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Ethics and Emotional Intelligence

The Importance of Ethics and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Ethics and Emotional Intelligence together shape a leadership style that fosters trust, nurtures talent, and inspires loyalty.

Leadership is the art of guiding, inspiring, and motivating a group towards a shared goal. But what makes a leader effective? Today, we’ll write about two key ingredients: ethics and emotional intelligence.

Great leadership is more than just strategic planning and delegation—it’s about understanding emotions and doing the right thing. In this post we’re about to explore how these two elements intersect and supercharge leadership!

Emotional Intelligence and Ethical Decision-Making

As a leader, you’re faced with a tough decision. It’s the end of the quarter, the numbers aren’t adding up, and you have to make a choice that could impact your team’s morale and the company’s bottom line. What do you do?

This is where Emotional Intelligence (EI) comes into play. Emotional intelligence is about identifying, understanding, and controlling our own emotions as well as the emotions of others. It is what allows us to negotiate difficult situations with elegance and composure.

Here’s how it works: EI is essential in making ethical decisions. Consider this: ethics is all about determining what is right and wrong. But, in order to do so effectively, we must first comprehend the emotional implications of our choices. For example, if we understand the emotional impact of layoffs on our team, we may seek alternate cost-cutting approaches that protect jobs and morale.

Ethics and Emotional Intelligence

In the 1980s, Ford Motor Company faced significant challenges, including a lack of innovation, poor employee morale, and financial instability that threatened bankruptcy. The company needed strong and decisive leadership to navigate these issues.

Enter Donald Petersen, who became CEO in 1980. Petersen’s leadership style diverged from his predecessors as he emphasized the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI)—the ability to understand, manage, and use emotions effectively.

Petersen believed that harnessing EI was key to enacting change at Ford. He prioritized employee engagement and ethical decision-making, striking a balance between company finances and the well-being of his employees and customers.

One of Petersen’s notable moves was initiating the “Team Taurus” project, where employees at all levels contributed to the design and production of the Ford Taurus. This strategic and ethical decision boosted employee morale, improved product quality, and increased customer satisfaction, playing a crucial role in Ford’s revival.

Petersen also applied EI in understanding customer needs on an emotional level, leading to innovations that resonated with consumers and boosted sales.

In essence, Petersen’s application of emotional intelligence, coupled with ethical leadership, was instrumental in navigating Ford through its crisis in the 1980s. His ability to manage and utilize emotions ethically transformed Ford’s fortunes, demonstrating the power of EI in leadership.

Source: Chicago tribune

Importance of Ethics in Leadership

Let’s shift gears and talk about ethics in leadership. I know, ethics may sound like a dry topic, but it’s the secret sauce that turns good leaders into great ones. I have written a blog in which I investigated ethical leadership by looking at it through the eyes of John C. Maxwell, Brené Brown, and Simon Sinek. 

In a world where corporate scandals make headlines, ethical leadership is more critical than ever. It’s what builds trust, fosters loyalty, and promotes a positive work culture.

And guess what? It’s good for business, too. According to a study by the Ethisphere Institute, companies with strong ethical leadership significantly outperform those without.

Role of Emotional Intelligence in Creating an Ethical Work Environment

Picture your ideal workplace. What do you see? A place where everyone is treated with respect, where honesty and transparency reign, and where your well-being is a priority. Sounds dreamy, right? Well, emotionally intelligent leaders can help make this dream a reality.

Here is the clue. An emotionally intelligent leader can sense the unspoken undercurrents of the workplace. They understand their employees’ feelings, which allows them to address potential issues before they spiral out of control. By showing empathy, they foster a culture of trust and mutual respect.

This kind of emotionally intelligent leadership can also create a more ethical work environment. When leaders handle emotions with care, employees feel valued and are less likely to engage in unethical behavior.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, is an excellent example of a business that integrates ethics and emotional intelligence into its organizational culture. This approach manifests in their commitment to environmental sustainability, fair trade, and employee well-being.

