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The Business Case for Social-Emotional Learning & EQ

The US economy is as strong as its workforce. To this end, it’s vital we equip students with the skills they need to succeed in an economy with changing and evolving needs. This need to prepare future workers for their careers was the driving force behind the rise of STEM education in the early 2010s. However, focusing solely on technical skills still left a substantial skills gap between what students were learning and what employers needed from their workers. 

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the way to bridge this gap and teach kids the skills they need to succeed in their careers, as well as lead happier, more fulfilled lives in general.

SEL is the process through which people learn skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy, build healthy relationships and make responsible decisions. 

In other words, social-emotional learning teaches emotional intelligence and how to be happy. 

So what does SEL and emotional intelligence have to do with the current skills gap faced by recent graduates and the companies looking to hire them?

The Current Skills Gap

The National Network of Business and Industry Associations has identified a set of skills someone should have to be considered employable. These “common employability skills” fall into four categories

  • Personal skills
  • People skills
  • Workplace skills
  • Applied knowledge

You were probably quick to notice that three of those four skill  groups are what many would consider “life skills”. Meaning, they’re skills that aren’t related to technical knowledge or competence. 

These personal, people and workplace skills are, instead, related to a person’s ability to function as an individual, as part of a team and as part of a larger organization. 

However, many US businesses are struggling to find candidates for open jobs that possess these skills. In fact, in one survey, half of employers struggle to find qualified recent graduates to fill their job vacancies. Despite possessing the necessary technical skills, these recent grads lack the ability to communicate, adapt, make decisions and solve problems. 

We are not doing an effective job of preparing young Americans to start their careers and many of these prospective workers are ill-equipped for the workplace:

  • 31% of employers find it difficult to find qualified workers
  • More than half of manufacturers and business CEOs have serious problems finding workers with skills necessary to succeed in the workplace
  • According to manufacturers, the number one skill deficiency is problem solving

What’s more, the number of skills required to be successful upon entering the workforce has grown over the past half decade and will likely continue to grow.

  • In 2016, a survey sponsored by Microsoft of online jobs boards identified 62 skills required for “high opportunity” (high-growth/high-wage) jobs
  • This is up from 37 skills needed in 2013
  • “Oral and written communication skills” and “problem solving” are most sought-after skills for high opportunity jobs
  • Of the top 20 skills identified, only two (Microsoft Office and Microsoft PowerPoint) are technical skills or applied knowledge

All of these stats and figures add up to one simple conclusion: 

Our education system is not preparing students to be successful personally or professionally upon graduation

In order to prepare students to meet the needs of employers, we need to ensure:

  • They are equipped to work and communicate with a diverse range of customers and coworkers
  • They are able to self-motivate, self-direct and adapt to changing employer-employee relationships
  • They see beyond specific tasks to the “bigger picture”
  • They work well independently and as part of team and often with limited guidance from higher-ups
  • They are willing and able to take initiative to function effectively in a complex business organizations and structures

SEL Offers Benefits for Employers & Employees

Fortunately, if we look at all of the most in-demand skills employers want from workers, as well as the needs of graduates as they enter the workforce, we see a significant overlap between those skills and the five core competencies taught by social-emotional learning.

Let’s take a look at the five core competencies of social-emotional learning:

  • Self awareness: Can you recognize your emotions and their impact on your behavior?
  • Self management: Are you able to regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations?
  • Social awareness: Do you understand social norms for behavior? Can you empathize with people from diverse backgrounds? Are you able to recognize sources of support in your life?
  • Relationship skills: Are you able to establish and maintain healthy relationships with different people? 
  • Responsible decision-making: Can you realistically evaluate the possible consequences of an action and make decisions based on social and ethical norms? Do you consider the impact of your actions on the well-being of others as well as yourself?

Now, let’s consider some the key skills identified by the Department of Education as necessary for success in the workplace:

  • Sound decision making: Students differentiate and assess multiple approaches and options.
  • Understands teamwork: Students are able to work with a partner or in groups, contributing fairly to the assignment and showing respect for team members by listening to and considering all ideas. Students negotiate to resolve conflicts.
  • Demonstrates self-discipline and responsibility: Students actively participate, asking and answering questions and completing assignments.
  • Responds to customer needs: Students help others understand tasks, find resources and fulfill roles.
  • Respect individuals: Students respond supportively to team members’ ideas and contributions and work well with others. Students engage in active listening.

