Leading Intelligently with Heart (Part 2): Enhancing Project Managers’ Emotional Intelligence Through Mindfulness

Clinical Researcher—February 2023 (Volume 37, Issue 1)


Zoran M. Pavlovic, MD


Following up on some of the emotional intelligence (EI)-driven leadership topics I began addressing in my column for the August 2022 issue, the concept of mindfulness is rooted “in the ancient wisdom tradition of Buddhism.”{1} Still, it can also be linked to and religions Hinduism and other spiritual-based traditions.{2} Although mindfulness practices began thousands of years ago, present-day mindfulness therapies are credited to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who developed a stress-reduction program in the late 1970s.{3}

While theories of mindfulness have evolved over the years, its objective remains the same: to achieve a state of profound insight.{3} Rynes, et al.{4} define mindfulness as “enhanced attention to and a receptive awareness of current experiences.”{5} Such heightened awareness “involves rigorous mental practice to develop focus, awareness and living in the moment.”{6}

Broadening the definition and the scope of mindfulness, Dr. Kabat-Zinn also explains that the word for mind and heart in Asian languages are the same and that mindfulness and compassion are interconnected.{7} This interconnectedness demonstrates that mindfulness contains an emotional component. When considering Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso’s{8} definition of EI—that is, being able to “perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion…access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought…understand emotion and emotional knowledge…[and] regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth”{9}—connections between EI and mindfulness become even clearer.

First, mindfulness enables heightened awareness,{10} and EI emphasizes the importance of perception{8}; essentially, it can be rather difficult to understand the various interpretations of perception without heightened awareness. Second, mindfulness corresponds to living in the moment,{10} while EI emphasizes the need to accurately understand emotions{8}; given that emotions occur at the moment, assessing them accurately as they occur is an important aspect of mindfulness. Third, the pursuit of emotional and intellectual growth is at the center of EI,{8} while mindfulness emphasizes the importance of continuous and rigorous mental practice.{5}

Frizzell, et al.{1} identified a positive correlation between individuals who practice mindful meditation and their ability to establish effective relationships—a key determinant of strong social skills. Han and Zhang{11} found that “employees who are not operating in a mindful state of awareness tend to act without thinking, may not notice when new information is available… [and] are not aware of or open to looking at alternate ways of accomplishing a certain task.”{6} These individuals tend to relate with others in what is called “automatic pilot”—that is, they may not always reflect before acting and therefore rely on previously held beliefs to make decisions.

Further, better stress management and coping abilities have been noted in those professionals who have undergone mindfulness training. This increase in resilience can help project managers (PMs) lessen the negative impacts of their demanding jobs, reducing emotional exhaustion, increasing their commitment to their work, and improving their performance when facing challenges in their workplace. Mindfulness has also been identified as a protective factor against the stress caused by emotional labor (i.e., when handling emotionally difficult situations).

Practicing Emotional Intelligence

Offered here are some excerpts from the book Poised for Excellence’s chapter on “Emotional Intelligence Drives Leadership Success,” by Karima Mariama-Arthur,{12} who writes, “The strategies outlined in the following sections offer guidance for cultivating the skill and insight required of an emotionally intelligent leader. They are distilled from the lessons I have learned from exceptional leaders across various industries.”

Increase the Range of Your Emotions

Challenging yourself to identify and experience a more diverse range of emotions daily can increase self-awareness. You can escalate this process simply by being more sensitive to your emotions. When they arise, identify them individually by name and think about why you are experiencing them. …Over time, you will discover key distinctions that will help you expand and take control of your emotional wheelhouse.

Exercise Greater Control Over Thinking and Behavior

Learning to control thinking and behavior takes work, but it is doable with discipline and consistent effort. Instead of habitually reacting to stimuli, decide to respond on your terms. In other words, be proactive rather than reactive. When faced with a decision, consider the possible options and their consequences. …By focusing on producing the best outcomes through clarity of thought and intentional behavior, you can completely transform your state of mind and achieve positive results.

