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Adult and Graduate Education at Roberts Wesleyan College

Competent Leadership: A Spiritual Perspective by Dr. Laura Falco

Posted by Michael Blankenship on Jul 14, 2014 8:41:00 AM


leadingedge_sidebarCan strong leaders be trained and developed over time or must a person be born with inherent leadership traits in order to truly be a “successful” or “effective” leader?  Most leaders could probably make a case for both sides of this age old debate, but the purpose of this article is to focus in on the trainable aspects of leadership; competencies that can be improved over time.  It is generally accepted that all human beings consist of several different elements including our physical body (measured by behavior), our mind (measured by intelligent thoughts or beliefs), and our soul (measured by emotions, will, and desires).  As seen in the following literature review, each of these components has been positively linked to leadership outcomes.  A more controversial component, however, and one that is just now coming to the surface in leadership research, is that of the human spirit.  Are all humans spiritual beings?  Should spirituality play a role in the workplace?  Is spiritual competency more important than other human abilities as they relate to leadership effectiveness?  Can higher levels of spiritual competency be developed through training and application?  These are a few of the questions explored in this article.

Multiple-Intelligences and Leadership: An Overview

It was Howard Gardner (1983) who first brought the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) into the realm of education research.  His theory suggests that there are seven independent types of intelligences including:  linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.  All “normal” humans, according to Gardner (1983), possess these intelligences in varying degrees and each combination is therefore unique to every individual.  Karl Albrecht (2006) “rearranged” Gardner’s (1983) categories into six groupings in an effort to “add another important piece to the MI model” (p. 17).  These groupings include:  abstract intelligence (IQ), social intelligence, practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, aesthetic intelligence, and kinesthetic intelligence.

While the body of literature on multiple intelligence as well as rational or abstract intelligence (IQ) has enormous breadth and depth, the last decade has reshaped our thinking about general intelligence by honing in on specific, perhaps more psychological aspects such as emotional intelligence and social intelligence.  The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) was made popular by Daniel Goleman (1995), who developed widely accepted inventories to measure emotional competency, which is a more credible predictor of effective leadership than the traditional measurements of IQ.  A clear link is now being made between EI and leadership.  A recent study indicated a strong correlation between a manager’s perceived EI and the level of effectiveness in leadership positions.  The EI factors that had statistically significant correlations with supervisor ratings in this study included the ability to perceive emotions and the ability to use emotions.  Employee perceptions of management effectiveness are closely linked to EI factors (Kerr, et. al., 2006).

In the public sector, one study established a “robust” relationship between EI and effective school board governance.  Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management were identified and measured as the core EI factors and were compared to six predetermined outcomes of effective school boards.  Six “core EI competencies” were universal across the six outcomes and are therefore considered to be “central to effective school board leadership:  Transparency, achievement orientation, initiative, organizational awareness, conflict management, and teamwork and collaboration” (Hopkins, et. al., 2007, p. 693).  Politicians make up one category of public sector leaders that has been studied in terms of transformational leadership (versus transactional).  In 2007, a study confirmed previous findings by identifying once again a positive relationship between EI factors and, in this case, transformational leadership outcomes.  This study took it one step further and compared the relationships that were self-reported by politicians with the perceptions of their subordinates.  The somewhat amusing results showed that the subordinate’s perceived levels of transformational leadership of the politicians that they reported to were lower than the perceived levels of the politicians themselves, indicating that the politicians had an inflated view of their own leadership outcomes (Barbuto & Burbach, 2006).

Albrecht (2006) favors the term social intelligence (SI) and refers to it as, “the new science of success.”  He defines SI as “the ability to get along well with others and to get them to cooperate with you”; he argues that “the ability to get along with people represents intelligence in itself” (p. 17).  There is a direct link between SI and leadership as Albrecht (2006) makes a distinction between nourishing and toxic behaviors, stating that nourishing behaviors are a result of high levels of social intelligence and will cause others to actually be attracted to you since you make them feel valued, respected, appreciated, etc.

Approaching the subject of MI and related theories from a Biblical perspective, the New Testament portrays Jesus Christ as continually growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God; the Old Testament refers to a “spirit of wisdom” and a “spirit of knowledge” (Isaiah 11:2, New International Version).  This suggests that Jesus was highly competent in the area of rational thought (IQ) as he actually exhibited God’s wisdom.  Jesus is also frequently described as:  being compassionate for people, having keen insight into the thoughts of his disciples, and growing in favor with God and man (Luke 2, Matthew 15-16), which speaks to his competency in the area of interpersonal relationships (EQ).  Jesus’ life provides one example of high levels of MI factors including IQ and EQ.  Subsequent sections of this article will consider the impact of factors outside of MI theory on his life and his effectiveness as a leader.

