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These Are the Most Important Skills—According to the Best Commencement Speakers of 2017

A round-up of the top 10 emotionally intelligent career tips

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, by the year 2020, emotional intelligence (EI) will be one of the top 10 job skills. That fact may provide insight as to why this year’s top commencement speeches were laced with themes of self-awareness, empathy and perseverance.

Psychologist and author of the New York Times bestseller “Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman, believes, “Emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

Goleman’s emotional intelligence model outlines five main EI constructs:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions
  2. Self-regulation: involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
  3. Social skill: managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Empathy: considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
  5. Motivation: being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

Top leaders in politics, media, business and entertainment sounded-off at commencement ceremonies across the nation on how they’ve embraced their own emotional intelligence to establish influence and affluence.

From Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Oscar Award Winning Actress Octavia Spencer, these personal testimonies of success explored the innate social and emotional skills—exclusive of external forces—that guarantee not only career achievement but life fulfillment.

Here are the emotionally intelligent ways of creating a life of significance according to the nation’s top commencement speakers of 2017.

Tip 1: “Give Beyond Yourself”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Empathy

“No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.”

Speaker: Will Ferrell

Commencement: University of Southern California


Tip 2: “You’re Nothing If You’re Not The Truth”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Self-Awareness

“So many people are worried about building a brand… For me it’s not a business, it’s a question of ‘Well, what do you stand for?’ And I will say this; you’re nothing if you’re not the truth. I’ve made a living; I’ve made a life, made a fortune really from being true to myself. The biggest reward is not financial benefit… it cannot fill up your life… but living a life of substance through your service can.”

Speaker: Oprah Winfrey

Commencement: Agnes Scott College


Tip 3: “You’re Going To Fail”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Self-Regulation

“You’re going to have tough days. You’re going to fall. You’re going to fail, but I see you and I love you.”

Speaker: Senator Cory Booker

Commencement: University of Pennsylvania


Tip 4 : “Don’t Just Think About Yourself”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Social Skill

“As soon as you understand that you are here because of a lot of help, then you also understand that now is the time to help others. That’s what this is all about. You got to help others. Don’t just think about yourself.”

Speaker: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Commencement: University of Houston


Tip 5: “Accomplishments Are Simply Acknowledgements”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Motivation

“Accomplishments are simply acknowledgements of your drive and focus—a sign that you are on the right track, but not the whole picture. The force of life is in the doing, the making, and the becoming.”

Speaker: Lauren Duca

Commencement: Bard College at Simon’s Rock


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Tip 6: “Be Humble, But Not Too Humble”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Self-Regulation

“Engage and inspire… talk about your accomplishments. Be humble, but not too humble. Don’t be invisible. The days of being an anonymous activist or participant are over.”

Speaker: Pharrell Williams

Commencement: New York University


Tip 7: “Change Is Coming”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Self-Awareness

“So know this, as much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming.”

Speaker: Octavia Spencer

Commencement: Kent State University


Tip 8: “Barge Forward”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Self-Regulation

“Throw caution to the winds, look fear straightaway in its ugly face and barge forward.”

Speaker: Dame Helen Mirren

Commencement: Tulane University


Tip 9: “Summon Your Empathy Toward Others”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Empathy

“Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.”

Speaker: Howard Schultz

Commencement: Arizona State University


Tip 10: “Create”

Emotional Intelligence Skill: Motivation

“Create! Don’t wait around for people to give you things to do. If you’re a writer, write; artist, paint; builder, build! Opportunities will come to you if you create them.”

Speaker: Maz Jobrani

Commencement: University of California Berkeley


According to a Careerbuilder Survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71% stated they valued emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ; 75% said they were more likely to promote a highly emotionally intelligent worker; and 59% claimed they’d pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence touches every area of life. This year’s commencement speakers tapped into their own emotions, prompting the nation’s future leaders to take their emotions by the horns and strive to reach the stars and beyond.

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