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  • Beth Ouellette

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence and Ethical Leadership: A Path to Success for Effective Leaders


In today's rapidly changing, multi-faceted, and interconnected world, the need for leaders who possess both emotional intelligence (EI) and ethical leadership skills has never been more critical. This article delves into the core components of EI, project leadership, and ethical leadership, and offers validation, insights, and practical strategies to integrate these qualities into project and program leadership roles.


Effective leadership encompasses not only technical skills and cognitive abilities but also emotional intelligence and ethical decision-making.  By understanding the building blocks and intricacies of emotional intelligence and ethical leadership, individuals can navigate challenges, foster meaningful relationships, and drive success in both personal and professional arenas.

Emotional Intelligence:

In today's multi-faceted, dynamic, and interconnected world, emotional intelligence (EI) is increasingly recognized as a critical factor for success.  Coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in 1998, emotional intelligence encompasses a set of skills that enable individuals to navigate their emotions, understand others, and build meaningful relationships.  

Daniel Goleman's framework of emotional intelligence identifies four primary components of emotional intelligence: emotional awareness, emotional expression, controlling emotions, and relationship management[1]. These are detailed below:

Emotional awareness involves recognizing and understanding one's own emotions. It requires individuals to tune into their feelings, identify their triggers, and acknowledge the impact of emotions on their thoughts and behavior. This self-awareness lays the foundation for effectively managing emotions and making informed decisions.

Emotional expression entails the ability to communicate one's feelings constructively. It involves expressing emotions openly and authentically while considering the context and impact on others. Effective emotional expression fosters transparency, enhances interpersonal communication, and promotes mutual understanding.

Controlling emotions involves regulating one's emotional responses in various situations. It requires individuals to manage impulses, handle stressors effectively, and maintain composure under pressure. By developing emotional self-regulation skills, individuals can avoid reactive behaviors and respond thoughtfully to challenges.

Relationship management encompasses the ability to navigate social interactions and build positive connections with others. It involves empathy, conflict resolution, and effective communication skills. Strong relationship management fosters collaboration, fosters trust, and enhances teamwork in both personal and professional settings.


These components serve as pillars for developing a robust Emotional Quotient, and these components are organized through the four quadrants of EI that we have all come to know and perhaps even love: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Research by Daniel Goleman highlights the significance of emotional intelligence in leadership effectiveness. Corporate executives and leaders identify emotional intelligence as a critical trait for top performers and leaders, alongside cognitive strengths: intelligence quotient and technical skills. As individuals progress within organizations, emotional intelligence becomes increasingly valued and required for success.  Goleman found that 85% was allocated to EI, and the remaining 15% split between technical skills and IQ[2].  This validation further heightens this necessary skillset that is not only valuable to individuals but also invaluable to organizations.

Cultivating and growing emotional intelligence involves recognizing and regulating emotions, empathizing with others, and fostering positive relationships.  Once these are mastered, or even in process, leadership components can be the next focus.  These are integrated in the Program and Project Leadership where there is a need for inspirational leadership, strong communications, and conflict management. These can be a challenging set of skills to balance – and with a heightened EQ, it can be done masterfully. 

For truly effective leadership, the melding of emotional intelligence (EI) and ethical leadership practices becomes a synergistic force for driving positive change and fostering an authentic culture. Emotional intelligence serves as the foundation upon which effective leadership is built.  Leaders who possess high EI demonstrate traits such as inspirational leadership, emotional discipline, healthy self-confidence, influence, and a drive for success.  These attributes enable leaders to inspire and motivate others, navigate challenges with resilience, and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration. 

Ethical Leadership:

Ethical leadership is rooted in values such as responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty. Project and program leaders who embody ethical leadership demonstrate authenticity, make decisions guided by integrity, and prioritize the well-being of their teams and stakeholders. Integrating emotional intelligence with ethical leadership promotes better decision-making, fosters psychological safety, and cultivates trust within organizations.

To “Connect the Dots for Success” we need to acknowledge the synergy between emotional intelligence and ethical leadership for truly effective leadership.  Effective leaders possess the self-awareness to recognize their own emotions and the emotional context of others.  They prioritize building relationships based on trust, transparency, and open communication.  By embracing empathy, influencing positively, and fostering collaboration, effective leaders create environments conducive to growth, innovation, and ethical conduct.

