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What is Ethical Intelligence?

IQ, EQ and SI

You're probably somewhat aware of your IQ level, your degree of Intellectual Intelligence. This is measured in standardized tests and the results are determined by an agreed-upon criteria. There is ongoing debate whether your IQ is relatively fixed. 

You may even be aware of your EQ level, commonly known as Emotional Intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence is often blended into Mindfulness trainings, but if both are used as a means to "get ahead" or gain a "competitive edge," the pro-social benefits of each can be overshadowed by any uncleared, ego-driven shadow behaviors. Studies have shown that just because you are emotionally intelligent doesn't mean you behave ethically. In a comprehensive review of the dark side of emotional intelligence, Martin Kilduff, Chair of Organizational Behavior at University College London (and his co-authors) noted that emotionally intelligent people: “Intentionally shape their emotions to fabricate favorable impressions of themselves …The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.”  

In his May 2018 piece "Is Your Emotional Intelligence Authentic, or Self-Serving?" for Harvard Business Review, my friend Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, lists "... three of the more common counterfeits" he has seen "snare well-intended leaders":

≈ A need to be the hero disguised as empathy
≈ A need to be right masquerading as active listening
≈ A need for approval dressed up as self-awareness 


Social Intelligence (SI), which is measured by how well you get along with others, can also be used to influence people for self gain. Informal terms for social intelligence include "street smarts" and "common sense" - yet you've likely met someone who possesses these qualities but wasn't an honorable, ethical person. Social Intelligence includes having good verbal, listening and communication skills - but con artists are often quite adept in this area too. 

What about Mindfulness?


Mindfulness is an evolving state of conscious awareness that can be cultivated and enhanced in most human beings, and can benefit countless everyday life situations when we bring deliberate focus to what's happening in the present moment - inside of us and outside us. Mindful Awareness is being intentionally conscious of - and taking ownership for - the impact your thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors have upon you and every person or situation your life touches in any given moment - and there are no unimportant interactions, situations or moments. In other words, this is what is meant by the saying that every cause has an effect. Our thoughts turn into our choices and attitudes, which turn into our actions and behaviors - and the outcomes impact others as well as ourselves. Whether the effect is positive or negative is a reflection of both the intention and consciousness behind it, as well as the mindset, biases, triggers, etc. of the receiver(s), something we cannot control, even if we are thinking/doing/saying is what we consider to be "mindful."​​ The only thing we can control is being fully present and aware in every situation and interaction and do our best to not cause harm - and as fellow imperfect human beings, humbly make amends if we do.

Decisions both big and small are often made reactively - operating on autopilot, made impulsively and/or compulsively. They are often mind-less, arising from our unconscious awareness: e.g. the complete opposite of decisions made with intentionally conscious awareness of their impact upon ourselves and those within our sphere of influence. When thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors are unconscious, we can run into ethical blindness - which is driven by fear, again, often unconscious. We might lose the ability or insight to comprehend the ethical dimension of decisions we are making. Skills and strategies that prevent ethical blindness need to be implemented individually, organizationally, and socially​​​.


Mindfulness trainings that focus primarily on increasing attention, productivity and performance are attractive to those who are only interested in using those skills for self-advancement or having a "competitive advantage." Even the classic compassion and empathy practices taught can become self-serving: for example, narcissists by definition do not possess either quality - but since they are such great mimics, they can learn how to give off a great performance of expressing compassion and empathy when they know it will suit their purposes. Mindfulness has also become synonymous with purposely observing whatever is happening in the present moment, without judgment or reactivity. 


Yet sound judgment, critical thinking, and wise discernment are all essential qualities to possess in both our personal and professional lives. And as renowned teacher B. Alan Wallace once said, "A sniper hiding in the grass, waiting to shoot his enemy, may be quietly aware of whatever arises with each passing moment." What the mentally focused sniper is practicing is more accurately understood as "bare attention" without an ethical component, and so if highly focused attention and enhanced performance is your only objective, you will miss out on the fullness of what holistic Mindful Awareness can bring to your life - and how it impacts others. The ethical component is intentionally de-emphasized in many secular workplace mindfulness trainings - and that unfortunately resulted in many unintended consequences

Why Ethical Intelligence?