Compared to the core skills taught by social-emotional learning, it’s easy to see the clear convergence between the two groups. 

In fact, the ability to work as a team is the top quality businesses look for in recent college grads, ahead of analytical and quantitative skills. And since 1980 there has been a strong, steady decline in jobs requiring high math and low social skills. Almost all job growth in that time has been in occupations requiring high EQ and social skills.

These skills that are so key to employability and success in business are directly taught in SEL curricula.

Investing in SEL Brings Success

So how do we support SEL so that students are graduating with the skills businesses need from their workers? 

We do this by treating SEL today like we did with STEM back in 2011. 

In the decade following the US Chamber’s Case for Being Bold report, corporations invested more than $1 billion funding STEM awareness and education. If that money were spent developing SEL programs and curricula, that would return up to $10 billion (more more) in economic growth.

The groundwork for bringing SEL into schools exists today in a developing industry of researchers, technology companies and service providers. Business leaders, like they were in 2011, are in the perfect spot to provide these advocates the resources and support they need to bring SEL education to schools at all levels.

Photo by Charlotte May from Pexels

Social-Emotional Learning Boosts STEM Education. Here’s How.

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously led to a decade-long effort to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in K-12 education and a huge investment of resources from governments and corporations:

  • More than $1 billion dollars spent over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • Business-led campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Vital Signs metrics track and evaluate students’ academic performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM jobs
  • “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for kids K-12 ages.

However, despite this massive investment of resources, the effort to promote STEM education has fallen short in some key areas.

While the candidate pool for technical jobs increased, overall diversity of people working STEM jobs still lags behind other fields. Moreover, overall scores in math, science and technology in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as “the nation’s report card”) haven’t improved over the last 10 years.

Essentially, people and organizations directly involved in STEM activities benefited from this billion-dollar investment, but everyone else saw little profit.

SEL: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Social-emotional learning, or SEL for short, is the process of teaching people skills to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, develop empathy, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

SEL also teaches important life skills such as how to analyze and solve problems, set achievable goals, and embracing challenges as part of growing and learning.

Practically speaking, incorporating SEL into a curriculum has been shown to help improve students’ overall academic performance. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

  • 83% of students made academic gains when participating in an academic program with an SEL component.
  • Students improved by an average of 11% on standardized tests after participating in an SEL program.
  • Students increased their GPA by an average of 11% when participating in an SEL program.
  • SEL programs help improve student behaviors and attitudes while preventing substance abuse.

SEL Boosts Skills Important to STEM Success

ntegrating social-emotional learning with STEM education enhances the academic program by teaching five key competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making skills.

Self awareness

Self awareness is the ability of a person to identify their emotions and the impact of those feelings on their behavior.

Self management

Self management is the ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations. This skill is critical to setting and achieving goals, something that is a real challenge for students as well as adults.

The fact is, in STEM education students will inevitably face numerous challenges and failures. Science is, after all, an iterative process. So strong self management is required to deal with and overcome the feelings of frustration and inadequacy that sometimes come with STEM education.

SEL teaches how to learn from past failures and incorporate those insights into future efforts.

Combining SEL with STEM education allows students to persevere and “fail forward” until they reach their ultimate goal.

Social awareness

Social awareness is understanding social norms and empathizing with people from different backgrounds. Strong social awareness results in students who are more creative and able to incorporate alternate viewpoints to solve problems and overcome challenges.

Social awareness not only makes STEM education more effective through improved teamwork, the ability to empathise and see things from another’s point of view is the most important skill in innovation, invention and design.

Take, for example, the market-leading personal finance tool Quicken, created by Intuit, Inc.

Quicken was created by Intuit founder Scott Cook in the early 1980s after his wife complained about struggling to balance their checkbook and keep their bills organized. Cook realized a product centered around simplifying personal finance would help not only his own family, but others as well.