Patagonia prioritizes environmental sustainability by using organic and recycled materials and promoting a circular economy through their “Worn Wear” program. They understand and acknowledge the emotional bond their stakeholders have with the environment, which enhances brand loyalty.

In terms of fair trade, Patagonia ensures fair wages and safe working conditions in its supply chain. This reflects their empathy towards the challenges faced by workers in their industry, demonstrating emotional intelligence in their business practices.

Finally, the company emphasizes employee well-being by offering benefits like on-site childcare and flexible working hours, showing understanding and consideration for their employees’ needs.

As a result of this ethical and emotionally intelligent approach, Patagonia has enjoyed substantial loyalty from customers, employees, and partners, along with impressive business success and revenue growth. This demonstrates how the integration of ethics and emotional intelligence can lead to exceptional business outcomes.

Ethics and Emotional Intelligence

Ethics and Emotional Intelligence in Organizational Culture

Let’s weave this tapestry together. Ethics is the thread that holds an organization together, and emotional intelligence is the needle that weaves this thread through every aspect of a company’s culture. Together, they can create a vibrant, resilient fabric that strengthens the entire organization.

An organization that values both ethics and emotional intelligence fosters a culture where people feel safe to voice their opinions, where diversity is celebrated, and where ethical behavior is the norm, not the exception. It’s a culture where leaders lead by example, showing empathy and making ethical decisions, and employees follow suit.

What the secret is of such a culture? Well, it starts with developing emotionally intelligent and ethically sound leaders. 

Developing Ethical Leaders through Emotional Intelligence Training

Imagine a world where leaders aren’t just good at making plans, but also care about people and do the right thing. Where leaders understand their feelings and use them to make choices that are morally sound. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But this isn’t a far-fetched idea. It’s achievable through emotional intelligence training.

Emotional intelligence is like a muscle—the more you train it, the stronger it gets. Leaders who undergo EI training learn to understand their own emotions, manage them effectively, and recognize and respond to the emotions of others. This emotional acuity can significantly influence their decision-making process, pushing them towards more ethical choices.

One effective technique is experiential learning, which involves putting leaders in situations that test their emotional intelligence and ethics. Role-playing sessions, for example, that model difficult judgments can help leaders improve empathy and ethical decision-making.

Take Google’s “Adversity to Advocacy” program, for example. This initiative was designed to help leaders understand their emotional reactions to adversity and use this understanding to advocate for themselves and others more effectively. The result? A fleet of leaders equipped to make ethical decisions, even in high-pressure situations.


Let’s take a moment to think about what we’ve learned about the interesting ways that emotional intelligence and ethics join together in leadership. We’ve seen how emotional intelligence can help people make ethical decisions, how important ethical leadership is in today’s business world, and how this dynamic duo can help an organization’s culture grow and thrive.

The main point? To be a good leader, you need more than just a smart mind. You also need a wise heart.

By developing emotional intelligence and championing ethics, you can become a leader who inspires trust, fosters a positive work culture, and guides your team towards success.

This isn’t a distant dream—it’s a goal you can achieve with dedication, self-reflection, and continuous learning.

So, here’s my challenge to you: Take the first step towards becoming a more emotionally intelligent and ethical leader today. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards—for you, your team, and your organization—are worth it!

Ethics and Emotional Intelligence


This journey is backed by research, expert opinions, and real-life stories. Here are the sources that guided us through this exploration:

  1. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books.
  2. The Ethisphere Institute. (2017). World’s Most Ethical Companies.
  3. Petersen, D. (1989). A Billion Dollars a Day: The Marketing and Management of Megaprojects. Wiley.
  4. Burke, J. (1985). The Tylenol Crisis: How Effective Public Relations Saved Johnson & Johnson. PRSA.
  5. Nadella, S. (2017). Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. HarperBusiness.
  6. Chouinard, Y. (2006). Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. Penguin Books.
  7. Google. (2019). Adversity to Advocacy Program Report.

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