While several areas within MI theory have been isolated and correlated with leadership outcomes, few attempts have been made to develop a comprehensive formula to measure leadership effectiveness.  “Leadership is a dynamic and inexhaustible phenomenon to which multiple attributes can be ascribed . . . one can expand the qualities a good leader should have to a continuously advanced degree, depending on one’s perceptions” (Marques, 2007, p. 651).  Most of the efforts made to create an all-inclusive view of “leadership intelligence” have resulted in incredibly complex, yet still incomplete models.  Three recent models will now be presented and analyzed:  State-of-Mind, Executive Intelligence, and The Leadership Quotient.

Leadership Intelligence:  The “Big” Picture?

With multiple decades of experience within the field of psychology, Craig Polsfuss (2009) has developed a model called the State-of-Mind (SOM) based competency model, whereby he not only combines behavioral/cognitive/emotional competencies from previous models, but he also takes an “inside-out” approach with an internal focus on free will and personal power to create your own experiences.  He makes a critical distinction between SOM and other models that maintain an “outside-in” approach and simply accept experiences through our external senses.  The power of self is what is claimed to drive positive outcomes in the workplace including “happy employees, employees who are grounded in health and wisdom moment-to-moment, a pervasive feeling of ‘just right’ inside, natural ease and confidence, and high-level instinctual creativity to make the best of whatever is before a person in each moment” (Polsfuss & Ardichvili, 2009, p. 28).

A second model developed by Justin Menkes (2006) is referred to as Executive Intelligence.  This model provides measures aptitudes in three core areas:  accomplishing tasks, working with others, and judging and adapting one’s own behavior.  It appears to be the most straightforward or simplified framework and is targeted to a more practitioner-oriented audience.  It is acclaimed as a predictive instrument for identifying managers who are more likely to become effective upper-level leaders.  Menkes (2006) saw a gap within existing behavioral and personality studies and their ability, or inability, to predict executive performance and therefore developed the Executive Intelligence model to fill that gap.

Reflecting on the scriptures, Jesus exemplified the three Executive Intelligence factors as he traveled with his disciples (working with others), performed miracles (accomplishing tasks), and was willing to eat with sinners (adapting one’s behavior).  Throughout his travels, Jesus continually demonstrated his abilities in these three areas; gaining fame and recognition everywhere he went.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said and one after another, they would do just that.  Dropping whatever tasks they were working on, people would immediately get up and follow him; a powerful example of compelling leadership (Matthew 4).

The final and most complex model was constructed by Robert W. Service (2009) and is called The Leadership Quotient (LQ).  Service (2009) believes LQ to be the new and improved leadership formula, which encompasses a composite of twelve related individual quotients.  These twelve quotients consist of appearance (AQ), behavior (BQ), communication (CQ), desire (DQ), emotion (EQ), intelligence (IQ), knowledge (KQ), management (MQ), people (PQ), reality (RQ), situation (SQ), and experience (XQ); he lumps them into three broader categories of leader quotients, follower quotients, and environmental quotients.  Based on a study with over 1,100 respondents, Service (2009) was able to identify these twelve components as “key” when leadership occurs.  The benefits of this type of model are said to be found within the areas that the individual actually has control over.  “To ‘raise’ leadership to its highest level, one needs to evaluate him/herself in each of the twelve quotients and identify clearly those precepts that are under his/her control versus those that are not” (Service, 2009, p. 141).  Ultimately, the perceptions expressed through self-evaluation must continually be compared to a more objective reality in the effort toward more effective leadership.

Inasmuch as these models attempt to provide a holistic perspective of effective leadership and the measurement thereof, one element seems to be strangely absent from these studies and models:  Spirituality.  Spirituality is a mysterious concept that is separate from, yet fully intertwined with our humanness; it is perhaps the one factor that influences every aspect of the leadership frameworks mentioned previously.

Spiritual Competency and Leadership: The Missing Link?

While some of the literature cited in this article acknowledges ethics and/or values as influencers of effective leadership (Albrecht, 2006; Hopkins, et. al., 2007; Marques, 2007; Service, 2009), both are typically measured in terms of personality or behavioral outcomes rather than spirit-directedness.  Researchers are finally beginning to scratch the surface regarding the concept of spirituality and its influence on leaders.  Terms such as spiritual intelligence (SQ) (George, 2006; Ronel, 2008), spirituality at work (Marques, 2008), spirit at work (Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2008), and spirit-based decision making (Leonard & Biberman, 2007) have emerged within the past two or three years.

According to the work of Polsfuss and Ardichvili (2009), the preferred terminology is “competency” over “intelligence.”  This distinction is critical as it has been argued by Howard Gardner (2000) himself that spirituality cannot in fact be a form of intelligence, but rather intelligence is a morally neutral human ability.  On the other hand, “competencies can be motives, traits, self-concepts, attitudes or values, content knowledge, or cognitive or behavioral skills – any individual characteristics that can be measured or counted reliably and that can be shown to differentiate significantly between superior and average performance” (Polsfuss & Ardichvili, 2009, p. 26).  This line of reasoning is perhaps more inclusive and allows for the exploration and acceptance of a “spiritual competency” rather than requiring spirituality to fit into a multiple-intelligences theory.  To satisfy critics, such as Gardner (2000) this author will not only relinquish the term “intelligence”, but will take it one step further by adding the term “competency” by stating that spiritual competency is in fact THE CORE competency for effective leaders today.

