Focusing on Potential, Emotional Intelligence, & Learning Agility

A paradigm shift in hiring practices. By prioritizing potential and emotional intelligence, organizations can build a workforce capable of thriving in complex and changing environments.


Mark Langlie, TalentWyze Co-Founder

A circle of smiley faces depicting a variety of emotions.
A circle of smiley faces depicting a variety of emotions.

I often get teased for my insistence on leveraging competencies when hiring. I get it— a thorough job development process requires effort upfront. We all want shortcuts, especially in hiring, which is the biggest expense many managers are responsible for. But taking shortcuts can lead to costly, long-lasting problems. The costs of a “bad hire” can be frighteningly high, with some research suggesting it can be up to 3X the initial salary. That means a misaligned hire with a $200K per year salary could end up costing your organization more than half a million dollars.

Traditional signals like IQ, experience, and education have long been the standard for hiring decisions. However, recent research and thought leadership emphasize the importance of potential and emotional intelligence (EI) as more reliable predictors of success. Don’t get me wrong, assessing cognitive ability is crucial, but without balancing IQ, EI, and experience, your chances of accurately predicting success diminish considerably.

Here are three competencies often missed during the job-building and recruiting processes:

Potential refers to an individual's capacity to grow and adapt to increasingly complex roles and environments. It's about identifying candidates who are not just fit for the current job but are also capable of taking on greater responsibilities in the future. Key traits of potential include:

  • Motivation: The drive to achieve beyond expectations and a passion for challenges.

  • Curiosity: A deep desire to learn and explore new ideas and experiences.

  • Insight: The ability to gather and make sense of information, seeing patterns where others see complexity.

  • Engagement: The capability to connect with others emotionally and work collaboratively.

  • Determination: Resilience and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

EI involves understanding and managing one's own emotions, as well as recognizing and influencing the emotions of others. High EI is particularly valuable in roles requiring collaboration, leadership, and interpersonal interactions. Key traits of EI include:

  • Self-Awareness: Recognizing and understanding one's own emotions.

  • Self-Regulation: Managing and controlling one's emotions and impulses.

  • Motivation: Inner drive to achieve beyond expectations.

  • Empathy: Understanding and sharing the feelings of others.

  • Social Skills: Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks.

  • Adaptability: Adjusting emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to changing situations.

  • Stress Management: Remaining calm and composed under pressure.

  • Optimism: Expecting favorable outcomes even in the face of challenges.

  • Interpersonal Skills: Building and maintaining healthy relationships through effective communication.

Adaptability and Learning Agility

In today adaptability and learning agility are essential. Korn Ferry emphasizes learning agility as a market differentiator. These qualities enable individuals to learn from experiences and adapt to new situations effectively. Key traits of adaptability and learning agility include:

  • Flexibility: Adjusting to new conditions and modifying approaches.

  • Resilience: Recovering quickly from setbacks and maintaining focus.

  • Open-Mindedness: Considering new ideas and perspectives.

  • Tolerance for Ambiguity: Comfort with uncertainty and the unknown.

  • Curiosity: Strong desire to learn, explore, and understand new things.

  • Insight: Discernment of patterns and connections that others might miss.

  • Self-Awareness: Understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses, and impact.

  • Experimentation: Trying new approaches and taking risks to learn.

  • Feedback Orientation: Seeking and using feedback to improve.

  • Collaboration: Working effectively with others to learn and achieve goals.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a prominent thought leader, writes extensively about these topics in the Harvard Business Review. His book, Great People Decisions, is a favorite of mine. His firm followed 10,000 managers throughout their careers and found that emotional intelligence was the biggest factor in predicting higher salaries and promotions. Not IQ, not experience, and not education. While all these assessments are important, EI is what pushed these professionals to greater heights.

The research and insights from thought leaders like Fernández-Aráoz highlight a paradigm shift in hiring practices. By prioritizing potential and emotional intelligence, organizations can build a workforce capable of thriving in complex and changing environments. Adopting these strategies will not only improve hiring outcomes but also contribute to long-term organizational success.

Strategies to Incorporate Potential and EI into Your Hiring Process
  • Revise Job Descriptions: Focus on the potential for growth and the ability to adapt, rather than just past experience and credentials.

  • Behavioral Interviews: Use questions that assess how candidates have demonstrated motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination in previous roles.

  • Development Programs: Invest in training programs that nurture and develop potential and EI within your existing workforce.

Statements like, “He worked at XYZ company!” “She has a Master’s from XYZ school!” or “He’s got 20 years of experience!” are all signals to consider. However, to accurately predict performance, we must include well-aligned competencies and place more weight on traits like emotional intelligence.

Do you still want a shortcut? Contact our team at TalentWyze. Our methodology is backed by science, and our frameworks are implemented quickly.


O'Boyle, E., Humphrey, R., Pollack, J., Hawver, T., & Story, P. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Cherniss, C., & Goleman, D. (2001). The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace: How to Select For, Measure, and Improve Emotional Intelligence in Individuals, Groups, and Organizations. Jossey-Bass.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. Emotional Intelligence: New Ability or Eclectic Traits?. American Psychologist.

Bar-On, R. The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema.

Fernández-Aráoz, C. (2014). It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best. Harvard Business Review Press.