The Future’s Only Certainty

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman explains why success in the marketplace will increasingly rely on emotional intelligence.

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. 

Given the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the business world, will you need a new set of abilities to thrive in coming years?

My friend Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, writing in the Harvard Business Review argues you will. Potential for success in the future, he predicts, will require five strengths: motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.

While these no doubt will have immense value, I see each of these “strengths for the future” as just different terminology for existing competencies of emotional intelligence – old wine in new bottles. Indeed, I’d argue he’s making the case that the coming workplace increasingly necessitates strengths in EI. 

Fernández-Aráoz describes the first component of potential—motivation—as “a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals.” People with this ability seek opportunities for growth while aspiring to ambitious, collective goals. The ability to articulate our goals and vision (which requires self-awareness) paired with a drive to learn and grow (part of achievement orientation) yields motivation. As the pace of change increases, there is ever greater value in organizations working toward shared goals, rooted in the greater good – not just because that’s the right thing to do, but also because those entering the workplace today value these goals more and more. And by taking initiative for our personal growth and committing to lifelong learning, we will be more likely to have the tools to take on a volatile world.

The second characteristic of potential—curiosity—is, according to Fernández-Aráoz, “a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change.” Adaptability, another EI competence, lets us be agile. People with strengths in adaptability do not balk at uncertainty. Rather, they welcome the challenges and possibilities new experiences and changes can bring.

Insight, the third quality of potential, is characterized by “the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.” In our changing world, the capacity to see opportunities where others would see setbacks can make or break a business. This ability nests in the positive outlook competency. When we approach the future with a positive mindset, we can hit targets others do not see.

The fourth characteristic, engagement, is “a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.” This defines the EI competence called “inspirational leadership.” Leaders who articulate a shared mission and connect with the people they lead create an environment where people can find meaning in their work and cultivate the conditions in which new ideas can flourish.

Determination comprises the fifth and final part of future potential: “the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity.” This describes another EI competence: emotional balance, also referred to as emotional self-control. Emotional balance enables us to effectively manage our disturbing emotions, even in stressful situations. And when something triggers us, we’re able to recover more quickly. In a volatile workplace, every leader needs to stay clear-headed, even amid a crisis.

Bottom line: emotional intelligence will always be essential for business. While we cannot predict the exact challenges we will face, emotional intelligence enables us to seek continual growth, to find opportunity in setbacks, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to pursue a meaningful work.   

Fernández-Aráoz points this out himself in another HBR article: “The hallmarks of potential—the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination—are also heavily based on emotional intelligence.”


Click here to learn about Daniel Goleman’s facilitated online courses.