Spiritual Intelligence

by Cindy Wigglesworth

In a nutshell

1. What benefits can spirituality offer at work?

Spiritual intelligence may be the hidden key to great leadership. Truly great leaders

  • Set direction with vision and values
  • Have faith that their company will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties
  • Have a sense of inner calm and strength
  • Demonstrate a profound personal humility.


2. Defining essential terms

To consider the subject of spiritual intelligence, it’s necessary to start by defining certain terms involved in the concept:

  • Emotional intelligence – this comprises self awareness, social awareness, self management and the ability to manage others, all of which are vital for personal and business success
  • Ego self and higher self – ego is a necessary part of how we relate with other humans in a world of real physical threats and physical needs, but it can also be problematic, especially when it is unhealthy or immature; it is prone to high drama and bad judgment until it is guided by the higher self, which, by nature, is wiser, more compassionate, more peaceful, and able to take a much longer-term view of situations
  • Soul and spirit – the eternal aspect of an individual is often called the soul, though the word may also be used as a synonym for higher self; spirit is sometimes used as a synonym for soul, and sometimes to mean something more like a Higher Power or God
  • Higher power and noble purpose – the former can serve as a synonym for God, Gaia or some other divine entity or force, while the latter is used by those who prefer to think in terms of being connected to or in service of a ‘noble purpose’ or sacred ideal.


3. Multiple intelligences: it’s not all about IQ

A person’s intelligence quotient or IQ generally refers to their reasoning capacity, analytical skills and linguistic intelligence. Your IQ and credentials may get you the job, but research suggests that two very different kinds of intelligence – emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence – are also essential to successful performance, not just for leadership roles, but for a wide range of jobs.

  • As babies, we first focus on gaining control of our bodies, so our physical intelligence develops.
  • As we grow during the school years, linguistic and conceptual skills (IQ) are a key focus for development.
  • In childhood, we also begin to develop some early social and relationship skills, but for many of us emotional intelligence (EQ) more fully comes online in adulthood, when we realise (usually as a result of challenges at work or in romantic relationships) that we need to improve our interactions with others.
  • Spiritual intelligence (SQ) typically becomes a focus later in life, as we begin to search for meaning and ask questions such as, ‘Is this all there is?’
  • EQ and IQ are mutually reinforcing: as spiritual intelligence matures, EQ also deepens, and this further reinforces the growth of SQ skills.


4. What is spiritual intelligence?

Spirituality – this ‘something larger than ourselves’ (which we will call higher power or higher self) – pulls us beyond the ego self, or what we traditionally identify as ‘me’. Spirituality has both a vertical and a horizontal component:

  • The vertical component is a desire to connect with and be guided by that which is sacred, divine, timeless and placeless... Some phrases used to describe this include source, higher power, ultimate consciousness, God, but you may use whatever term you may prefer
  • The horizontal component is a desire to be of service to fellow humans and to the planet at large.


5. Spiritual intelligence and human development

Spiritual intelligence is connected with the work of many prominent thinkers in the area of human development.

  • According to Carl Jung, the goal of maturity is to connect with our own unique wisdom as well as the deepest wisdom in the universe.
  • Abraham Maslow suggested that man is a hierarchy of needs, with biological needs at the base of the hierarchy and spiritual needs at the top.
  • According to Maslow, addressing spiritual development at work benefits everyone – including your employees and your business. ‘If you are doing the work that you love and are devoted to the value that you hold highest, you are being as selfish as possible, and yet are also being unselfish and altruistic’.


6. Spiritual intelligence and good leadership

When people behave in egotistical ways, they act as if they are only out for themselves. When things are going well, they claim the credit. When they hit a bump in the road, they will throw everyone else ‘under the bus’. The result can be a toxic environment. Spiritual intelligence, on the other hand, brings many benefits.

  • It amplifies your IQ by helping you see things in more nuanced and complex ways and, by calming your mind, allowing you to think more clearly
  • It amplifies EQ by helping you to gain powerful insights you’re your own motivations, and therefore the pain and motivations of other people.
  • Your leadership capacity increases as your SQ increases.
  • The reduction in egotism also yields many benefits, most importantly trusting relationships that create employee engagement, which is linked to innovation and performance.
  • If a manager/leader gets high marks for credibility, reliability and intimacy, yet people also believe that he or she is high on self-orientation (ego), this then wipes out much of the total trust-potential in their relationship with their team members/employees.


7. Developing spiritual intelligence

One way to cultivate SQ is to measure where you are now in your development, understand where you want to go with it, and then cultivate practices to help you get there. Once you know where you stand now, there are many ways to set about raising your SQ:

  • Practise shifting perspectives instead of just seeing things from your point of view
  • Spend some time reflecting on your purpose in life
  • List your values in order of importance
  • Take steps to understand your own and other people’s beliefs
  • Commit time to a regular practice, such as meditation, yoga, or journaling
  • Practise getting your ego out of the driver’s seat and letting your higher self lead the way forward.


8. Introducing the concept of SQ at work

People sometimes get nervous when the topic of spirituality comes up in the workplace. Because religion can be a controversial topic, it is often taboo in organisations.

  • When talking about SQ, it’s best to avoid polarising language or faith-specific terms, which can turn people off or create unhealthy conflict.
  • Instead of talking about beliefs, keep the conversation focused on behaviours (for example, displaying humility by sharing credit for achievement or staying calm in the face of a colleague’s anger).
  • When you speak about spiritual intelligence, honour all three main groups: the traditionalists, who value religion; the achievers or modernists, who value rational thought and science, and who do not like much talk about religion, and the pluralists, who honour diversity and consider themselves spiritual but not religious.
  • Set strong, clear policies around no harassment and no proselytising.
  • Make it clear that spiritual intelligence at work connects with organisational goals.


9. Spiritual intelligence in the world

Developing your own SQ will not only benefit you as a leader, but also will benefit your company, your family and your community.

  • At work, SQ development can lead to more meaningful work, improved products and services and responsible corporate behaviour.
  • In society at large, as spiritual intelligence develops, we expand our sense of connectedness with all people, moving from an ‘us versus them’ orientation to an ‘all of us’ orientation and an appreciation for (rather than a hatred or tolerance of) diversity.
  • At the highest levels of spiritual development, we experience a sense of oneness – not only with all people but with all living things, the planet and indeed the entire universe.