Leadership and Spiritual Intelligence : An introduction – Part 1

Are you looking for a unique set of leadership skils and qualities that will help you amplify your effectiveness? Over the next while, I am offering a series of blogs to help explain Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) and its value for businesses, organizations, community groups, families, and individuals. I will define SQ, explain how research is showing its benefits, explain some of the traits and skills of SQ, and what it looks like in action.

I hope I haven’t lost you already. Often when I use the word “spiritual”, especially in the context of the workplace I get the “deer in the headlights” look from people.

Don’t be afraid.

One quick definition: Spiritual Intelligence

One scholar, Cindy Wigglesworth, defines Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) as the “ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation” (Wigglesworth 2012, pp. 8-9). She also explains that SQ amplifies our other intelligences such as IQ (Intelligence Quotient), and EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and just like other intelligences, SQ can be developed with time. SQ connects a person to their higher intelligence, allowing them to find meaning in a purpose greater than themselves. Other authors and scholars have been exploring and writing about SQ as well, sometimes using different but comparable language.  I’ll explain more another time.

But before I go further, I thought I would tell you just a bit about why SQ resonated with me personally and why I became an SQ coach.

A quick story

Back in the mid-1970’s I remember watching a movie called Death Be Not Proud. It was about a teenage boy who had a brain tumor. I remember being very disturbed about him having a bald head from the surgery. (I had long, curly, unmanageable hair back then!) If the bald head wasn’t upsetting enough – spoiler alert – in the end the boy dies from the brain tumor.

Honestly, I was too young to understand the whole movie, but I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m glad that I’m never going to have a brain tumor.”

Well life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. A few years later at the age of 12 I was going paralyzed on the right side of my body and I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The short version of the story is that I had surgery which successfully removed the tumor. I did have a number of complications and surgeries for several years after but here I am! I was grateful for family, friends, God, prayer, and faith.

Relationships, Faith, Carpe Diem

Because of that, from a very young age I was completely confident of my own mortality. There were no guarantees.  I worked very hard at school (and later at work). I cherished relationships and family and developed a lot of empathy for others who struggled. I didn’t want to waste a lot of time because I never knew if I would wind up in the hospital again or worse.

Spirits on the Water

Artist: Dan MacFarlane – Acrylic 2020

I believed that I had a purpose in the world. I did not take things for granted and embraced the concept of Carpe Diem.  Seize the Day. Make the most of time! There is a bigger purpose in the world.  Things are all interconnected.

Then amidst all my health issues, about one year later my dad died without any warning. Now at that age that’s another thing that only happens to other people.  It was a huge shock and again we were surrounded by loving community, God and hope.

I had assumed that I would be enough life lessons but some years later my sister died suddenly leaving behind her husband and four children. That was another huge lesson in focusing on what is most important and making the most of time. Never take people for granted. Always say I love you.

I am just skimming the surface for now. I could say so much more about these deep experiences for myself and my loved ones. But later.

Making a difference; fulfilling a purpose

I don’t share this for sympathy because I had so much to be grateful for through those experiences, before, since and now. But I share that just to paint a picture of early experiences that shaped my values and why making a difference, fulfilling a purpose, and connecting to others were so important to me!

Years later while  pursuing my Masters Degree  in leadership I was researching healthy leadership qualities like self-awareness, empathy, trust, creating meaning and significance through work, creating a safe place for risk taking, letting go of control, empowering others, being comfortable in chaos, uncertainty, and change.

Finally, a kind of leadership that resonated with me!  (I have been in a couple work situations that sucked the soul out of me – but that’s for another time. Let’s just say it is sad how toxic work situations can deplete great people. I’ve seen it happen to many.)  By the way – around that time one of my favourite songs was The River of Dreams by Billy Joel.

“I’ve been searching for something

Taken out of my soul

Something I’d never lose

Something somebody stole.”

You can listen to it here.

Create spaces so the soul feels safe enough to show up and make a claim on our lives. Share on X


Parker Palmer writes about becoming separated from our own souls when we either feel the need to protect our inner light or to prevent any exposure of our own darkness (Palmer 2008, p. 4)

It is ultimately painful to live a divided life between what our values and aspirations are and the circumstances we are in whether we are succumbing to those circumstances or co-creating them.

Leaders who don’t acknowledge this potential for conscious or unconscious dividedness will have a personal conflict but it also it creates problems for employees when a boss substitutes power and control and a policy manual for where their heart should be (Palmer 2008, p. 6)

Evidence of this soul separation shows up in financial scandals, politics, intolerance for our neighbours, and in institutions, schools, churches and more. Don’t think I am all doom and gloom though.  We know of many bright lights. But something is broken and has been for a long time. Otto Scharmer says we are collectively colluding in creating a future nobody wants (Scharmer, 2009)

Leaders who want thriving lives, business, and organizations will want to create safe places for the soul’s creativity (Palmer 2008, p. 11)

Now what?

Back to Spiritual Intelligence

So personal values and experiences led me to get curious about Spiritual Intelligence, not just as a personal, private pursuit but as something that can transform organizations and society. Tall order.

While spirituality was relegated to the privacy of homes or the tight community of churches for decades, research in the last several years has demonstrated that spiritual attainment is contributing to high quality leadership. Values and practises that once were restricted to personal faith now show up as contributors to success at work.  But these are not only applicable to the board room or cubicle; leaders are everywhere, in families, neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals, factories, churches, and anywhere people crave inspiration and purpose.

Curious? Check out my website and watch for my next set of posts where I’ll share some benefits of fostering SQ in self and teams. some traits and skills of SQ, the social impact of SQ, and some universal, sacred thoughts. You have the option of signing up below  to get notices of future topics.  To request a free, no obligation conversvation click here.


Palmer, Parker J. 2008. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Scharmer, Claus Otto. 2009. Theory U Leading from the Future as It Emerges: The Social Technology of Presencing. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Wigglesworth, Cindy. 2012. SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence. Cork: BookBaby.

Other resources:

Aburdene, Patricia, Megatrends 2010, (Hampton Roads, 2005)

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t (HarperCollins 2004)



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