Ethical intelligence is not about self-righteousness. It is about the right use of self. Big difference.

Ethical intelligence is the conscious embodiment and courageous application of honorable principles, practices, and processes that cultivate compassion, cooperation and collaboration between individuals and groups across all interactions and situations, and through which elevates humane and sustainable insights, innovation, and interconnection. 

It embodies a mindset that is 100% committed to thinking, choosing and behaving with an unbreakable, purposeful habit of integrity that composes our identity: intrinsically woven with impeccability, character, humility, and courage.  It is the inner moral compass that constantly self-reflects and upgrades our Internal Operating System in every situation and interaction we find ourselves in, personally and professionally. It's owning the fact we are all imperfect human beings - and we all have the ability to grow, shed our old skin, and evolve - or  "learn, unlearn and relearn" as Alvin Toffler states. 

​Ethics - a code of embodied, guiding universal principles that shape and govern our behavior regarding right and wrong - has often been left to discussions in university philosophy classes, or rules imposed through strict religious doctrines, unquestioned dogma or "motivational/inspirational" posters that proclaim great-sounding platitudes to be adopted at work - that often no one pays much attention to. It is easy to get confused by the difference between ethics and morals, and this may be helpful:


"Many people use Morals and Ethics interchangeably and for good reason; if you look up the definition of morals it will reference ethics in a somewhat circular definition, same goes if you look up ethics. I will make an important distinction. Ethics represents innate knowledge of right/wrong distinctions. Ethics transcends culture, religion, and time.

"Morals are culturally and religiously based distinctions of right/wrong. The sphere of morality does overlap the sphere of ethics which makes distinctions between the two difficult. Morality claims knowledge of ethics but it does so through culturally based assertions, namely through religion. It is for this reason, morality has a religious connotation. Both terms denote a knowledge of right and wrong actions but the foundations of that knowledge are divergent." - from


Focusing upon authentically cultivating honorable character overall rather than the details of any one action - considering the influence of human being upon human doing - helps us transcend the tendency of the ego to think one ethical belief system is "better than" another, an error in thinking that leads to elitism, bias, and division. 

"Ethical blindness is a temporary and unconscious deviation from one's own values. It is important, to understand that ethical blindness is not the same as unethical behaviour. It is just the increasing inability to see the ethical dimension of what, on deciding. But ethical blindness increases the probability, of unethical behavior. So, in many cases, unethical decision making is less rational and less deliberate, than we think. But more intuitive and automatic. And a specific circumstances, the ethical aspect of a decision, might fade away. How is that possible? Our main assumption is that unethical decisions in organizations have less to do with a person making the decision, and more with the context in which they make their decision. Contexts can be stronger than reason, stronger than values and good intentions." - Palazzo and Hoffrage, Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

To prevent Emotional and Social Intelligence and Mindfulness skills to be used for self-involved agendas, Ethical Intelligence skills training is essential to provide balance and a means to honestly self-reflect how we are showing up in the moment in any given situation or encounter. It is collection of qualities that serve as "checks and balances" on the ego running wild - and using Emotional and Social Intelligence and Mindful Awareness skills for ego-serving purposes alone. Unfortunately, there has been resistance to learning about upholding strong ethical principles at work and in everyday life because a) Ethics are often confused with religion, morality, and "commandments," and b) Doing so requires taking a deep, radically honest look at ourselves/our organizations and taking ownership for any unethical behaviors we/they are engaging in. This means 24/7/365 - not just when we "feel" like it, or when nobody's watching - and includes ending any justification of engaging in ethical transgressions that by their very nature create harm or suffering simply for personal and/or organizational gain. This includes the fallacy of what is called "situational ethics."