Quicken’s success, driven by Scott Cook’s ability to empathize with challenges faced by other people, helped establish Intuit as one of the most successful companies in the world.

A second example is a product called The Embrace Care.

embrace backpack
Image from Embrace Innovations

The Care was created by a team of Stanford postgraduate students challenged to invent a new incubator for use in developing countries. However, after meeting with mothers living in remote areas without easy access to hospitals, the team realized that a traditional incubator wouldn’t be practical for these mothers and babies.

The team’s ability to take on the perspective of people with a far, far different background than theirs allowed them to reframe the challenge from “invent an incubator” to “help mothers keep babies warm in far-flung locations without access to hospitals or electricity.”

Without that shift in perspective, the team may have simply created a traditional incubator that cost less, had a rechargeable battery or was more portable. It was their empathy that resulted in the inspiration to design a product that has helped to save thousands of lives.

Relationship skills

SEL teaches critical relationships skills that allow students to build and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people.

STEM activities, projects and challenges usually take place in groups or in a team environment. And nearly all jobs in the STEM field rely heavily on collaboration and teamwork. Strong relationship skills and the ability to listen to multiple different perspectives are an absolute must for any success in a STEM education program.

Decision-making skills

Responsible decision-making relies on the ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of actions and make choices based on social norms as well as the well-being of others.

Social-emotional learning teaches responsible decision-making skills as well as focusing on promoting curiosity, open-mindedness and critical thinking skills.

Success in a STEM setting, either academic or in a related job, relies heavily on a person’s ability to analyze data to make a judgement, identify solutions to a problem, and anticipate the impact of an action. Even “small” decision-making skills, like time management and focus, are key to performing well in STEM subjects and challenges.

Next Steps: Time to Invest in SEL

The benefits of pairing STEM education with social-emotional learning is clear and the steps needed to helping today’s students reach their full potential is evident. The time is now to invest in SEL researchers, publishers, services and program providers just as we did for STEM education in 2011.

Learn how you can help bring social-emotional learning to your community today.

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It’s Time to Invest in SEL like STEM

Back in 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce released a report called The Case for Being Bold. This report famously laid out the need for not just increased investment in STEM education, but also the need for the business community to take a leadership role in the movement (as opposed to merely providing resources and support).

What happened next was a veritable decade-long explosion in STEM education:

  • Corporations spent more than $1 billion dollars over the next decade funding STEM education and awareness.
  • The business-led Change the Equation launched several campaigns to lead and amplify the effort to support STEM education.
  • Change the Equation created the Vital Signs benchmark to track and evaluate students’ performance in STEM subjects.
  • The STEM is Cool! campaign highlighted innovative and exciting work in STEM-related jobs
  • Privately-owned, for-profit “STEM salons” popped up across the country, selling STEM-centric courses, after school programs and even birthday parties for K-12 students.
social-emotional learning

The business community’s dedicated campaign helped lead to a marked increase in awareness of STEM, the importance of STEM education and opportunities in related fields.

So this brings us to the next big opportunity in education: social-emotional learning and emotional intelligence.

Teaching Happiness: EQ and SEL

Emotional intelligence, or “EQ” for short, is defined as a person’s ability to be aware of, control and express their emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.

Social-emotional learning, better known as “SEL”, is the process of learning the knowledge and skills that allow people to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, build supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

social-emotional learning chart

Image courtesy of casel.org

SEL focuses on teaching five “key competencies” identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:

  • Self-awareness: Being able to recognize emotions and their impact on behavior
  • Self-management: The ability to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors in different situations.
  • Social awareness: Understanding social norms for behavior, the ability to empathize with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and recognition of where there are sources of support.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with a diverse range of people. These skills also include the capability to not take others’ behavior personally as well as engage in “active listening”.
  • Responsible decision-making: Being able to realistically evaluate the consequences of actions and make decisions based on social and ethical norms and the well-being of others and themselves.

SEL also helps kids learn how to analyze and solve problems, set goals and embrace challenges and setbacks as part of the growth process.

In other words, social-emotional learning equips kids with skills they can use to practice happiness throughout their lives.

The Need for Social-Emotional Learning

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But why do we need to promote SEL and emotional intelligence?

