The acclaimed developmental psychologist Howard Gardner taught us four decades ago that our long-standing notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, is far too limited. To account for the huge range of human potential, Gardner proposed eight different intelligences that we all possess to some degree or another. Not surprisingly, most people who have leadership aspirations tend to focus on developing three of these: a) critical analytic skills (logical-mathematical intelligence); b) communications skills (linguistic intelligence), and; c) people skills (interpersonal intelligence).
While the above intelligences are important for any leader, there are two additional intelligences that are essential, especially when it comes to the inward journey of leadership. One of these Gardner calls intrapersonal intelligence, which refers to the degree to which leaders are self-aware, socially aware, and in touch with what is going on with them internally (feelings, thoughts, sensations). The importance of being in touch with oneself was emphasized by Socrates 2500 years ago (“the unexamined life is not worth living”) and more recently by Dan Goleman in his work on emotional intelligence.
Following the publication of his magnum opus, Frames of Mind, Gardner proposed a ninth type of intelligence that he called “existential intelligence,” which he characterized as “a concern with ultimate life issues.” Individuals who score high on this category tend to ask, “Who am I really?” and “Why am I here?” They tend to see the big picture, focusing on the lumber as well as the leaves.
Physicist-philosopher Danah Zohar prefers the term “spiritual intelligence,” which denotes a kind of cosmic awareness that serves to anchor our day to day choices within a richer, meaning-giving context.
Spiritual intelligence (SQ) is the foundation from which and on which we wrestle with our deliberations and ultimately make our choices. Spiritual intelligence is an inside job, as Parker Palmer so eloquently expresses:
“Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves – the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone ‘out there’ into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others…. Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.”
Our understanding of what it is to “be” an intelligent leader is changing. Dan Goleman recognized that IQ was not enough and his work on EQ radically altered our thinking. But it’s no longer about being the smartest, the most self-aware, or the most socially skilled. Increasingly, it will be critical that we develop spiritually intelligent leaders who are able to see the big picture.
The complex and vexing issues that plague us today are much too convoluted to solve with just our IQ and EQ. Recognizing the critical importance of spiritual leadership – and building it into our day to day living requires that we first see differently. When you see differently you change your mind. When you change our mind, you alter your view of reality. When your view of reality (truth) changes, you inevitably change your world.