Thoughtfully Engage Others to Develop Empathy

Developing empathy is vital to improving every interaction, and it requires intentional engagement with others. Embracing perspectives other than yours, being less judgmental, and giving others the benefit of doubt are ways to cultivate empathy through thoughtful engagement. …These strategies enhance the ability to establish rapport and understanding, which are the basis for trust, high-quality interactions, and long-term relationships.

Ramp Up Intrinsic Motivation

If you are serious about making progress in any area of life, start by determining whether you are driven by the carrot or the stick. Do you find the promise of reward more motivating or the fear of punishment? …Adopt whichever mindset is more compelling and then formulate a strategy broken down into individual tasks. This will move your goals forward and decrease the anxiety of tackling them all together.

Increase Social Competence

Because we are social beings, it is nearly impossible to avoid human contact. Therefore, it makes sense to embrace relationships and make them work to your advantage. Learning social competence is a multifaceted process that involves basic conversation, complex communication, networking, collaborating, social etiquette, and conflict resolution. …To get started, move out of your comfort zone and practice active listening, engaging in meaningful conversations, collaborating, negotiating, and exercising common courtesies whenever possible.

For Your Consideration…

Below are some additional tips that have proven to be very helpful for my coachees when setting their goals in an emotionally intelligent way:

  • Do your best to align future objectives, visions, or plans with your current beliefs.  If they aren’t, you risk striving toward an end that won’t be beneficial to you.
  • Everything begins with your feelings. Compare and contrast your goals to your feelings and thoughts.
  • Always connect emotionally with your goals.
  • Take note of and practice the behaviors and habits that will assist you in reaching your goals.
  • Develop strong positive attitudes and beliefs that will support your values and contribute to your success.
  • Increase your self-awareness to recognize when your goals don’t align with your values.
  • Remember that, depending on their congruence, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors support and strengthen each other, whether negatively or positively.
  • Structure your goals following your values, attitudes, and the likelihood of success, and never forget to set a clear deadline.
  • Finally, continuously monitor and measure your progress toward achieving your goals.


  1. Frizell DA, et al. 2016. A Phenomenological Investigation of Leader Development and Mindfulness Meditation. Journal of Social Change 8(1):14–25.
  1. Selva J. 2017. History of mindfulness: From east to west and from religion to science. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/historyof-mindfulness/
  1. Fossas A. 2015. The Basics of Mindfulness: Where did it come from? https://welldoing.org/article/basics-of-mindfulness-come-from
  1. Rynes SL, Giluk TL, Brown KG. 2007. The very separate worlds of academic and practitioner periodicals in human resource management: implications for evidence-based management. Academy of Management Journal 50(5):987–1008.
  1. Kroon B, van Woerkom M, Menting C. 2017. Mindfulness as substitute for transformational leadership.Journal of Managerial Psychology 32(4):284–97.
  1. Chesley J, Wylson A. 2016. Ambiguity: the emerging impact of mindfulness for change leaders. Journal of Change Management 16(4):317–36.
  1. Szalavitz M. 2012. Q&A: Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about bringing mindfulness meditation to medicine. http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/11/mind-reading-jon-kabat-zinn-talks-aboutbringing-mindfulness-meditation-to-medicine/
  1. Mayer JD, Salovey P, Caruso DR. 2000. Models of emotional intelligence. The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence 396–420. Cambridge University Press.
  1. Velisavljevic L. 2015. Salovey and Mayer’s four branch emotional intelligence model. http://psychtastic.com/2015/02/emotional-intelligence-saloveymayer/
  1. Sethi D. 2009. Mindful Leadership. Leader to Leader 51:7–11.
  1. Han Y, Zhang Z. 2011. Enhancing managerial mindfulness: A way for middle managers to handle the uncertain situations. IACM 24th Annual Conference Paper 1–44.
  1. Mariama-Arthur K. 2018. Poised for Excellence: Fundamental Principles of Effective Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond. Palgrave Macmillan.

zoran pavlovic

Zoran M. Pavlovic, MD, (heruka.innovations@gmail.com) is a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and executive coach for life science leaders on agile, entrepreneurial, and mindful leadership with Heruka Lifescience and Health Innovations. He is also a creator of 4-H SWELL (States of Wellness) Leader and Employee® Well-Being training.