Why John Oliver Is Wrong About Emotional Intelligence

And I really LOVE John Oliver and Last Week Tonight

John Oliver makes fun of emotional intelligence in one of his segments; not in a witty, intelligent way, but in a bullying, ignorant way. It feels somehow out-of-character for the show that saved Net-neutrality.

So, What’s The Problem?

In this Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver shows a clip that states this about Canada’s new Prime Minister-designate: while he may not possess the intellectual genius his father did, he has an emotional intelligence that his father did not. In response, John Oliver goes on a short rant about the worthlessness of emotional intelligence, comparing it to “actual intelligence.” He says the following:

“Emotional intelligence. That is the kind of made-up quality you might find on the report card of a Montessori school.”

To use your word John, Ouch.

How Is That A Problem?

Mr. Oliver, along with the writers and staff at Last Week Tonight, crusades for worthy causes and calls out people on their unfair behavior. He’s advocated for things like Net-neutrality and called out Sepp Blatter on corrupt practices at FIFA. As Time puts it, the show has “crashed websites, boosted donations, and inspired legislation.” Last Week Tonight = the Good Guys.

That’s why I was surprised to hear John talk so harshly about emotional intelligence. It’s precisely the lack of emotional intelligence that allows e.g. internet companies to try squeezing extra profit through legislation or corrupt sports organizations to financially exploit their host countries.

John Oliver takes internet providers to task on Net neutrality legislation

By trashing emotional intelligence, especially as strongly as this, John is perpetuating the widely-held belief that emotional intelligence is made up and worthless. I’m convinced that Last Week Tonight has inadvertently trained its high-powered weapon of influence on an innocent bystander.

The World Needs More Emotional Intelligence

So, I’m advocating for emotional intelligence and calling out the writing team at Last Week Tonight on its collective oversight. Hey, these things happen: the creative process can get messy! I just want to set the record straight.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some other people have to say about why emotional intelligence is important, and it’s no more made up than Playboy’s “Sexy John Oliver” Halloween costume.

John Oliver reacts to his Halloween doppelgänger Pamela Horton


Brent Gleeson, Forbes:

“As a Navy SEAL veteran, entrepreneur, and leader of one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies in the country, I have experienced many emotions and become very aware of how those emotions can have a positive or negative effect on my ability to inspire and lead a team.”

Andrea Ovans, Harvard Business Review:

“An understanding of what exactly constitutes emotional intelligence is important not only because the capacity is so central to leadership but because people strong in some of its elements can be utterly lacking in others, sometimes to disastrous effect.”

Harvey Deutschendorf, Fast Company:

“Numerous studies have shown a positive relationship between emotionally intelligent leadership and employee satisfaction, retention, and performance.”


Travis Bradberry, Entrepreneur:

“…among the 1 million-plus people that TalentSmart has tested — 90% of top performers have high EQs. They earn an average of $28,000 more per year than their low-EQ counterparts do.”

Hasan Dincer, et al., Strategic Management Conference Proceedings:

“…managers as strategic decision makers play a crucial role and they need emotional intelligence and innovative work behavior together which provide them to make decisions effectively.”

Chade-Meng Tan, on the Emotional Intelligence course at Google:

“Emotional-intelligence skills support collaboration, more open communication, more transparency and less posturing, less ego, and more people working for the greater good and for the purpose of the organization succeeding.”


Joshua Freedman, COO of Six Seconds:

“The whole point of intelligence is to look ahead and solve problems — mathematical intelligence helps us solve numerical problems; emotional intelligence helps us solve human problems.”

Let’s change this perception together, for more emotional intelligence, and for a fair, sustainable, empathic world.