The simple fact is that the overall mental health of Americans leaves a lot to be desired and kids today are exhibiting frighteningly high levels of negative behaviors.

The need for improved emotional intelligence is simply undeniable:

  • Violence: In 2015, 22% of students reported bullying and 10 million children experienced domestic violence. The US suffers the highest rates of murder and violent assault among developed countries.
  • Mental health: In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode. That represents 12.5% of kids aged 10 to 17 years old, and rates of reported depression and anxiety are increasing. And half of surveyed parents have described their kids as “over stressed” since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • Suicide: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old, and suicide rates have been increasing each year over the last decade. And the COVID-19 pandemic increased the rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts even higher.
  • Academic performance: In 2013, 65% of all US fourth graders tested as “below proficient” in literacy, with 80% of low income students falling into that category. After years of intense focus on reading, those results remained largely flat as students suffer high rates of disengagement and lack motivation.
  • Criminalized behavior: Though popular, “zero tolerance” rules have served mostly to fill a “school-to-prison” pipeline as schools suspend, expel or prosecute students for relatively minor offenses – 2 million students are incarcerated each year. Communities of color bear the brunt of these outcomes.
  • Chronic stress: The chronic stress and trauma growing up in poverty or near-poverty takes a major toll on the academic climate and performance of more than 20 million kids each year.

The fact is, many kids today are unhappy. And these children carry this experience into adulthood.

Today’s adults report high levels of worker disengagement, on-the-job bullying and harassment, loneliness, domestic violence and lack of civic engagement.

Simply put, we are not teaching kids the skills vital to becoming happy, well-adjusted adults.

Practical benefits of social-emotional learning

young people on laptops

Investing in SEL to boost emotional intelligence brings benefits that  support society. That much is clear. This investment pays practical returns on investment to corporations and businesses:

It’s Time to Invest in SEL Like STEM

The need to boost investment in social-emotional learning is apparent and business leaders, much like they were with STEM education a decade ago, are in prime position to provide the necessary resources and support.

A broad ecosystem of SEL researchers, publishers, technology companies and service providers already exists. What they lack is a strong base of demand for their services.

Corporate demand and investment will drive schools to adopt comprehensive SEL programs, just as business demand and dollars drove them to adopt a comprehensive STEM curriculum.

And the best part is that we won’t need to wait 10 years to start seeing returns on this investment. High school students with just one year’s experiencing social-emotional learning will be better prepared to enter the labor force than workers without any SEL experience.

Just like with STEM education in 2011, the infrastructure for improving EQ through social-emotional learning is there. What’s needed now is the support from the business community that will lead schools to adopt SEL education at all levels.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The Power of SEL

Social-Emotional Learning  empowers children to manage their own behavior in positive and productive ways, shifting control to the child.

This counters the “compliance model” widely used in U.S. schools, where adults hold all the power in classrooms and children are passive participants, not drivers of their own development and learning.

Being active in their own development is fundamental to children’s Emotional Intelligence learning, along with acquiring the ability to manage one’s emotions. Managing one’s emotions is hardly a given for a large segment of the population that, without this learning, is beset with remarkably high numbers of people suffering from anxiety or depression, anger issues, or high degrees of interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide.

In fact, most of us experience more emotional upsets and their consequences than we would prefer – in relationships, work, friendships, and in the everyday course of life.

This may be good for the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies and therapists but is hugely costly in infinite ways to the common good and to the pocketbook of the society as a whole.

Neuroscience readily supports the positive effects of Social-Emotional Learning. Emotional reactions have been found to reside in the primordially-earlier lower brain around the amygdala while more sophisticated learning, thinking, and creativity occur in the later-in-evolution frontal lobes or “higher brain.” Brain scans show that when the lower brain is activated by emotional upset it lights up while the higher brain literally goes dark in activity.

The implications for students can’t be overstated – all learning stops while students are emotionally agitated, with their minds either distracted or full of negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situations they are in(Read more about Neuroscience.)

Conversely, academic learning takes place on a rapid scale once students are taught to manage their emotions and responses. Surveys of student and teacher satisfaction often soar into the 90 percentile after a school prioritizes Social-Emotional Learning.

