Potential of developing Spiritual Intelligence in one’s personal and professional life


Final Assignment of Emotional Intelligence facilitated by Basil Leonard

University of Stellenbosch Business School 2016

Sonja Hannus 


1.0. Introduction and research questions

It can be said that Western societies have respected and emphasized values such as productivity, performance and measurable, tangible results. People are encouraged to be achievement oriented and to seek to maximize their financial and material wealth. Mental well-being and self-knowledge have traditionally not received as much emphasis. Spirituality and universal questions, in many Western societies and cultures remain as taboos. However, the attitudes seem to be slowly changing – people are seeking more meaning to their lives. It is said that especially the younger generation, millennials, place higher emphasis on work life balance as well as meaningful and personally fulfilling activities and jobs, than their earlier generations (Salahuddin, 2010).


Also, many people in Western societies do not distinct between being religious and spiritual – they might thought to be overlapping or even one and same thing. Spirituality, however, does not need to have anything to do with religion. For me, along with several scholars, spirituality is about knowing oneself on a deeper level, and seeing the connection between oneself and the surrounding world. Though spirituality is a broad concept and up to every individual to define the meaning for herself, it can be said that spirituality is about a larger connection and meaning in life. It is a universal experience that touches us all. Spiritual intelligence can be defined as accessing our higher self, which drives our life choices. It is going beyond what is rational and rather trusting our gut feeling. A spiritually intelligent person knows himself and his values so clearly that decision-making is value driven and effortless, leading to happiness, successful and meaningful life. Regarding success, people are increasingly starting to define success in ways that include making a lasting, positive impact on the world. Mackey and Sisodia (2013) claim that leaders in particular should understand that success, instead of narrow definition of wealth or eminence, is about making a lasting, positive impact on the world.


In this paper, I make an attempt to explain the concept of spiritual intelligence as well as personal leadership, based on earlier research. I then explain how developing spiritual intelligence can help one to increase her well-being and success in both personal and professional life. Ways of developing one’s spiritual intelligence will then be presented, based on earlier work of scholars. I will explain how are all looking for meaning in our lives, and how developing spiritual intelligence enhances decision making towards more fulfilling path in al life areas. Further, I aim to show how increased happiness and meaning in personal life is related to professional success and satisfaction. I am in particular interested on how increased spiritual intelligence contributes to organizational performance. I examine whether increased spiritual intelligence leads to increased 1) well-being in all life areas and consequently to increased 2) organizational performance and productivity. The research question of this paper is:


  1. How can one benefit of developing her spiritual intelligence in her personal and professional life?
  2. How do organizations benefit of increased spiritual intelligence and personal leadership of employees?
  3. How can one develop his spiritual intelligence?


2.0. Literature review

 2.1. Definitions of spirituality and spiritual intelligence


Most of us have spiritual heroes – people who we look up to for their certain characteristics. As Cindy Wigglesworth (2012) has noted, we tend to admire people who possess high integrity and are courageous, loving, calm, visionary, selfless, inspiring, and pursue to make a positive difference on the world. Most people aim to be authentic and live as their noblest self. However, to successfully achieve this one requires understanding and developing multiple intelligences. Shivani (2011) defines intelligence as using what you know in the right way at the right time in the right place with the right intention. Increasingly, studies are showing how traditional cognitive intelligence (IQ) measuring linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities, explains only a small portion of human potential. Researchers have aimed for years to explain the complexity of human potential and how it may be measured by introducing several other intelligences besides the traditional IQ. These include Social, Physical Spiritual, Creative, Moral, Environmental, Spatial and Verbal, among others.


