How Purpose and Emotional Intelligence Blend

Dan Goleman examines the relationship between two of the most talked-about components of leadership.

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Who at your workplace has gone out of their way to help you recently?

It’s likely this person represents something beyond ordinary kindness—they typify being willing to help in ways that go beyond their own job description to lend a hand when others need it. When an employee is willing to help outside the standard reward system for a given position, this is sometimes called being “a good organizational citizen.” Being a good citizen at work can look like offering to help a coworker who is swamped by taking over some of their tasks, or even helping clean up after an internal company event.

Good organizational citizenship is one of many ideas I explain with my co-author Cary Cherniss in our forthcoming book, Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. In Optimal, we share a meta-analysis of more than 16,000 employees that showed that those with higher emotional intelligence, or EI, were more likely to be good organizational citizens. While we focus on sharing the latest research about EI in the workplace, we also offer insight into skills that can further a sense of meaning and purpose at work.

After all, EI is at the core of how we understand what matters to us and what we want for the world. Competencies like self-awareness help us know what we value and what motivates us. Empathy helps us look outside of ourselves and connect in a caring way to the emotions of others. Influence helps us persuade others of the importance of a shared mission. And organizational awareness keeps us attuned to the larger system, recognizing who has the power and status to help us move forward on bigger agendas.

It’s no wonder emotional intelligence and purpose have both become so critical to the conversation around work, leadership, and organizational culture. Empirical evidence from workplace research suggests that greater levels of EI make you more productive and engaged, and improve your performance in any job, at every stage. They help you go further in your career, be better at sales, be more effective, and feel more satisfied with your job and committed to your work. They even contribute to your being in better health. These benefits, which we explore in Optimal, correlate with a strong sense of meaning – things like increased engagement, increased profit, and higher levels of overall well-being.

In many ways, EI and purpose are like overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. Together, they form the crux of what keeps employees feeling happy, respected, engaged, and motivated to do more than just clock in and out each day. In contrast, people with lower EI are more likely to engage in problem habits, such as loafing, bullying, and lateness.

If leaders want employees to think and act with a sense of purpose, they need to do more than inspire them with the corporate mission. They need to help employees build the competencies that allow them to get in touch with their own sense of caring.

For many individuals and teams, emotional intelligence may be exactly where the purpose journey begins – by looking within, looking without, and seeing their connection to the world around them. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.