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An important note: Social-Emotional Learning should not be confused with what educators call “Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS),” a widely implemented system based on “carrot-like” tangible rewards.

Moreover, in uninformed reports, some EQ goals and subset practices are mistakenly taken for the entire complex of EQ learnings students experience. Examples are “violence prevention,” “anti-bullying,” “grit,” “resilience,” “mindfulness” and “growth mindset” practices – the latter a training to be able to take on challenges and failures as normal and educational in themselves rather than as obstacles and defeats.

One other note: Education is littered with competing terms for Social-Emotional Learning, among them “emotional literacy,” “non-cognitive education,” “character education,” and “ethical and moral development.” By whatever name, schools adopting such learning should include the core competencies explained here and their goal should be the other term popular with educators: “Whole Child Development.”

Stonehenge

A Short History of Emotional Intelligence

The concept of EQ sprang from the landmark work of Harvard Education Professor Dr. Howard Gardner’s 1983-published theory about the “multiple intelligences” that humans possess. Specifically, EQ falls into a category he defined as ”inter- and intrapersonal” intelligence.

Building on this, two researchers – then Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey (now president of Yale) and University of New Hampshire psychology professor John D. Mayer – published an influential paper in 1990 introducing the term “Emotional Intelligence,” which Goleman cites in his work.

The term EQ over time often became coupled with the term “social intelligence,” meaning the ability to understand, empathize with, and influence the emotions of others.

From Goleman: “In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those  emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.”

Marc Brackett, Director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Susan Rivers, protégés of Salovey, put it this way: “The process of integrating thinking, feeling, and behaving in order to become aware of the self and of others, make responsible decisions, and manage one’s own behaviors and those of others.”

Psychology Today dives in with this definition: “The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving….[and] the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

Youth-focused approaches that combine EQ development with other life skills have now come to be defined by the term Social-Emotional Learning by educators and in child development and psychology realms, as well as in certain business quarters that apply such learning to adults.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, the nation’s leading SEL practice, policy, and research organization, defines SEL as “the process through which children (and adults) acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

CASEL pointedly notes that for SEL to be highly effective it needs to “nest” and be practiced in all school environments by all staff, including integrated in academic classes and non-class activities, in community service by students, and with parents integrated at the school level.

CASEL believes that SEL, correctly implemented, is the platform and process for a potential revolutionary leap forward in educating the “whole child.”

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12 Crucial Facts About Emotional Intelligence

  1. Schools that implement comprehensive SEL as basic curriculum see all the good markers go up. These include improvements in engagement in learning, higher test scores (by an average of 11 points or 20%), responsible behaviors, healthy emotional states and quality relationships with others.  Also in: clarity of thinking, good decision making, creativity,  communications skills, empathy, student self-confidence, and teacher and students satisfaction.  Learn more.
  2. These same schools see all negative markers decline, often dramatically. These include violence, bullying, racial and class bias, drug usage, suicides, acting-out behaviors, teacher abuse, screen addiction, low attendance and low graduation and college rates. Learn more.
  3. EQ skills dissolve, in children and adults, their alienation, inability to process anger, emotional suffering, violence and abusiveness – and blocks to learning. 
  4. Nothing in the human toolbox has been proven to uplift children, schools and youth mental health better. When children develop emotional intelligence (EQ) they problem solve and help each other. They reinforce each other’s learning and relate to other people with understanding and empathy. They resolve conflicts and establish and maintain positive relationships and high academic results. And they are much happier.
  5. The earlier children learn EQ skills and mindset the better. Children can start to be taught EQ at home from birth. A study of 4-year old preschool children found that 25 years later their lives in almost every dimension were in considerably better shape than those of a similar control group that lacked EQ training in pre-school. Learn more.
  6. Neuroscience research helps explain and validates a child’s improvements in behavior, performance, brain function and emotional life.  Learn more.
  7. Research reveals EQ is more relevant than IQ to personal success, quality lives, health and happiness – and to positive outcomes for communities and workplaces. See the Harvard Business Review case study (subscription required).
  8. Well into adulthood, EQ-trained students experience significantly lower rates of mental and physical health issues, crime, conflict, hard drug usage, racial biases,  and welfare and poverty than populations that do not experience the training, lowering the cost of government and employer remedial programs. Learn more
  9. Most violence, crime, rape, child sexual and other abuse and human conflict and racism  stems for low EQ. Learn more.
  10. Only 10-15% of pre-K-12  U.S. schools (public, private and charter) implement full-on social-emotional learning curriculum. The reason is that 90% of parents and the public don’t even know SEL exists – hence little to no calls on schools and legislators to prioritize and fund it.
  11. Long-term studies show on net balance that SEL saves $11 to $15 per pupil in remedial costs over the costs of implementing it.  Learn more.
  12. Many employers are already providing adult social and emotional skills training for employees. Lots more employers – it’s becoming a wave now – are putting high EQ at the top of their hiring qualities because higher EQ throughout the workplace demonstrably produces better productivity, more profits and happier workplace with higher retention rates. Learn more.