The Role of the Emotional Intelligence Components in Ethical Leadership are described next:

Self-awareness promotes authenticity and enables leaders to understand their emotions, motivations, and values. Ethical leaders who are in tune with themselves make better decisions and avoid biases that may compromise ethical integrity.

Self-management enables continued self-regulation of emotions and behaviors. Ethical leaders who can manage their emotions effectively exhibit emotional discipline, make intentional decisions, and avoid impulsive reactions that may lead to unethical behaviors.

Social awareness fosters empathy and enables leaders to understand the emotions and perspectives of others. Ethical leaders who practice 2-way communication create open environments where people feel heard, valued, and respected.

Relationship management involves navigating emotions, fostering transparency, and promoting open dialogues. Ethical leaders who prioritize psychological safety and collaboration build trust and cohesion within teams, facilitating purposeful decision-making and conflict resolution.

Practical Strategies to integrate EI and Ethical Leadership:

Achieving emotional intelligence success involves inward, outward, and upward focus. Inward focus centers on self-awareness and self-management, encouraging individuals to recognize their emotions, motivations, and behavioral patterns. Outward focus emphasizes social awareness and relationship management, enabling individuals to understand and connect with others effectively. Upward focus integrates emotional intelligence into leadership competence, emphasizing the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership roles.

Leaders can become more effective and enhance their ethical leadership and EI skills through specific strategies.  A sampling of good approaches include:

  • Recognize and regulate personal emotions in challenging situations

  • Understand and adapt to team members' emotional context

  • Build trust and relationships through open and honest communication

  • Lead with enthusiasm, confidence, and self-assurance

  • Monitor relationships and address conflicts promptly to maintain trust and collaboration


To enhance emotional intelligence and ethical leadership skills, leaders can engage in various exercises and practices. These may include some of the following:

  • Reflecting on past decisions

  • Seeking feedback from trusted colleagues

  • Participating in online quizzes to assess emotional intelligence and ethical practices

Through integrating self-confidence, empathy, influence, and collaboration into their leadership style, individuals can nurture a culture of trust, integrity, and accountability.


Wrap and Action:

Emotional intelligence serves as a cornerstone for personal and professional development.  By understanding and cultivating the key components of emotional intelligence, using these for leading teams, and integrating ethical practices, individuals can enhance their emotional quotient, navigate challenges with resilience, and foster honest, positive relationships.  The journey of becoming an emotionally intelligent and ethically grounded leader is ongoing and multi-faceted.  Ethical leadership and emotional intelligence are intertwined concepts that elevate leadership effectiveness and promote organizational integrity. Integrating EI skills with ethical values, effective leaders will create environments where trust, respect, and accountability flourish, driving sustained success.   By embracing the practices of emotional intelligence and ethical leadership, individuals can navigate complexities with clarity, inspire teams towards shared goals, and leave a positive impact on their organizations and communities.

As Charles Swindoll aptly puts it, "Life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how you react to it." Thus, investing in effective leadership is essential for thriving in today's complex and dynamic world.   By integrating emotional intelligence and ethical leadership into their daily lives and leadership practices, individuals can unlock their full potential and cultivate thriving personal and professional environments.

Leonardo da Vinci observed that “It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”  You can be that force too.  Thank you for considering the importance of emotional intelligence and ethical leadership in your continuous improvement journey.


"Emotional Intelligence Test." Psychology Today,

"EQ Test: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?" Psych Central,

Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ." Bantam Books, 1998.

Goleman, Daniel. "Working with Emotional Intelligence." Bantam Books, 1998.

PMI Code of Ethics, Project Management Institute,

Swindoll, Charles. "Insight for Living."

Inspired by Talk-around-the-clock Conference, February 5, 2024 presentation "Key Soft Skills for Augmenting your Emotional Intelligence Competency." The Ouellette Group,



[1] Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ." Bantam Books, 1998.

 [2] Goleman on EI vs IQ

Bio: Beth Ouellette is an active PMI-global volunteer and fully engaged professional.   Working in over 40 countries, across multiple industries, she has set-up PMOs, mentored execs, trained teams, and facilitated successful outcomes. She understands the vital components of emotional intelligence and ethics throughout program/project management.  Currently on the Ethics Review Committee, she lends insights into effective, ethical leadership. 




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