The Oxford dictionary defines intelligence as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”. In 1912, William Stern, a German psychologist coined the term IQ as a quantitative way of measuring intelligence. Over the years it was considered an extremely important metric to gauge a person’s ability for leadership and success. We still hear people refer to IQ on a fairly regular basis as the measure of a person’s intellect and smarts, including as recent as a couple of weeks ago when the US President declared he was smarter than his Secretary of State because he supposedly has a higher IQ. The term Emotional Intelligence, while originally introduced by Michael Beldoch in 1964, gained popularity in 1995 via a book published by the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence (EI) was intended to encompass the skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance. You hear the term very heavily used these days as a part of leadership evaluations and executive recruitment…EI is now generally considered a more solid measure of leadership potential than IQ…will stay apolitical in this article and avoid the correlation back to the President’s statement on that one. My contention is that while emotional intelligence is a good measure of a person’s leadership potential, leaders with a high level of spiritual intelligence are the ones that can make organizations truly great.

The notion of spiritual intelligence (SI) has been tossed around a bit but has generally not been given much thought from the standpoint of gauging business leadership potential, because somehow the word “spiritual” seems awkward when considered in the context of materialistic ventures like business results and profitability. Spiritual Intelligence is quite simply in my mind the measure of a person’s self-awareness and inner balance. The higher the SI in a leader, the greater the ability for that person to steer the team/organization in the “right” direction. The “right” direction might not be the easy direction or even the faster one, but is definitely the one that has the highest integrity.

Here are the four key qualities that a spiritually intelligent leader brings to the table:

  1. Self-Awareness – Has a deep understanding of personal strengths and weakness and is able to act appropriately based on that knowledge. A leader who is introspective enough and takes the time to evaluate his/her capabilities will naturally do the exact same thing with the organization, i.e. evaluate organizational strengths and weakness. The intention and end-goal of both efforts will be the same – neutralize the weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.

  2. Integrity – Leadership and especially executive leadership can be intoxicating. It never hurts our ego when we have the ability to want things done a certain way, knowing the organization/team will mobilize around that perspective. Having the ability to steer is a powerful feeling irrespective of where you sit as a leader in the organization. Just like everything else in life, having the steering wheel means controlling the direction and making decisions accordingly. A spiritually intelligent leader will never cut corners and will always steer in a direction that has integrity, i.e. one with moral and legal correctness.

  3. Dispassion – I had written an article earlier on “Dispassionate Leadership”. A dispassionate leader is not one that lacks passion. A dispassionate leader is one who has the ability to take a step back, look at the big picture and course-correct appropriately. Such a leader doesn’t let ego get in the way of decision-making and understands that there is more than one way to get things done and his/her way isn’t the only way. Such leaders usually surround themselves with really smart people and let them loose…with the right guard-rails…the guard-rails are usually big on integrity and doing things right vs. fast.

  4. Value-Driven – Leaders with a high SI level usually stress on core values that they consider important for organizational health. These are usually values that are more altruistic than financial. They are also values with a high focus on integrity and “doing the right thing”. Most importantly these leaders live those values and showcase them in how they think, operate and lead.

A spiritually intelligent leader does not compromise on business results as the destination, but is very cognizant of the fact that the journey is equally important. Leaders who have the attitude of “results at any cost” usually lose the respect of their stakeholders and employees over time and eventually fail. I would go one step further and say that leaders with a high spiritual intelligence automatically possess a high emotional intelligence and are able to achieve even better business results because they get the job done the right way.

In this day and age where moral leadership continues to erode at the most visible leadership levels across the world, it is time for organizations to revisit their core values and to assess, hire, promote and reward leaders that have a high spiritual intelligence.

Originally published at


  • Karthik Ganesh is the author of "The Happiness Model", a book that outlines a roadmap to inner resilience and peace. He is also recognized as a thought leader on leadership and resilience, and has been featured in leading industry journals.