It’s impossible to quantify whether emotional intelligence can truly be taught. But I’m convinced we all have deeper reserves that can be tapped with one simple gesture: opening up. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that the least empathetic managers are also the ones who are most unforgiving to themselves in times of trial – be it divorce, or financial duress, or even illness. These pent up balls of repression seem intent on proving their mental toughness by responding to every personal crisis with the same mantra: I’m okay.

Well you’re not okay – as an individual or as a manager. When you deny yourself space to heal, or absolution for your perceived sins, you resent extending that same courtesy to others. Your lack of empathy puts a low ceiling on relationships and leadership. You cannot truly see the full range of potential in others because the stoic image you project is only skin deep.

I was that person when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 32. I took just one day off of work for the surgery – as if coming back with a giant ice pack in place of my once-taken-for-granted, now missing piece of anatomy would prove that I was no less a man.

All it proved was that I wasn’t comfortable with any vulnerability. I spent a month enduring every indignity that accompanies testicular cancer (in addition to talking about it), not limited to sperm banking, radiation and roaming around Sloane Kettering in those flattering gowns that let it all hang out.

But something changed when I came out the other side wearing the new moniker ‘cancer survivor.’ Talking about something so taboo pried open a new side of me, where for the first time in my life, I could be honest about my inner demons. In time, empathy took root where resentment once festered. I wanted to soothe anyone who was also struggling to hide their pain – divorce, cancer, a failed business – you name it, I felt it.

In conversations, I suddenly had the urge to go below the surface, where real life happens. It was like a new world opened up to me, one that was heartbreaking and beautiful. And it made me a better leader.

So my advice to anyone deficient in the EQ department: Dare to share just a little bit of what torments you (start in the comments below if you’re feeling brave!) And watch the world embrace you – as your EQ skyrockets.


  • Matt Higgins

    Cofounder and CEO

    RSE Ventures

    Matt Higgins is a noted serial entrepreneur and growth equity investor as cofounder and CEO of private investment firm RSE Ventures. He is also vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins, a recurring Shark on ABC’s four-time Emmy-Award-winning TV show Shark Tank, and Executive Fellow at the Harvard Business School. Higgins began his career in public service as a journalist before becoming the youngest mayoral press secretary in New York City at 26, where he managed the global media response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. He became one of the first employees – and ultimately Chief Operating Officer – of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the federally funded government agency created to plan the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. Higgins helped organize the largest international design competition in history culminating in Reflecting Absence, the September 11th National Memorial, and the development of the 1,776-feet-tall One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the northern hemisphere. Higgins cofounded New York City based RSE Ventures in 2012, amassing a multi-billion-dollar investment portfolio of leading brands across sports and entertainment, media and marketing, consumer and technology industries – including several of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. RSE has successfully backed many challenger brands from inception, including RESY, an Open Table competitor that American Express acquired in 2019; the world's premier drone racing circuit, the Drone Racing League; and the International Champions Cup, the largest privately owned soccer tournament featuring Europe’s top clubs. Higgins is also co-owner of VaynerMedia, founded by digital marketing expert Gary Vaynerchuk, and a partner in early-stage venture fund Vayner/RSE. In 2013, Higgins cofounded Derris, a brand strategy and communications firm that has helped grow many leading brands such as Warby Parker and Glossier. In 2016, he broadened RSE’s investment focus to rapidly expanding fine dining and fast casual concepts, including David Chang’s Momofuku and Fuku, Milk Bar, &pizza and Bluestone Lane. Higgins received his BA in political science from Queens College and his JD from Fordham Law, where he was a member of the Fordham Law Review. He was named a Top 40 Under 40 executive by Crain’s New York and by Sports Business Journal. In 2019, Higgins received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor – joining the ranks of seven former U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners and others who have made it their mission to share their knowledge, compassion and generosity with those less fortunate. He is a longstanding board member of Autism Speaks.