Friedman and MacDonald (2002) review definitions of spirituality. According to them, spirituality can be defined as: (a) focus on ultimate meaning, (b) awareness and development of multiple levels of consciousness, (c) experience of the preciousness and sacredness of life, and (d) experiencing oneself beyond the physical existence as a part of greater whole. Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is said to be the ultimate, deepest intelligence, and thus an essential component of both personal and professional development. According to Cindy Wigglesworth (2012), with SQ we access the voice of our noblest self – our higher self – and let it drive our lives. Wigglesworth argues that personal and spiritual growth cannot be viewed as a separate journey – they go hand in hand. There is, in her experience, a strong connection between the personal and the professional, between the inner life of the self and the outer world of effectiveness and impact. In other words, our personal development changes us and makes us more aware of our traits, values, dreams and feelings. And who we are ultimately affects how we lead, how we do decisions and therefore determines our path of choices. The concept of leadership, in this context, should not be limited into purely managing others at work. As Wigglesworth (2012) notes, we are all leaders and role models in our everyday lives; we dynamically take different roles of leadership depending on the stage we are in our lives. We are leaders to our children, our colleagues, to our romantic partners, to acquaintances – to everyone we interact with. However, deep, authentic leadership requires that we lead ourselves first. Knowing ourselves enables us to show compassion for the world around us, and contribute to make a difference in the world. (Wigglesworth, 2012)


Vaughan (2002) defines spiritual intelligence as the ability to create meaning based on deep understanding of existential questions – philosophical question of what we are or why we are here – and awareness of and the ability to use multiple levels of consciousness in problem solving. Wigglesworth defines spiritual intelligence (SQ) as the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation. Until date there are no validated measures of SQ (Halama & Strizenec, 2004). However, spirituality measures have been validated and correlate spirituality to improved health and well-being (Veach & Chappel, 1992). George et al., (2000) note that several studies suggest a relationship between spirituality, individual life purpose and satisfaction, and health. Vaughan (2002) notes that although little research of the brain associated with spirituality has been done, numerous studies of meditation research suggest that significant physiological changes result from even limited practice (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993).


Vaughan (2002) presents that SQ is concerned with the inner life of mind and spirit and its role in the world. A spiritually intelligent person possesses a deep understanding of existential questions and insight into multiple levels of consciousness. He further notes that if the evolution of life from stardust to mineral, vegetable, animal, and human existence implies some form of intelligence rather than being a purely random process, it ought to be called spiritual. According to Vaughan (2002), spiritual intelligence emerges from consciousness of ever-deepening awareness of matter, life, body, mind, soul, and spirit. It requires understanding of our relationship to the transcendent, to each other, to the earth and all beings. He notes that spiritual intelligence is related to emotional intelligence in terms of spiritual practice including development of intrapersonal and interpersonal sensitivity. Paying attention to subjective thoughts and feelings and cultivating empathy is part of increasing awareness of the inner spiritual life.


2.2. Potential of SQ in life


In this paper, spiritual intelligence is defined as the ability to create meaning based on deep understanding of existential questions, and awareness of and the ability to use multiple levels of consciousness in problem solving. The paper explores the role of spiritual intelligence in one’s personal and professional life. I aim to identify how developing SQ can enhance one’s success and happiness on all life areas. Further, the relationship between spiritually intelligent leadership and organizational performance will be examined. In the next chapter, the definition of conscious leadership will be introduced and shown how developing spiritual intelligence can increase organizational performance.


Next, earlier research will be examined to argue how developing one’s spiritual intelligence can positively affect one’s personal as well as professional life. As explained, we are all leaders in our lives – to everyone we encounter and interact with in our everyday lives. To lead with integrity, trust, care and love are likely to build organizational cultures that reflect these traits and lead to organizational success (Mackey and Sisodia, 2013). Shivani (2011) says that when spiritual intelligence is brought to the workplace, others are seen and treated as people instead of objects to get a job done, and individuals have an opportunity to learn the inner, subtle skills of building great relationships in any area of life. These abilities include trustworthiness, acting with integrity, empathy, and leadership with a positive and compelling vision. Wigglesworth (2012) says that spiritual intelligence is necessary to:


– To find and use the deepest inner resources to care and the power to tolerate and adapt

– To identify and align personal values with a clear sense of purpose

– To live those values without compromise and thereby demonstrate integrity by example

