On the second day of a two-day business and innovation event late last year, close to 2,500 executives sitting in the audience of Lincoln Center auditorium held their breath—literally—about 20 minutes into the first session.

Executive Summary

At a time when some insurance company leaders bemoan the lack of interest in our industry from the most tech-savvy individuals, and others worry about the diminishing pool of insurance experts from which to pull new hires, they may be looking for the wrong skills. Star performers in all industries are those with softer skills, according to psychologist Daniel Goleman. Hiring should be done with EI competencies in mind rather than IQ or professional experience to develop the next generation of leaders. This article highlights key points Goleman made during a presentation to executives in all industries last year at the World Business Forum in New York City.

Only the hypnotic voice of the man on stage, Daniel Goleman, could be heard for the next minute-and-a-half: “Close your eyes. Bring your awareness to your breath,” he said.

Instructing the listeners to breathe in fully, then out, he continued to guide them: “See if you can register a sensation of either your stomach or your chest going up and down with each breath—and if ever your mind wanders away and you notice it wandering, bring it back to your breath. Don’t try to control your breath. Just let it be natural and easy. Pay your entire attention to your breath. If you see you’re having thoughts, or you’re disturbed by sounds or anything, bring your attention back to your breath. Start with the next breath…”

Goleman, a psychologist who was introduced to the crowd at the World Business Forum (WOBI) as “the world’s indisputable authority on emotional intelligence,” was midway through his talk on the critical link between EI and leadership when he broke from his prepared slides to lead the mindfulness meditation. Connecting the exercise back to his more formal presentation, the point Goleman was making is that many of the competencies that define emotional intelligence can be taught and learned even in adulthood.

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