From The Wall Street Journal:

What makes for a good work day? We might fantasize about achieving a state of “flow”—so enamored with work that time seems to stand still. But for an average day at the office, that’s asking a bit much. Better, say Daniel Goleman and Cary Cherniss, to aim for “a very satisfying day, one where we feel we did well in ways that matter to us, were in a mood that facilitates what we did, and felt ready to take on whatever challenges came along.”

In “Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day,” Messrs. Goleman and Cherniss tout the concept of emotional intelligence as the key to entering this state. Emotional intelligence involves self-mastery and empathy, social skills and stress resilience—virtues that a cursory glance at social media reveals to be more rare than one might hope. Still, they can be found outside the internet, not least in a successful workplace. The authors, both psychologists, marshal what they’ve learned through years of studying emotional intelligence to argue that its skill set offers “a crucial advantage in today’s tough business climate.” At many top companies, nearly everyone has a high IQ, so effectiveness is determined by something else—namely, the ability to manage one’s emotions and inspire others to want to do their best.

All this is unexceptionable and rather familiar by now. So the authors spend much of “Optimal” insisting that this worldview is more radical than it seems, casting it in opposition to the supposed conventional wisdom that classroom intelligence is all that matters: “The standard view . . . assumes that what makes you successful in school and academics is all you need for success in your career.”

The authors are most convincing when they show how emotional intelligence does, practically, pay off for people and organizations. For instance, one financial company found that advisers “had difficulty talking with clients about buying life insurance—preparing for your death, or even thinking about it, can be awkward or even off-putting.” But the advisers who went through emotional competence training, learning how to have difficult conversations, generated more sales than those who didn’t.

The authors tell the stories of several leaders whose wise self-control and empathy kept situations in check—such as the district manager for a large food-services company who responded to an (unsubstantiated) workplace-safety complaint from a disgruntled employee by trying to figure out why she was so upset. The manager was able to help that employee through the family health crisis that had precipitated the desire to lash out.

The chief executive of an architecture and engineering company was emotionally intelligent enough not to give a pep talk when she addressed employees after a round of layoffs. Instead she talked about her own sadness, presumably at having to lose good workers and disrupt their lives and gave people space to speak about their concerns before discussing the next steps. “While there was lingering anxiety,” the authors write, “gradually the collective mood shifted toward enthusiasm about the company’s future—an emotional contagion built on reality; facing the sad facts, but then looking beyond.”

Folks who are not leading organizations can use emotional intelligence to improve their own situations. Messrs. Goleman and Cherniss share the wonderful story of Govan Brown, a New York City bus driver who aimed to transfer his own “ebullient mood” to his passengers—taking care of his flock, as he saw it, and ensuring that everyone got off the bus happier than when they got on.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)