– To understand where and how each of the above is sabotaged by the ego


When all organizational members are viewed as leaders, it is important that all members possess capacity to inspire, realize own strengths and encourage others to do the same. When organizational members know their personal values and passions, it is easy to align these values with corporate values, and pursue passions and utilize strengths at work as well. Spiritual intelligence is needed for this process. Wigglesworth (2012), among with several scholars note that when a person does something from their inner resources, she produces better quality, is more passionate and thus satisfied and more productive. This is a win-win situation for both the company and the employee. Leading with integrity is crucial for healthy relationships and conscious organizational culture. Leaders who are not able to show them true selves, in other words, they interact behind their ego, cannot build authentic relationships with their employees. Similarly, employees who cannot be truly themselves at work, cannot reach their full potential. This is naturally harmful for both the people and the organization. By realizing the importance of spiritual intelligence and developing it, organizational members will find meaning in their work and contribute to the organizational goals fully.


Vaughan (2002) presents that a spiritually intelligent person possesses capacity to see things from more than one perspective and to recognize relationships between perception, belief, and behavior. Most people expect that their responsibility remains in behavior but not for beliefs or perceptions – however, these are closely interconnected. Vaughan (2002) further notes that spiritual maturity is expressed through wisdom and compassionate action in the world. Wigglesworth (2012) lists benefits of possessing high spiritual intelligence:


Self-awareness: Knowing what one believes in and values, and what deeply motivates her

Spontaneity: Living in and being responsive to the moment

Being vision- and value-led: Acting from principles and deep beliefs, and living accordingly

Big picture: Seeing larger patterns, relationships and connections; having a sense of belonging

Compassion and deep empathy: Ability to listen and pay attention to understand how others are feeling and why and expressing deep understanding to their misery

Embracing diversity: Valuing other people for their differences, not despite them

Field independence: Standing against the crowd and having one’s own beliefs

Curiosity to ask fundamentalWhy?” questions: Need to understand and get to the bottom of things

Ability to reframe: Standing back from a situation or problem and seeing the bigger picture or wider context

Positive use of adversity: Learning and growing from mistakes, setbacks and suffering

Sense of vocation: Feeling called upon to serve, to give back


2.3. Role of motivation in spiritual intelligence


When talking about the concepts of well-being and organizational performance, it is important to cover motivation. Motivation is a mental construct that makes people move to do something. In the context of work, motivation derives not only from extrinsic drivers, such as bonuses and promotions, but more importantly from intrinsic drivers. In an organization, leader’s ability to persuade and influence others to work towards a mutual direction reflects his talent to motivate. As presented, leader in this context can and should refer to all organizational members. Thus, the level of motivation contributes in a significant manner to organizational performance and productivity. Wigglesworth (2012) notes that the deepest motivator for any human being is a clear sense of meaning and purpose. This can only arise when we know who we are – in other words, we are self-actualized. She presents that this is where emotional intelligence flows into spiritual intelligence – only in this state of self-awareness are we able to see our purpose. When people are intrinsically motivated, they are more effective, productive and creative.


2.4. From intellectual knowledge into action: developing one’s SQ


A wide range of goals can be set for developing one’s spiritual intelligence, such as inner peace and self-realization. As people reflect their inner feelings to their external environment, increased spiritual intelligence among organizational members leads to increased harmony, peace and clarity on organizational level. Vaughan (2012) states that whatever the goal is, the process always involves a transformation of consciousness. People become more aware of their thoughts, beliefs, mental patters and actions. When the level of spiritual intelligence increases, unconsciousness transforms to commitment, integrity and spiritual freedom, fear and defensiveness to love and compassion, and from ignorance and confusion to wisdom and understanding (Vaughan, 1995). Traditions, practitioners and research widely agrees that development of spiritual intelligence can truly happen only through spiritual practice. Practice can deepen the capacity for love and compassion, wisdom and transcendence, and help people develop other qualities to which they may desire to possess. Spiritual intelligence enables one to recognize the value of these qualities in others as well as within oneself.