Just like Emotional and Social Intelligence and Mindfulness skills, Ethical Intelligence, when practiced holistically and with conscious intention, engages us as "whole people" - which includes integration of our Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual (PEMS) systems within the context of every aspect of our lives, no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, no matter what time of day it is. It teaches us to become finely attuned to the impact of all we think, do, and say, and the effect of how we show up in every encounter and situation has upon us and everyone our life comes into contact with. This includes taking responsibility and ownership for not only our direct thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors in our personal life, but also the "ripple effect" impact of our professional life in terms of the products and services we and/or the organization we work for engages in. In other words, we might be ethical ourselves, but the organization we work for may not be - yet we are supporting what they do by association as representatives and employees. 

What makes someone Ethically Intelligent? 

There is not one definitive list of qualities that when combined will make us a "perfectly ethical" human being. However, there are many that, when incorporating radically honest self-reflection and assessment regularly, can help guide us into making more ethically intelligent choices and taking more ethically intelligent actions as we grow in intentionally conscious awareness. And just like Emotional and Social Intelligence and Mindful Awareness, our level Ethical Intelligence is not fixed; we have the ability to refine our character as we travel through Life - which is reflected through the choices we make. 


First things first: Who we are frames how we think, choose, act and behave in any context/situation. 

Our character shapes all four, which in turn impacts how we respond to life stressors and how resilient we are when 

moving through and past them. When we try to improve what we do without refining who we are, it is illogical to think 

we'll be able to build high performing, collaborative and productive teams - or for that matter, lead by authentic, 

transparent Ethically Intelligent example in whatever sphere of influence we have: at home, school, work, as parents and

family members, and in all our social interactions. 

≈ Ethical Intelligence is not about depending on someone else to hold you accountable. 

≈ It is about you holding yourself accountable because it matters to you to live and lead by impeccable (not perfect) example.

≈ It's about playing Big in Life.

≈ You are responsible for the impact (positive and negative) of every one of your free-will actions and inactions

– even their unintended results and consequences.
≈ Depend upon yourself to take ownership for the impact of your thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors on others  - as well as yourself.
≈ Choose to embrace 100% accountability as part of who you are and how you show up - especially when no one is looking. 


Those who never take ownership for any of the above will always blame others and cause pain and suffering wherever they go as long as their refusal to hold themselves accountable continues.


“Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other. It consists in deeds not words.” - Gandhi

Start Out Right: Build an Ethical and Harmonious Workplace Culture Before Focusing on Productivity and Performance

"If the leader is a great person then inspiring ideas will permeate the corporation's culture." - Stanley Davis

"...the idea of ethical intelligence should be conceptualized more broadly than just ethical maturity to include, in addition, the cognitive, social and emotional intelligence types that also affect decision-making and behavior. We believe that, like other skills, knowledge and abilities, ethical intelligence can be a focus of learning and development interventions by the organization that can enhance individual, group and organizational performance ... We present a case for senior managers to focus on the question of how do we use our human capital and other resources in an integrated fashion that embeds ethical principles as a primary determinant of decision-making and behavioral norms, rather than simply concentrating on acquiring the outward appearance of ethical and social responsibility (i.e. the traditional approach represented by the publication of a formal code of ethics). Leadership, both formal and informal, in the firm needs to be perceived as 'walking the walk' as much as 'talking the talk' of ethical decision-making and behavior, not just with the external customer and shareholder stakeholder segments but also with the key internal stakeholders of employees ... In summary, we suggest that understanding how the ethical intelligence of a firm's employees can be combined with ethically infused organizational infrastructure is the key to a firm achieving the integration its social responsibilities with its commercial objectives, whilst avoiding the unfortunate and potentially survival-threatening consequences of situations where 'good people end up doing bad things' in business" - Wickham & O'Donohue, 2012, from "Developing an Ethical Organization: Exploring the Role of Ethical Intelligence"Organization Development Journal.

