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Emotional, Spiritual Intelligence Create Exemplary Leaders

The last thing the world needs is another ego-driven, power-hungry executive whose decisions benefit only a small group. The leaders we really need are passionate, personal and purpose-driven people.


Dr. Sandra Watkins

What does an exemplary leader look like? Is there a connection between emotional and spiritual intelligence and exemplary leadership? How do emotional and spiritual intelligence correlate with women as effective leaders?

A glance at recent newspaper articles reveals that too many leaders today appear to be seeking power, prestige and political advantage to the detriment of their principles. The last thing the world needs is another ego-driven, power-hungry executive whose decisions benefit only a small group. The leaders we really need are passionate, personal and purpose-driven people, said Julie Delaney and Dr. Sandra Watkins in a presentation at the University of Nebraska conference on Women in Education Leadership in Lincoln in October 2012. They discussed using spiritual and emotional intelligence to improve leadership.

Delaney, a PhD student in educational leadership at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is the principal of St. Paul the Apostle School, a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School in Iowa. She’s also associate director of environmental issues instruction at Upper Iowa University.

Watkins, a professor of educational leadership at Western Illinois University, has been an associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and student support services in North Carolina and an assistant superintendent in Nebraska.

Characteristics of exemplary leaders

Combining a series of leadership frameworks including those of Abraham Maslow, Stephen Covey and Lawrence Kohlberg, Delaney and Watkins sought to identify the characteristics and behaviors that lead to excellence.

The tip of Maslow’s and Covey’s leadership pyramids focuses on the spiritual. Maslow called his top concept “transcendence to repay the world” while Covey labeled his “spiritual intelligence.” Kohlberg’s sixth and last stage of moral development is “universal ethics orientation.”

Too often, it seems like our leaders are working in Kohlberg’s Stage 2—“self-interest orientation”—more concerned about their power and prestige than other issues.

Then there are leaders like Mother Teresa, Harriet Tubman and Sandra Day O’Connor, who stand out for their style: leading with wisdom and grace. Delaney and Watkins created a list of 15 characteristics exhibited by women leaders of wisdom and grace. They included being authentic and collaborative, serving others, being results driven and transparent, adaptable, self confident, optimistic and intuitive.

Three parts of exemplary management

Exemplary leaders excel in managing themselves, their relationships and their organizations. All three must be in place for success to occur.

Being able to successfully manage ourselves requires a high level of emotional intelligence. A term coined by Dr. Daniel Goleman in his book of the same name, emotional intelligence is characterized by having well-developed skills in self-awareness and self-management. Self-awareness means we listen to our gut, know our strengths and limits and have a sense of our self-worth and capabilities.

Scoring high in self-management means we can keep our emotions under control—even late on a Friday afternoon. Other qualities include adaptability, transparency, optimism, using intuitive skills and chalking up achievements.

Managing relationships requires social competence, organizational awareness and service. When we’re empathetic and participate in active listening, understand others’ perspectives and sense their emotions, we’re socially aware. We’re also able to take an active interest in their concerns.

By reading the currents, decision networks and politics throughout the organization, we develop organizational awareness. Service involves listening to and meeting the needs of followers and customers.

People with good relationship management skills influence others by wielding a wide range of persuasive tactics. Through feedback and guidance, they develop others and act as catalysts for change.

They resolve disagreements, build bonds and emphasize teamwork and collaboration. They also have a compelling vision to guide and motivate others.

Characteristics of spiritual intelligence

Delaney’s interest in the spiritual and moral components of leadership came from her experience as the leader of a “Blue Ribbon School.” This federal program recognizes those public and private elementary schools whose students perform at very high levels or whose levels of academic achievement have improved significantly. Since the program began 30 years ago, 7,000 schools have won the designation.

At the awards ceremony, Delaney noticed that the majority of winners were faith-based schools. She was curious about what set the winners apart from their peers and what, if anything, it said about their leaders.

Sensing that the answer lay in the leaders’ moral leadership, Delaney explored the concept seeking insights from author Deepak Chopra, who noted that “a leader is the symbolic soul of the group.”

Yosi Amram, a faculty member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California, identified eight themes of spiritual intelligence.

They are:

Truth or taking people where they are, including being open, accepting, forgiving and respecting wisdom

Inner directedness or integrity, where there’s freedom from fears, as well as courage and playfulness, authenticity and responsibility

Discernment or wisdom, which exemplary leaders use as an inner compass that guides them

Grace, which is seen as a love of life, joy, an outlook based on faith, and an alignment with the divine or life forces

Meaning or a sense of purpose, in which exemplary leaders understand their calling and its significance in their daily lives.

Serenity or inner wholeness, which exemplary leaders exhibit by humbleness, compassion and peacefulness.

Consciousness or self-knowledge, also Covey’s Habit 7 “sharpening the saw,” which encourages regular development of emotional and spiritual qualities.

Transcendence or interconnectedness to each other and to the environment.

Spiritual dimensions of leadership

Taking the first letter of the word “leaders,” Chopra sees these characteristics of a moral leader:

L Look and listen from your heart

EEmotional bonding, getting to know those around you

AAwareness of where you are

DDoing, moving forward, not resting on laurels.

EEmpowerment, helping others to lead from where they are

RResponsibility

SSynchronicity

Spiritual intelligence is defined by a connection to self, to others and to the transcendent. When you’re connected to self, you’re in touch with your values and beliefs. Your emotional quotient is strong; your manner is calm, serene.

When you’re connected to others, you use self-knowledge as a basis for understanding them. You’re respectful of others’ beliefs, values and cultural backgrounds. You’re caring and compassionate, able to forgive. This requires a strong set of interpersonal skills.

Connecting to the transcendent is being joined to something greater than ourselves. It leads to a greater sense of purpose in our lives. We’re concerned about moral issues such as justice and respect rather than solely on power and prestige.

Another way of looking at it is through the head, heart and hand of leadership. The idea was coined by Dr. Thomas Sergiovanni, the Lilian Radford Professor of Education at Trinity University in Texas.

In Sergiovanni’s leadership paradigm, the heart is committed to a personal vision, what you value and believe. The head employs theories of practice combined with reflection and a personal vision of how the world works. These are merged into the hand, where actions, decisions and behaviors occur.

Sergiovanni noted that “moral authority is the means to add extra value to your leadership practice, and this added value is the secret to bringing about extraordinary commitment and performance in school.”

Spiritual leaders are “guided by a light,” said Delaney. “They have a light in their eyes and see the light of where they’re going.”

The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium developed six standards to strengthen K-12 school leadership, which correlate to types of leaders: visionary, instructional, organizational, collaborative, ethical and political.

Great leaders are not born, they’re made in the crucible of hard work, experiences, attention to self and others.

Contacts: julie.delaney@st-paul.pvt.k12.ia.us  or 563.322.2923

Watkins: SG-Watkins@wiu.edu  or 309.298.2297


Santovec, Mary Lou. (2013, April). Emotional, Spiritual Intelligence Create Exemplary Leaders. Women in Higher Education, 22(4), 1-2.

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