(Image courtesy of PikRepo)

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The Connection Between Business Success, Mindfulness, and Emotional Intelligence

Our ability to pay attention is a finite resource. By instinct, we tune out anything that isn’t either food or a threat. Even our field of visual attention is usually limited to what is currently and immediately in front of our noses. Want proof of our limited attention? Watch master pickpocket Apollo Robbins at work. If our attention is so scarce, how do we even make it through life?

With such a scarce resource as attention, we must spend it wisely. Business leaders and coaches love to talk about focused attention. At the drop of a mouse, you can find online articles about being more focused at work from publications like Forbes, Business Insider, Men’s Journal, and Lifehack. Using your attention to focus more on the job should mean your productivity goes up and mistakes go down.

But focusing intently also means you are less aware of the environment around you and the bigger picture. People might joke about “the vision thing” but seeing connections between people, events, and concepts is crucial to innovation and success. And wider awareness can keep your pockets from being picked.

Joe Stafura, CEO of Thrive, frames focus and awareness as two ends of a spectrum. The more you focus on a specific item, the less aware you can be of multiple things around you. Conversely, the more things around you that you are aware of, the less you can focus on any particular item.

Matching your balance of focus and awareness to the task at hand is what Stafura calls Mindfulness. Thrive’s ability to help people strike the proper Mindfulness for a given situation is achieved through the Thrive Program’s structure as an ongoing conversation. The conversation involves the stakeholders who reveal what they really feel is important over time. This happens more easily during a conversation than an interrogation in the moment or trying to recall in the moment.

By allowing everyone the space and time to consider the various factors influencing the situation, everyone can see what others are concerned about and start to see hidden problems and possible solutions. The micro-message format of Thrive helps keep the conversation going, ensuring high retention and lower survey fatigue. Each participant spends just a couple of minutes to update their views, with no travel time or Zoom calls.

So, it’s not just focusing your attention that leads to success. Shifting the balance of focus and awareness to meet various demand throughout the day is key to performance at work, at home, and throughout life.

Managing your attention doesn’t just happen. It is a skill. Training your emotional intelligence or EQ is a great way to acquire this skill. EQ training builds self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness. Within these competencies are competencies such as

  • Recognizing emotional states such as bored or distracted
  • Managing impulses
  • Setting goals
  • Organizing tasks
  • Identifying problems
  • Understanding different perspectives

Teaching these skills in schools helps kids be more mindful in learning. It also helps them be more mindful after the graduate and join the workforce. So it’s no wonder that both Apollo Robbins and Joe Stafura count major companies, nonprofits, and government agencies among their clients. They’re all looking for more mindful ways to pay attention. 

jay levine

Jay Levin on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

BigEQ Executive Director Jay Levin was recently interviewed by leadership blogger Adam Mendler.

The interview covered many topics. Below are excerpts pertaining to leadership and emotional intelligence.


Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts and your advice. First things first, though, what is the Big EQ Campaign all about? How did you come up with the vision and what do you hope to achieve? 

Jay: When I was young, I was fascinated by the question of why do humans do the painful things to each other we do and have so much emotional pain in life. Life seemed to be full of pain, conflict, disappointment, heartbreak, and depression. Couldn’t we do better? How come society could often be so dysfunctional – and could it be changed for the better?

