top of page
  • Sue Brightman

Leading Intelligently in Organizations

Path Directional Sign

What a simple idea it is to lead intelligently! Pondering this even for a moment, why would we want to lead in any other way?

Leading mindlessly, or blindly, or emotionally, aren’t exactly brilliant strategies. And yet, we’ve all seen these types of leadership styles before. We may have even exhibited them ourselves at times, despite our genuine desire to take a more noble approach. Leading intelligently is indeed a tall order. A wise, compassionate and insightful way of leading requires a great deal of self-knowledge, and, according to Cindy Wigglesworth,1 it requires something else: deeper – or spiritual – skills.

In her book SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, Wigglesworth shares the compelling step-by-step unfolding of her own journey, which led to the identification of a new frontier called spiritual intelligence. She assures us in the book’s 213 pages that spiritual intelligence can not only be defined but also consciously developed by those who have the desire. Her rigorously tested SQ21 assessment™, consisting of a series of questions related to 21 skills, provides a helpful vehicle for self-knowledge and further growth.

The phrase spiritual intelligence may rock some of our boats, immediately erecting defensive shields around anything we fear might disturb the rightfully inclusive – and sometimes fragile – religious beliefs and practices of those who work within our organizational walls. But adopting a skeptical or defensive posture about the notion of spiritually intelligent leadership is to misunderstand Wigglesworth’s work.

Briefly stated, Wigglesworth describes spiritual intelligence as “the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the situation.”² Leading in this way, she says, can reduce negative drama in the workplace. (Imagine!) It can help prevent co-worker competition. It has the potential to diminish the gossip that erodes trust between employees. And there are simple tools related to the various SQ skills that can provide leaders and employees with helpful options when they’re faced with difficult customer or patient situations, for example.

Positioned within the context of what she calls “the four intelligences,”spiritual intelligence is identified as a “capstone” intelligence, requiring some degree of mastery in the other three first.³

The Four Intelligences

For context, it may be helpful to summarize the four intelligences about which Wigglesworth writes.

Physical Intelligence (PQ)

Cognitive Intelligence (IQ)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Spiritual Intelligence (SQ)

A Few Examples

In my 25 years of work as an organizational consultant, I’ve witnessed spiritual intelligence in action by many good leaders. Their diligent application of wisdom and compassion made a lasting impression on me, as well as on their employees and colleagues.

One example is of a senior leader in a large company who I’ll call Elena. Elena oversaw a global staff of more than 1,200 people. To say that her leadership style made a difference in people’s lives is a huge understatement. During a difficult phase of organizational change that affected almost every element of the workplace – structural changes, altered reporting relationships, new technical requirements, service redefinition, intense overtime hours, all while keeping customers happy – she increased both her availability and communication, not only to her senior team but also to staff. She increased her round-the-world staff engagements, taking messages of 1) the underlying purpose of the changes, 2) the reality of the demands these changes were placing on people, and 3) her genuine appreciation of the staff’s ongoing diligence during the transformation process. At a time of high stress and high demand, employee retention in Elena’s division was unprecedented.

In the language of the 21 spiritual intelligence skills⁵ identified by Cindy Wigglesworth, Elena demonstrated:

  • Awareness of her own values (respect for people and their contributions)

  • Keeping her Higher Self in charge (subjugating the pressure and stress of intense organizational demands to the equanimity and poise required of her in order to assure others)

  • Being a wise and effective change agent

  • Being a calm and healing presence

As indicated by the above skills, Wigglesworth’s research shows that spiritual intelligence is not an ephemeral or “woo woo” concept. Like EQ, the skills of spiritual intelligence fall into easy-to-understand quadrants, and they’re accessible to all of us.

Another very different example

This situation involves a group of solo professionals under the same roof who quickly reflected spiritually intelligent teamwork at a recent time of crisis. At Tresca Hair Studio in Boulder, Colorado, one of the group’s hairstylists slipped on the ice during the winter and fell off his porch, breaking his hand. Get the picture? A hairdresser. Broken hand. Not good. Stylist Guy Anderson called the salon to report the distressing news as he headed to the hospital.

At the emergency room he was surprised to learn that his hand required immediate surgery: a plate with eight pins had to be inserted through the top of his hand to hold the bones together. He was told that he would be out of work for at least four weeks. Here comes the spiritual intelligence part:

  • Because he and his colleagues share the same strong value of outstanding client service

  • Because he and his colleagues support one another instinctively

  • Because he and his colleagues understand what it’s like to lose income without notice

  • And because they value one another

Guy Anderson’s colleagues immediately chose to absorb all of his appointments into their own schedules, do all the haircuts, colors, and blow-dries that were booked, and turn over the revenue to him. And turn over the revenue to him. Talking with his co-worker Laura Teal, after Guy returned to work healed and whole, I was struck by the degree to which her response to Guy’s accident appeared to be a “no-brainer,”as if it was the most natural thing in the world to have done.

Perhaps we can imagine what it would be like if every workplace culture expressed this type of camaraderie or spiritually intelligent teamwork. In terms of the 21 skills, the Tresca team could be said to have shown:

  • Awareness of interconnectedness

  • Complexity of inner thought

  • Living your purpose and values

  • Making wise and compassionate decisions, and perhaps even…

  • Being aligned with the ebb and flow of life.

This type of leadership requires no particular faith tradition. In fact, the bundle of 21 competencies that comprise one’s spiritual intelligence are faith-neutral and faith-friendly. They’re even fully demonstrable by those who may not identify as having faith at all. And spiritual intelligence can be demonstrated by those in ascribed leadership positions as well as those who lead by example through the values and qualities they exude.

In the words of Wigglesworth, spiritual intelligence is actually about being our highest, best selves. “Becoming fully human is a great adventure – one that requires us to grow and stretch ourselves,” she writes. “Transcending our ‘smaller nature’ and growing into our full potential as human beings is the most important and fulfilling thing we can do with our lives.”⁶

What could be a more powerful way to lead?

Notes ¹ Cindy Wigglesworth, SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, New York: SelectBooks, 2012.

² Ibid, p. 8

³ Ibid, p. 30

⁴ Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review, 1998, reprinted in “The Best of HBR”, 2004

⁵ Wigglesworth, SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, p. 46

⁶ Ibid, p.3

#SueBrightman #leadership #leadershipdevelopment #spiritualdevelopment #spiritualintelligence

bottom of page