Spiritual Intelligence

by Cindy Wigglesworth

Developing spiritual intelligence

As with other forms of intelligence, it may be that certain people are born with a higher potential for spiritual intelligence than others. Indeed, in those religious traditions that believe in reincarnation and spiritual progression through many lifetimes, it is also believed that some people have acquired a greater or lesser degree of spiritual intelligence in past lives. Even so, all the major religious traditions also claim that each of us can develop and increase our SQ through certain practices. And you don’t have to become a monk or a nun to start!

Measuring SQ

One way to cultivate SQ is to measure where you are now in your development, understand where you want to go with it, and then cultivate practices to help you get there.

For this purpose, you might like to access a competency-based online assessment tool called the Spiritual Intelligence Inventory (SQi). Based on validation and reliability studies, it seems clear that the SQi does in fact measure the development of SQ. The SQi has also been shown to be strongly correlated to increasing stages of adult development (healthy ego maturity). To help interpret your assessment results and map out a path for your development, consult with a certified Spiritual Intelligence coach (see Want to know more?).

Be prepared to shift perspectives

Assuming that you have an idea of where you are now, and realise that there is room for improvement, how do you go about developing your spiritual intelligence? Simple answer – spiritual intelligence is related to adult development, which is all about shifting perspectives. Can you see any perspective other than your own? Can you see from the perspective of higher self as well as from your ego’s point of view? The difference is crucial to your capacity as a manager and even more to you abilities as a leader. So the first step is to learn how to shift!


Two Buddhist monks were walking through the countryside. They had taken oaths of celibacy that included a promise to not even touch a woman. They reached a small river which they would have to wade through knee-deep to cross. The river was flowing quickly and an older woman was pacing along the bank, afraid to cross. The older monk offered to carry her across the river and she climbed on his back, grateful for the help. The young monk was outraged but said nothing. They crossed and then continued walking toward the monastery for a few miles before the younger monk could stand it no longer and blurted out ‘Why did you touch that woman?!!’ The older monk looked startled and said ‘What woman?’ ‘The woman at the river, of course!’ the young monk replied. ‘Ah...’ said the old monk, smiling. ‘I put her down miles ago. Why are you still carrying her?’ The young monk fell to his knees with gratitude for the lesson.

What had happened? The young monk was caught in the rules and his ego was upset that someone he thought of as a role model ‘broke the rules’. The older monk helped him to see there was a higher rule – compassion. The higher self of the older monk spoke eloquently and the ego of the young monk saw a whole new perspective.

The ego’s way of dealing with problems usually feels good only in the short term and requires us to make the other person ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. For longer term happiness and productivity, we need to operate from higher self. Remember: ego may give us short-term gain but will give us long-term pain.

Below are some ways to practise shifting your perspective.

  • Shift from ego self to higher self. (Ask, ‘What would a wise and compassionate person do?’)
  • Take a longer-term view. (Ask yourself, ‘Will this be in a history book?’)
  • Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.
  • Shift from one internal ‘voice’, such as the critic’s voice, to another one, such as the encouraging optimist’s voice (see Mastering your inner critic in the topic on Coaching Yourself).
  • Meditate (learn to observe your thoughts).
  • Practise yoga or tai chi or other body movement systems (shift your awareness from your mind to your body, and notice what your body is telling you about your mental and emotional state).
  • In problem-solving or decision-making, challenge yourself to look at the situation through as many stakeholder perspectives as possible (customers, vendors, the community, your boss, your shareholders, your employees, your peers).

Other ways to develop spiritual intelligence

  1. Life purpose

Spend some time reflecting on your purpose in life. Ponder these questions:

  • What seems to be your highest calling or mission?
  • What gifts and talents do you have that could be applied to that purpose?
  • What decisions and actions can you take that are in line with your purpose?

Consider writing your answers in a journal. That way, you can revisit or change them in the future, since your sense of purpose may shift over time.

  1. Personal values

Values shape our beliefs, direct our behaviours, inform our choices and affect how we feel about our work or career – whether we’re conscious of this or not. Indeed, our values colour the way we see the world.

Make a list of your ten most important personal values (there is a list of values on the Steve Pavlina website to help you get started), and then rank them in order of priority. The ranking may not be easy or comfortable, but stay with it. When weighing degrees of importance, consider whether you would be upset or elated if a particular value were to be significantly reduced or increased. It also may be helpful to consider two values at a time, weighing the relative importance of one over the other.

During this exercise, be sure to keep your ‘ought’ voice in check. This is not a list of what you should value, but what you truly do value most. Your actions, not your words, will point the way to your true values.

Be aware that values change over time. You may see some things on the list which you valued in the past but which don’t rise to the top of the list for you now.

  1. Understand other people’s spiritual beliefs

Pay attention to the differences in your own worldview (your unique way of seeing the world) and the worldviews of others. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:

  • Examine your own beliefs about various things:
  • What makes a good parent?
  • What makes a good leader?
  • What happens after death?
  • What is a ‘life well led’?
  • Consider how your own beliefs have changed over time, as you’ve matured
  • Study world religions other than your own
  • Travel to other countries and/or talk with people from different cultures
  • Read Non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
  1. Make a commitment to spiritual growth

This may sound obvious, but if you want to grow in spiritual intelligence, you must take action rather than simply talking about it.

It’s important to commit time to a regular practice, such as meditation, yoga or journaling. Try to balance solitary practices (such as reading spiritual books) with interpersonal activities (such as group work with a teacher). To support your commitment, ask a friend or mentor to check in with you once a week or once a month.

  1. Keep your higher self in charge

Practise getting your ego out of the driver’s seat and letting your higher self lead the way forward.

One way to do this is to establish a daily centring practice. For example, sit still with your eyes closed for five minutes; focus on a problem, dilemma, or decision, and ask yourself, ‘What would my higher self do in this situation’? Then listen deeply into the silence.