2005. Titled “Leading with Emotional Intelligence: Tools and Wisdom for a Sustainable World” and featuring speakers from 19 countries, this was the most comprehensive EQ world summit ever.  The 2013 NexusEQ Conference at Harvard University had participants from 32 countries.

“This is a worldwide movement, but people are isolated,” Goleman explains. “To everyone who is laboring in solitary circumstances — in a school, in a business, in a hospital, a university, where ever you may be: You are part of a community — a virtual community of like minded people pursuing this important work. The chance to come together and meet others in your ‘family’ is enormously important.”

What makes emotional intelligence so appealing? Partly because it answers a widespread longing to understand the complexities of human interaction. Partly because it allows practitioners to bring compassion, empathy, and wisdom to schools and organizations. And partly because emotional intelligence delivers impressive bottom-line results.

According to Goleman, one key benefit is that “emotional intelligence can help people make better decisions.” This increased effectiveness is invaluable for business, essential for education, and transformational for personal life.


The Business of EQ

What do American Express, Avon, Qatar Airways, Unilever, HSBC, Pfizer, Lockheed, Hilton, Emaar, Motorola, and Johnson & Johnson have in common? At various levels, all are turning to emotional intelligence to improve organizational performance. Here are numerous case studies showing  how it works.

Organizations are finding value from EQ primarily in leadership development, sales and retention. Goleman’s latest book, Primal Leadership, helps explain why EQ has such an impact on leadership.

“EQ defines our capacity for relationship,” Goleman says, adding this is essential for leaders whose choices are echoed through dozens and hundreds of relationships in a complex web. Leaders who uses their emotional efficacy to inspire confidence, commitment, and caring will get better results. “Every level of organization is an emergent property of the one beneath it. You can look at two people interacting and then see how that cascades into teams, groups, and whole organizations.”

“In Primal Leadership, my colleague Annie McKee describes a wonderful woman working for UNESCO in South Asia,” Goleman elaborates. “She was a remarkable leader. Her mandate was the health of half a billion women and children. She used her emotional intelligence to inspire her entire staff about the mission. Because they really cared, it wasn’t just a job, she helped her team become far more effective.”

This ability to bring out the best in people translates to bottom-line performance. At L’Oreal, sales agents selected on the basis of certain emotional competencies added an annual net revenue increase of $2,558,360. [3] The US Air Force saved $2.7 million in recruiting costs by using an EQ profile. [4] A year-long EQ initiative at the Sheraton Studio City in Orlando helped improve guest satisfaction, reduce turnover, and boost market share by 24%. [5] More data is available from the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organization ( and Six Seconds’ free e-book, The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence.


Bringing EQ to School

One of the most exciting areas of EQ practice is in education. From Durban, South Africa, to Jakarta, Indonesia — and nearly every city in between — educators are tapping the science of emotional intelligence to meet the promise of education’s mission. To learn why and  how EQ works in education and key methods, explore this introduction to SEL.

For a review of current research, see A Case for Emotional Intelligence in Our Schools, which reviews how EQ improves achievement, wellbeing, and the school climate.  As the school case explains, emotional intelligence comes to school at many levels. One is the way increased EQ helps teachers and administrators be more effective. For example, Six Seconds’ President Dr. Anabel Jensen worked for three years with one of the largest school districts in the US; the focus was on building a more effective workforce to the 12,000 employees.

Goleman says emotionally intelligent school leaders are more successful: “The seminal study was done for the Ministry of Education in the UK, where they looked at Heads of Schools. They found that in schools where the Head Teacher used a more emotionally intelligent leadership style, the higher the academic achievement of the students.” Why? “School leaders who use their EQ inspire teachers to be more dedicated and motivated so that they teach better — and therefore the students learn better.”

So the same logic that drives companies to boost EQ applies to schools; plus, schools see significant benefits for students. At a systemic level, an improved environment, or learning climate, facilitates increased achievement.  At the individual level, when students increase their ability to manage the complexities of daily life they perform better.  So many schools have introduced EQ, or social-emotional learning, as a basic skill within the curriculum. The Collaborative for the Advancement of Social Emotional Learning ( has collected an extensive database of research on the subject. The conclusion: EQ training improves students’ relationships to school — which in turn improves their academic performance. The research shows students who learn effective social and emotional skills also have less risk of violence, pregnancy, or suicide.