While other competency factors can be used to describe Jesus, spirituality is the core of who he was.  He assures his followers that the Holy Spirit is available to all those who ask (Luke 11).  In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul discusses the topic of spiritual gifts.  Christians are able to receive the Holy Spirit; the same spirit inhabits each person, but the spiritual gifts exhibited by each individual will differ.  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12).  Paul continues to list the various gifts provided by the Holy Spirit, which include but are not limited to wisdom, knowledge, teaching, and administrating.  These factors have previously been identified in secular models, such as MI theory.  Based on scripture, these are in fact gifts given by God, and are therefore driven by spirituality.

Natti Ronel (2008) believes that spirituality is grounded in a faith in God and is “a basic human ability that shapes and directs all other abilities” (p. 100).  Ronel (2008) defends spiritual intelligence as it is this connection between spirituality and human ability that allows it to fit into the broader category of intelligence.  “Spiritual intelligence is, then, a unique ability to understand, feel, evaluate, create, and act beyond self-centered motives, toward a spiritual meaning” (Ronel, 2008, p. 113).  The spirituality of a person represents “the whole” whereas human abilities refer to parts of the whole.  This article is the first to present spiritual intelligence as the “core” ability that influences all other aspects of humanity.  Ronel (2008) illustrates that a higher level of spiritual intelligence can be achieved as leaders fight off self-centered motives in their search toward becoming more God-centered.  Successful outcomes are evident in the individual’s increased love for God and for fellow man.  Mike George (2006) agrees that the primary outcome of high levels of SQ is an experiential realization that one can love and accept others without judging them and that an increased capacity to love is always present.  This much less theological perspective makes no mention of God, but rather an “awareness and understanding of your true identity and nature, the meaning and purpose of life, and the values that are vital to living a harmonious life”  (George, 2006, p. 426).  George (2006) provides a profile of a high SQ employee and a low SQ employee, clearly illustrating the need for SQ competencies to penetrate management and leadership training in today’s work environments.

Several of the benefits of fostering an environment to support spiritually competent employees have, up to this point, been highly intangible revolving around love, relationships, and inner-peace.  Research also indicates that more tangible, quantifiable, work-related benefits have been positively related to SQ.  Related to productivity, SQ has a correlation with increased output and better organizational performance (Marques, 2008).  Enhanced creativity and innovation, faster recovery from stress, improved brain function, decreased turnover, improved problem-solving, and greater job satisfaction are employee related factors that have been attributed to SQ levels (Leonard & Biberman, 2007; Marques, 2008).  Finally, SQ tools are becoming more prevalent in career planning and successful job placement (Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2008).


With so many clear and measurable connections to workplace productivity, it would seem to be only a matter of time before spirit-directed leadership initiatives would take hold in mainstream corporate settings.  Still, the question remains as to whether or not this is an appropriate role for an organization to assume.  “Most profit centered business organizations have failed to recognize the merit of spiritual well being at work.  Organizations usually leave this dimension of life up to the individual worker because of fears of institutionalizing a viewpoint or paradigm about spirituality” (Leonard & Biberman, 2007, p. 942).  This may be the most difficult barrier to overcome in the effort to encourage higher levels of spiritual competency in the workplace.

As management, leadership, psychology, and education research and literature have evolved, leaders have been analyzed and evaluated based on their human abilities including rational intelligence, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence and the impact of those abilities on workplace effectiveness.  The holistic perspective says that in addition to our human competencies, we are also spiritual beings; that all of our human capabilities are actually spirit-driven, given to us by God.  Maybe we are not aiming high enough.  Perhaps it is time to investigate, and even measure, beyond our humanness.

“Unseen, spiritual reality is not unreal.  In fact it is more real – decisive over the shadow reality of the seen world.  A spiritual reality all around, above, and inside the secular reality of the world of our five senses, spirituality is a dimension we enter only when we are supernaturally born into it and learn, through the disciplines, to make it our regular habitat” (Guinness, 2003, p. 150).

Jesus perfectly demonstrated spirit-driven leadership as the most powerful and influential leader to ever walk the face of the earth.  The empirical evidence reviewed here supports the scriptures and provides correlations with SQ and positive workplace outcomes.  Spiritual competence is real.  It is a choice, and it is necessary in order for tomorrow’s leaders to reach their full potential.

Dr. Falco is Associate Professor of Marketing at Roberts Wesleyan College, Director of the Master's of Strategic Marketing program, and teaches for the Master's of Strategic Leadership program, as well as some undergraduate courses for business students.  She received her Doctorate in Business Administration from Anderson University in 2006, and worked in corporate marketing in the dairy and auto parts industries prior to moving into higher education.  She can be reached at falco_laura@roberts.edu.

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Topics: Leading Edge, Business, Leadership

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