As a young journalist, I followed these questions into covering the human development movement. That work taught me that people need two kinds of skills to live a successful and positive life. One skill is the ability to transform your own and other’s emotional and mental reactiveness. The other skill is creating more caring ways of relating to yourself and others–and life itself–no matter the circumstances.

Raising emotional intelligence is the key to a loving and peaceful world – and it can and must be learned if this species has any chance of survival in the nuclear age and when we seem on the verge of potential ecocide. The easiest definition of EQ is the ability to manage yourself, your emotions, your career and all your relationships with others in a caring and productive way. Manage your entire life this way.

Adam: How can CEOs and executives become more emotionally intelligent leaders? What are tangible steps they can take? 

Jay: The first, most important tangible step is deep and honest self-reflection and caring about how you affect others. If your workplace is not collegial and a warm cooperative atmosphere with loyal productive employees and based on healthy relationships,  you need to look in the mirror and take a deep self-reflective account of yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask those around you what they need from you and the changes they would like to see. Then find yourself an excellent executive coach whose focus includes empathy training. At a minimum, go take a course in non-violent or compassionate communications. 

The start of emotional intelligence is acknowledging the dysfunction you might be triggering for others and that you developed along the way, understanding how you are wounded and when you are not authentic. Then you can start addressing how that impacts your relationship with yourself and with your colleagues. 

Basically it is about healthy relationships. I highly recommend Keith Ferrazzi’s book “Who’s Got Your Back” to every CEO who doesn’t already prioritize healthy relationships and hasn’t yet acquired the skills to manifest them.

Adam: More broadly speaking, what are your best lessons in leadership? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Jay: The best leaders understand that they are in service to the people around them with whom they share a common purpose or vision. Letting go of the ego of leadership, and the underlying fear of having to deliver success single handedly, helps leaders and aspiring leaders to unlock the collective, collaborative power of the organization to achieve what a single person can’t. After all, that should be why we work together in the first place. 

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? Who are the best leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them? 

Jay: Often, people are given the title of leader in an organization because they excel at execution, getting things done. No one tells them that leaders are those who get things done by working with and through other people, by building the organization that gets things done. That’s a completely different skill set than being proficient in your own personal, professional capacity. Building the organization doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and being a good doer doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a good builder. 

Adam: What makes a great executive coach? What are your best tips for fellow coaches? 

Jay: Here’s what I would look for in a coach, and what I try to provide to others: A person who who straight talks with you AND at the same time is your biggest cheerleader because he/she really gets you. Someone who can show you the big picture so your view of the world and yourself is larger and your thinking is corrected. 

A great coach is a skills trainer, not a judge. You feel safe learning that your limitations are only a product of bad training and societal misthinking which you have been inoculated into, So the coach makes you feel like a happy learner rather than an asshole. Someone who presents as your best ally, maybe even as a best friend, because he or she is easy to be with and who is naturally caring and interesting.

Someone who can guide you out of stress and into a higher level of functionality.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Jay: Follow your strengths. When I needed a break from journalism and media, I signed up for a master’s degree program in spiritual psychology. It was a continuation of those burning questions from childhood about why we do what we do. The advice, the message that I got from that program, was to follow my strengths. In the program, I discovered that I had a surprising-to-me natural gift for coaching, so much so that other students started asking to come to my home to work with me. I said yes to the adventure that my strengths were revealing to me and within a year, with no promotion by me, I was seeing 25 clients a week, all via word of mouth.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward? 

Jay: If everyone grew their emotional intelligence and shared that intelligence with those around them, that would build a more supportive, sustainable, and happy world for those who come after us. It is for me the single best way to pay it forward. Again, if we keep child development in the old paradigm then we constantly recreate a world that has nukes pointed at all our heads. Emotional intelligence in its broadest sense is the best tool humanity has to evolve itself into a survivable paradigm. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Jay: Sure: Everybody could memorize two thoughts. First, the world is an effect and the cause is how we learn to be with ourselves and others. Second, almost all life’s stress and pain–personal and social and in our communities–derives from lack of EQ and relational skills, not from bad character.