In a pilot study of one of the pioneering approaches to emotional intelligence education, Self-Science, 100% of the teachers reported that the methodology increases cooperation and improves classroom relationships. They agreed (92%) that Self-Science helped increase student focus/attention and improve teacher/student relationships.


EQ and Life

To capture the benefits of EQ for individuals, Goleman turns to the work of Nobel prizewinning economist, Daniel Kahneman, and the “Hedonic Treadmill.”

“It turns out that having more wealth does not increase your happiness” explains Goleman. “Going from starving poverty to just having enough is the biggest bump in happiness from increased affluence. And that means that you don’t need that lavish a standard of living to be happy. And happiness itself lets you get off the treadmill of ever-rising expectations. In EQ, one of the qualities that can be cultivated in the emotional self-management domain is how to manage your emotions and become more happy.”

While happiness may seem banal to some, happy people are healthier, more compassionate, and more successful. The implications are significant — what happens when people are more satisfied with life? It brings Goleman to the next stage of his research: “I am looking at the question of how can we all live best together, at every level — couples, families, communities, organizations and nations. How can we live together more sanely and compassionately?”

Like most of the people involved in emotional intelligence, Goleman finds benefits of this practice for himself. “I’ve been working on being more mindful and more empathic,” Goleman says he is inspired by his wife, Tara Goleman (author of Emotional Alchemy). “It is a spiritual book as well as a synthesis of mindfulness and cognitive therapy and Buddhist psychology. It shows the importance of reflective insight and compassion in living well — a message echoed by the Dali Lama. These values go hand-in-hand with my own thinking, and give me hope for my life too.”

The blend of spiritual awareness, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence enhances the quality of life — not through trappings, but by adding spice to the small moments of every day. “One of the qualities of this kind of awareness is that you are less bored and less anxious throughout the day. And more involved in what is going on, what ever you are doing.”

Goleman is quick to add, “I don’t see myself as particularly gifted in this domain. I am a psychologist, a researcher and a writer, but I am not a guru of emotional intelligence,” he qualifies. “I am a commentator — not the ‘Tiger Woods of Emotional Intelligence.’ The Dali Lama deserves the title!”


From Goleman, With Gratitude

There are countless examples of emotional intelligence coming into practice around the world. From prisons to military organizations, from classrooms to board rooms, this blend of cutting-edge science and common sense is getting attention.

Goleman credits the researchers and these innovators. “All I did was amplify someone else’s idea, and other people have run with it. The movement is a marvelous collaborative accomplishment. So I feel a lot of gratitude to people for that.”

Goleman points out that emotional intelligence is a global phenomenon:  “This is not an American movement; this is the World’s movement.” Today, many leading EQ efforts are taking place around the globe.  The growth of Six Seconds’ global network is just one example.

What’s next for the EQ? “For people who are passionate about EQ,” concludes Goleman,

“my wish is that we care more about what is going on in the world at large and use EQ to address the problems in front of us.”

“Whether it’s local problems, national problems, Tsunami victims, or the horrible toll of poverty among children in the world,” he continues, “I hope emotional intelligence helps people shift away from personal gain and self interest — and instead they notice, care, and take action to do something about what needs to be fixed in the world. And I hope they use their best EQ in addressing these challenges.”

[1] Jack Welch, “Four E’s (a Jolly Good Fellow)” Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2004

[2] Harvard Business Review, Breakthrough Ideas for Tomorrow’s Business Agenda April 2003

[3] Spencer & Spencer, 1993; Spencer, McClelland, & Kelner, 1997 (cited in Cherniss, 2003

[4] Richard Handley, 1999, Conference Proceedings, NexusEQ 2003

[5] Joshua Freedman, Case Study: Emotional Intelligence at the Sheraton Studio City Hotel, Six Seconds, 2003

Interview by Joshua Freedman and Kees Blase, Jan 6, 2005; first published by Joshua Freedman Feb 1, 2005. Minor edits: July 12, 2015, Aug 16, 2020

Joshua Freedman
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