Spiritual intelligence provides deeper wisdom

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I n my previous column, I introduced the notion of spiritual intelligence. Appreciating that language has power, it is important to state at the onset that spiritual intelligence is not rooted in a particular religion, theology or religious institution.

Spiritual Intelligence is defined by author and consultant Cindy Wigglesworth as the “ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the circumstances.” It is the desire to connect with something larger than ourselves. Our language falls short in defining “what that something larger is.”

For some it is God; for others it is a higher power, source of life, ultimate consciousness. Altazar Rossiter, author of “Developing Spiritual Intelligence: The Power of You,” describes spiritual intelligence as the ability to live peacefully, joyfully, intelligently. He reminds us that spirituality is a natural aspect of being human and that we all have the capacity to draw on innate wisdom and knowledge. Both authors suggest that spiritual intelligence is an essential component of both personal and professional development.

Spiritual intelligence is critical for authentic leadership. If we are to effectively lead, we must commit to the deep inner work that will allow us to “know” what decisions need to be made, especially in the face of adversity.


Developing spiritual intelligence requires a level of maturity and a desire to face the light and the shadow within us. It requires an ability to appreciate that our egos need to be reigned in, in order for us to live into our higher selves. In Wiggleworth’s work, she borrows from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and provides a developmental model for us to consider as we build multiple intelligences.

At the base of the pyramid is physical intelligence, the ability to recognize what we need for our physical well being. IQ or mental intelligence is the cognitive ability we need and the related technical skills for the workplace. Emotional Intelligence increases our self awareness and our ability to relate to others; and finally, at the top of the pyramid, spiritual intelligence increases our capacity for compassion for the world around us.

As we coach leaders around the world, we recognize their emerging desire for meaning. They want to live peacefully and joyfully, with a level of assurance that they are making a difference in their organizations, communities and in our world.

Authors Zohar and Marshall, wrote in 2003 that “spiritual intelligence allows us to place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context. It is the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life path is more meaningful than another.”

As is true for all intelligence, spiritual intelligence needs to be nurtured in order to develop to its highest potential in each of us. There are disciplines that foster spiritual development. They include the discipline of silence.

In the midst of the noise in our world, we need to create the time and the space to be quiet. In the stillness of silence we are able to hear our inner voice, the voice of wisdom and compassion. It is in silence that we have the capacity to ask ourselves what is the wise and compassionate thing to do in this situation. In silent reflection we recognize what is in the best interest of others as well as ourselves.

We have the ability to tame our egos and our fears so that we can live our best lives.

In working with leaders, we encourage them to create space for silent reflection each day. Often there is resistance to this invitation. Clients have asked: “Can I do it as I drive to work?” “Can I fulfill the request in the shower?” The idea is to create space where the work is silence.

There aren’t any distractions or responsibilities. Perhaps we begin with a commitment of three to five minutes a day. In the quiet of our own reflection we ask ourselves how we want to live into the day. “How will I focus on what is most important?” “How will I be fully present to each person I encounter?”


Capturing our reflections in writing is another discipline that takes us into our inner selves. The kinesthetic experience of writing from the inside out often opens us to new possibilities in self awareness. When I suggested this exercise to a leader, he engaged fully. He takes the time each day for quiet reflection and records his awareness of how he is living his leadership role. At the end of three weeks of journaling, he reviews his writing and identifies lessons he has learned about himself. He finds that this discipline has reduced his reactionary tendency in day to day situations. He appreciates that he is learning the art of responding rather than reacting. He is taking the time to appreciate the view of the other, managing his own ego in the process.

While we don’t necessarily identify his work as developing his spiritual intelligence, that is, in fact, what he is doing.

As we continue to explore the vast space of spiritual intelligence, we know that nature, poetry, art and music can take us into deeper awareness of who we are. Having the courage to embrace our capacity for developing spiritual intelligence will impact our decisions as leaders. It will, by necessity, require that we consider the views of others as we access deeper wisdom and compassion for a new world. n

Karen Vernal is the president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee-based leadership and organizational firm dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” The company is one of two firms in the nation to be certified in emotional intelligence through the Institute for Health and Human Potential. For additional information, visit www.vernalmgmt.com.

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