Coaching for Spiritual Intelligence (Part 1 of 2)
by H. Les Brown, BCW Regular Contributor

Due to recent and continuing discoveries of corporate malfeasance, trust and credibility with the public are issues that even the smallest business faces. The development of spiritual intelligence in the business leader may be the critical factor in determining the success or failure of a business enterprise. As this need grows, coaching is sure to have a role in the development of spiritual intelligence in business, and the challenging yet non-directive process of coaching may be the best method for developing this intelligence.

The Definition
In her book SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence, Danah Zohar defines spiritual intelligence as follows:

By SQ I mean the intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value, the intelligence with which we can place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context, the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another. SQ is the necessary foundation for the effective functioning of both IQ and EQ. It is our ultimate intelligence (Zohar 2000, 3-4).

Physiological data identifies the area of the brain dedicated to the synthesis of meaning from perception and experience. Zohar discusses this scientific background in the second section of her book. Despite this evidence, SQ has not enjoyed the popular acceptance that has been accorded IQ or even EQ. This skepticism may be triggered by the word "spiritual" itself. Many who hear the word may equate it with "dogmatism," and thus dismiss what is identified as "spiritual" as contentious opinion at best and superstition at worst. Obviously, Zohar is referring not to dogma but to an intelligence that aligns with Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. SQ is the mind's capacity to discover and synthesize meaning within perception, and extract the values that serve as a basis for meaningful, purposeful and authentic behavior.

The Situation
We don't have to look far to see the problem dogging the corporate world today: credibility. As corporations grow larger and more powerful, the repercussions of the old adage, "Let the buyer beware," become more serious and far-reaching than ever before, not only for customers, but for employees and investors as well. In the United States alone, the damage perpetrated by such corporate giants as Tyco, MCI WorldCom, HealthSouth, Enron, and Arthur Andersen has generated a public outcry demanding a solution.

The Problematic Reaction
In response to this public demand for legal consequences for businesses and business leaders engaged in malfeasance, the U.S. Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which holds corporate leaders personally liable for their companies' conduct. However, the popular slogan, "You can't legislate morality," summarizes the critical flaw underlying this approach to managing corporate activity. Although a political solution to a moral problem is ineffective, the use of legal precepts to define crimes and prescribe penalties is the only solution available to the general populace. While a legal code may modify some of the grossest behavior, it is unlikely to spawn a conscience.

Also, since "code morality" is dependent on popular support, it cannot effectively create organizational or social change. While the letter of the law is inflexible, its interpretation is arbitrary. The question of what is actually right or wrong remains unresolved. For example, is the precept "Thou shalt not kill" absolute? If not, what values system dictates the ethics of the exceptions?

The Development of SQ
The study of human intelligence resolves this dilemma. In his book Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner showed that we actually possess multiple "intelligences," each based on a human skill or talent (e.g., linguistic, artistic, or musical). Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) subsequently demonstrated that emotional "intelligence" (EQ) was the most significant predictor of personal success or failure.

Finally, in 2000, Danah Zohar, working at Oxford University in the field of corporate management, further expanded the concept in her work, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence. According to Zohar, our spiritual intelligence (SQ) gives us access to the principles that provide the foundation for the establishment of a sound moral value system.

Appreciating SQ
Apparently, all intelligence arises from our ability to store and retrieve data, which we can then synthesize creatively to form new elements. Both of these capacities (storage-retrieval and creative synthesis) can be developed. We can become "smarter" in the way we handle the different kinds of "data" that make up our human experience. 

In spiritual intelligence, the "data" include our understanding of how the interrelated aspects of our world function best together. SQ results in a cohesive spiritual vision which enables us to make ethical value judgments. We can better see how our judgments impact the world, and can then evaluate whether a given decision will advance or hinder that spiritual vision.

Practical Conclusions
Since business leaders exercise such powerful influence, it is absolutely essential that their SQ, and the spiritual vision arising from it, be highly developed. High SQ allows leaders to recognize, respect, and inculcate universal ethical principles into their corporate vision, ultimately determining the fate of the enterprise.

SQ develops in response to the non-directive challenging that is the basis of coaching methodology. While the obstacles to coaching for spiritual intelligence are many, and the challenges great, a skillful coach can foster the SQ growth that dramatically benefits both the business leader and the enterprise. The next article will explore those possibilities.


Gardner, Howard. 1983. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Goleman, Daniel. 1995. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Zohar, Danah. 2000. SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence. New York: Bloomsbury USA.

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC, Researcher for Business Coaching Worldwide and co-founder of ProActivation, is an innovator and change strategist who helps clients to effect deep and lasting change in their personal and professional lives. Read more about Les in the WABC Coach Directory. Les may be reached by email at

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