During the last decade, innovation-oriented companies realized that innovation didn’t just come from having really smart, high I.Q. people in leadership roles. Rather it came from leaders who have better “soft skills.” From M.B.A. schools to corporate trainings, development programs focused on improving the socioemotional skills of leaders, and assessments around emotional intelligence, E.Q., flourished. And so we have moved into an era of leaders that understand their emotions better, relate to their team members better, and understand the aspirations and needs of their customer better. They are more thoughtful in day-to-day human interactions, and are less emotionally reactive to challenging situations.
The next frontier of leadership development is spiritual intelligence, or S.Q. As we see mindfulness practices become prevalent in the workplace, we are starting to see many teachings from the spiritual traditions show up in the office. For many years, we heard sports analogies and military analogies in business e.g. blocking and tackling, ball is in their court, campaigns, battle scars etc. Now entering the lexicon are words like resilience, zen, unplugging, rising above, letting go, and of course, mindful!
Many of the traits we admire in advanced spiritual people, we now want to emulate in business. Having more presence and awareness, having a clear sense of personal mission, having calm through the storm, having focus without losing sight of the big picture, are all recognized as signs of a good leader — and these traits are specifically cultivated through spiritual practices.
Leaders can build or improve S.Q. through multiple practices that improve self-awareness and connection. It starts with a shift in mindset realizing that we not just a bundle of muscles, bones, thoughts and emotions. It is obvious we have a body, and somewhat obvious that we have a mind, though we don’t quite know where it resides. That mind also generates thoughts and emotions, and the emotions are what E.Q. practices target. The next layer of our existence is the deeper part of our being, that spiritual traditions refer to as the “soul” or the “spirit” or “consciousness.”
From a leadership point of view, we might call this our “greater potential,” our “creativity,” our source of “inspiration,” or our reservoir of “innovation.” Whatever we want to call the layer of us that is beyond body and mind, is irrelevant. What is relevant however is connecting to that layer of our being on a regular basis. Depending on what is comfortable, that might be as simple as indulging in creative pursuits such as art or dance, or through being in nature or participating in inspiring activities on a regular basis. Essentially any healthy regular practice, including religious practice, that helps you transcend emotions and mind can help improve spiritual intelligence.
Other practices to improve S.Q. can include regular journaling to unpack traumatic experiences, and take a “pseudo-third-party” analysis of a situation. This can often reveal deep insights about oneself. Even though you might have experienced a difficult challenge, as you write about it, you take a “witnessing” view, which can help you step out of mind-body-emotion constraints.
A more formalized approach might be many of the mindfulness practices in vogue. Many of these techniques originate from spiritual practices such as meditation, whose techniques are directly targeted to accessing that third layer of our being. Hence meditation is proven to improve creativity, focus, resilience, and health, since we are essentially bringing three layers of our being into our existence, i.e. body, mind, and spirit.
A yoga practice is also a powerful tool to improve one’s spiritual connection. Its original intended purpose was to unite the three layers of our existence (yoga itself means “union,” in reference to union of body, mind, and spirit). The yoga system includes numerous practices, from meditation, breathing techniques, chanting techniques, physical postures, the study of spiritual books, serving others, worship, self-reflection, practicing compassion, and expressing gratitude, all designed to move us to increased S.Q. Many of these techniques have been divorced into individual practices in the Western world, e.g. only focusing on physical yoga postures at the gym, or only focusing on breath in a breathwork class, without the broader integrated practice that they are attached to. When yoga is done in a systematized and integrated way with its multitude of practices beyond the mat, it has a multiplicative effect on improving spiritual intelligence.
As we begin this new decade, evaluate your own spiritual outlook and practices. It is often said that “we are all spiritual beings, having a human experience.” Often we are so caught up in that human experience, we forget our greater nature. As we connect to that third layer of our existence, through whatever practices resonate with us, we will find our business and leadership life orient towards more fulfillment, inspiration and naturally more success.