Shivani (2011) argues that there are methods to help recognize the illusions and misperceptions, which prevent us being true to ourselves. The more these methods are practiced the faster the benefits take place and the deeper we develop our spiritual intelligence. Meditation manifests as self-awareness. Meditation will help us to learn about ourselves, restore the ability to control our thoughts and feelings, sharpen our ability to distinct truth from illusion, and as a result make intelligent decisions. Detached Observation is the ability to see clearly and understand deeply what is happening around and within us. We became conscious and able to objectively observe our thoughts and beliefs. It also enables us to out our energy into things that truly matter to us. Reflection involves taking time out of our daily actions to review and re-assess past experiences of the interactions with others. This allows us to build awareness of the connection between inner world of thoughts and feelings and the outer world of action and the consequences of those actions. By connecting with the higher source of spiritual power, we empower ourselves and realize our connection and role in the universe. This helps us clear the mental clutter of our mind and focus on our consciousness. Practice refers to putting the knowledge into action. Learning, new insights and new realizations are only theories and have no power to change your life unless they are brought into action, allowing us to shape new behaviors and new forms of expression. Spiritual vision is learning to see only the best in others and by doing so empowering others to develop the best in themselves. Seeing is creating – how we see others is how we create the other within us, which will be both a reflection of how we see ourselves at that moment and the quality of the energy we will then give to others.


Alexander et al. (1993) found that, compared to controls, employees who practiced meditation over a 3-month period showed less anxiety and stress, increased job satisfaction, and improved personal relationships at work. Ellison (1983) describes a measure of spirituality, the Spiritual Well Being Scale, which includes subscales for spiritual belief and existential well-being (EWB). EWB was positively correlated with self-esteem and social skills. Spiritually oriented people appear to have improved human relations and exhibit greater empathy (Elmer, et al., 2003).


3.0. Conclusions and future research


This paper has made an aim to show how developing one’s spiritual intelligence and personal leadership can help one to find more meaning, happiness and satisfaction in life. The research questions of this paper were:

  1. How can one benefit of developing her spiritual intelligence in her personal and professional life?
  2. How is increased SQ and personal leadership likely to affect organizational performance?
  3. How can one develop his spiritual intelligence?


This leads to increased performance and productivity in both personal and professional life, and thus contributes to organizations’ success as well. Methods to increase spiritual intelligence were then presented. As explained earlier, every one of us adapts different roles of leadership in our lives. It is our responsibility to spread happiness, compassion, harmony and peace around us. The findings of this paper concern anyone who wishes to develop her SQ, or contribute to any organizations’ performance and culture by helping others for heightened self-awareness. The message of this paper is to encourage all human beings to take a look inside and identify their values, beliefs. Developing spiritual intelligence is a lifelong and dynamic process – hardly anyone can perfectly master it. However, as it has been demonstrated, developed SQ is likely to bring great benefits into one’s life, such as increased harmony, peace, joy, happiness and compassion. Spiritually intelligent person has identified the root causes of his miseries and is able to let them go to enjoy real peace and harmony. When one is healthy and peaceful inside, they reflect this to the external environment. Consequently, this reflects as increased harmony, clarity, effectiveness, happiness and productivity at organizational level.


The field of spiritual intelligence in organizational context remains to be relatively unexplored through research. Personally, I would be curious to know how organizations in which the importance of SQ has been realized and utilized, perform compared to their competitors. It would be interesting to see how these companies in practice operate differentially, and how these practices affect the organizational performance. Also, a research examining the differences of one certain organization within a certain time period, while taking concrete measures to develop SQ among its members, would be beneficial and interesting. Personally, I believe that the importance and potential of SQ and multiple intelligences will be increasingly realized in organizations also in the Western society in the future years.








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Vaughan, F. What is Spiritual Intelligence? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol 42, No. 2. Spring 2002, 16-33 2003 Sage Publications.

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