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Autumn 2013: Intelligence for purpose and meaning: foundations for achieving social impact

From the Editor

pdf-downloadIt is appropriate that this Knowledge Connect follows Issue 16 on Leadership and Systems Thinking. The guest editor of that issue defined systems thinking as entailing a ‘consideration of the whole and its parts, and the complexity, paradox and interconnections within them. It also involves examining a situation from multiple perspectives, looking for long term as well as short-term effects and consequences, and recognizing patterns, cycles and relationships’. Many people would not dispute the power and insight that taking a systems approach brings to a wide range of issues, but most struggle to bring systems thinking to life, it eludes them conceptually, practically and experientially.

The view that humanity and the planet are facing some of the most significant challenges in terms of survival that we have ever faced as a species is often front page news. The list is depressingly long but well known – global warming, environmental degradation, species extinction, wicked social problems and so on. And yet there appears to be numbness in our ability to respond, a fear, reluctance and even denial in accepting the unavoidable consequences. One hope, expressed through the ‘Corporate Responsibility movement’, has been that one of the institutions responsible for many of the items on the ‘depressing list’ can now also play a key role in addressing those very issues. There has been some progress but Corporate Responsibility has significant limitations in achieving transformational societal change.1 The Third sector and government have not fared much better.

We believe a key reason for this ineffectiveness is that most change efforts have used inappropriate forms of intelligence and levels of consciousness in addressing complex issues. Intelligence is essentially about our ability to solve problems and think about them in different contexts. While the traditional rational intelligence usually used to solve logical or strategic problems (IQ) is important, as is the ability to empathise and display compassion with another’s situation (EQ), they need to be underpinned by Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) – the ability to access higher meaning, values and purpose through a greater level of self-awareness and consciousness.

It may seem counter intuitive to be suggesting that SQ (rather than IQ) is necessary for understanding and solving some of the complex societal problems that beset us. We are still at the beginning of the journey with respect to understanding SQ, however, much of the work reviewed here suggests that higher levels of SQ enable us to leverage our IQ and EQ in order to lead with meaning, purpose and compassion – to surrender to, embrace as well as address complexity, and begin to design institutions that we are yet to imagine.

An important issue therefore is whether and how we can cultivate SQ among emerging leaders within the business, non-profit and government sectors? How do we harness the use of a different form of individual and collective intelligence to that which has been used to date?

This edition of Knowledge Connect showcases some of the key ideas on Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) and its development over the last decade and a half.

We have structured this edition around three themes. The first is on the concept and foundations of SQ (the reviews of Zohar and Marshall and Wigglesworth). While informed by different theoretical perspectives, approaches and methods, book-ended together they show the increased maturity and ‘mainstreaming’ of the concept as well as the greater focus on the behavioural attributes of SQ. Importantly, as with all the work reviewed here, the term spiritual or spirituality has no necessary connection with religion, but rather draws on what can be termed a biological understanding of spirituality.2  Spirituality is seen as a unique and innately human trait that is physiologically determined and therefore can have both secular and theist expressions.

The second theme concerns leadership. While the work of Zohar and Marshall/Wigglesworth is explicitly concerned with the implications of SQ for leadership, there has been a growth in the Sustainability Leadership or Leadership for Sustainability literature. Much of this work has been concerned with identifying the traits, styles, skills and knowledge that sustainability leaders require to bring about change and transformation within organisations.3 One model of ‘sustainable leadership’ involves leaders exercising a duty of care for themselves as well as that of business and wider society. Hallmarks of sustainable leadership include the ability to reflect, maintain physical and mental well-being, have a sense of purpose that goes beyond self-interest and be able to make meaning of their work. Sustainable leadership also involves making sense of the world at an emotional and intuitive level.4 This work would benefit from being explicitly informed by SQ. From the multitude of books and articles on leadership,5 we have chosen two that we feel come closest to the SQ approach, the work of Integral theorist Barrett Brown, and Management academic and consultant Louis Fry (with Melissa Nisiewicz).

The third theme illustrates the practical application of SQ to areas like organisations and the workplace, as well as how it can assist in addressing complex social problems. A key reason that companies embark on the Corporate Responsibility journey is often to increase employee engagement; to provide the opportunities for employees to feel that their place of work is contributing to the broader community. The declining ability of religious institutions, political parties, community associations and the State to provide people with a sense of identity, belonging, purpose and meaning has meant that the demands on the workplace to provide such needs has risen commensurately.

The work of Lips-Wiersma and Morris offers a simple but deep SQ informed approach to bring humanity and meaning back to the workplace. Likewise Kahane’s Transformative Scenario Planning, which is for all intents and purposes an SQ-based methodology, will be essential for solving some of our toughest social problems and achieving positive social impact.

In addition to many benefits, capitalism and its associated financial system (which developed from IQ thinking) has also contributed to significant social and environmental challenges across the globe. We believe that a new way of thinking, consciousness and intelligence needs to emerge to help solve these intractable problems in a way that is authentic and based on genuine care.

The literature we have reviewed suggests that SQ, the ‘ultimate intelligence’, can be used to develop ourselves, our leaders and our organizations so that we are all better equipped to solve the wicked social and environmental problems we face to enable the creation of a sustainable society for generations to come. This is the intelligence for purpose and meaning, this is the foundation for achieving beneficial social impact.

Dr Gianni Zappalà & Anna Scott

Guest Editors, Knowledge Connect

[1] Gianni Zappalà, ‘Beyond Corporate Responsibility: The ‘Spiritual Turn’ and the rise of Conscious Business’, CSI Background Paper No. 6, February 2010.
[2] Gianni Zappalà, ‘Spirituality is the new black and it has a social impact!’ CSI Background Paper No. 1 May 2009.
[3] Wayne Visser & P. Courtice, ‘Sustainability Leadership: Linking Theory and Practice’, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, 2011.
[4] Bill Critchley & T. Casserley, ‘Rethinking leadership for a sustainable future’, Ethical Corporation, June, 2011, pp.39-41.
[5] for example there are over 300,000 books on leadership listed on Amazon.

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