Wickham and O'Donohue continue by stating:

"Successful management of human error will be dependent on the extent to which inquiry, reflection and feedback, trust between employees and managers, individual and group learning, and positive behavioral change are accepted and supported as norms within the organization. For these conditions to operate requires a commitment by organizational leaders to the development of a shared understanding of ethical principles and a common language for communicating those principles within the organization and to all stakeholders. It means the ethically intelligent organization will build a culture and ethical climate where individuals are not sanctioned for every unintentional error of judgment, so long as those errors are learnt from (Kerfoot, 2008). This learning should not be limited to human error that leads to negative outcomes such as financial losses for the organization; it is equally important for organizations to demonstrate that errors of ethical judgment that result in desirable outcomes, such as short-term profit increases, must be learnt from and avoided in the future. In addition, provision of support by the organization's leaders, rather than overseeing allocation of blame to erring individuals, is fundamental to the promotion of employee commitment to, over mere compliance with, ethical decision-making processes. It is thus incumbent on organizational leaders that they behave ethically and consistently, that they actively build trust, and accepts as their duty the responsibility to address openly all instances of unethical decisions and actions (Amy, 2008; Tseng & McClean, 2008)" -  Wickham & O'Donohue, 2012, from "Developing an Ethical Organization: Exploring the Role of Ethical Intelligence", Organization Development Journal.


Honorable character as the centerpiece of Ethical Intelligence can be expressed as a higher octave of the basic principle of the Golden Rule that encourages us to actualize our highest potential as human beings. "Treat others in the fair and just manner their highest self is worthy of being treated - and doing the same toward yourself." It embodies inclusive respect and kindness toward all humanity - including the compassionate yet sometimes fierce "tough love" that doesn't enable a fellow human being's darkness or shadow behaviors. It includes the ability for us to forgive one another, as we are all imperfect human beings that make mistakes, as well as holding others (and ourselves) accountable for violations of the law and crimes against humanity - both of the latter being extreme breaches of ethical conduct. Not taking a stand or not speaking up when you witness corrupt, inhumane (and yes, undeniably evil) thought systems, behaviors and actions  in any form, by any person is enabling with silence. 

Need guidance in crafting or revising your Code of Ethical and Harmonious Workplace Conduct ?

Regardless of whether your current code of ethical, honorable and harmonious workplace conduct needs an 

upgrade, or you don't even have a formal document that defines it both internally and to the public

my approach is holistic and incorporates all of the areas listed below. 

Please contact me for more information, fees - and to determine if we are a good fit.

≈ What are your (or your organization's) core values? What is non-negotiable?  What kind of ethical compromises are you willing to justify making, and where do you draw the line? 

≈ Recall a situation where you were afraid to do what you knew deep inside was the right thing to do, so you went along with what others did – or did what was asked of you without questioning it. How did doing that make you feel? What were you afraid would have happened if you did what you felt was right, even if you were the only one who did? How would you have decided if you didn't have this fear?


≈ To what degree are you focused upon your own needs? To what degree are you focused upon the needs of others?

≈ Have you ever compromised your integrity for survival, personally or professionally? What did you tell yourself to justify doing so?

≈ Do you transparently and authentically "walk your talk"?

≈ Are you a psychologically safe person to be around? In other words: can people speak up and/or give you feedback with honesty and candor without fear of your wrath or retribution? How are "whistleblowers" treated? Can you openly admit when you are wrong about something? How do you treat those who have admittedly made mistakes? Do you view apologizing as weak - or as an act of power? 

≈ Think about critical decisions you've made that seriously affected your life and/or organization, and possibly the lives of others. Are you happy with what you chose? Why or why not? Where are the points where you would have made different decisions if you could do it again? What would you have done?


≈ Have you or your organization ever "gotten away" with doing something unethical? How did that make you feel?

≈ What example do you want to lead by: at home, school, work, within all your relationships, and in all your social interactions? 


≈ If your Big Picture intention and goal is to live an ethical life no matter what the circumstances are, what's getting what you want worth if you have to push someone else down to get it?

Key Questions to Ask Yourself: