The Spiritual Quotient – the Core of Leadership

In my last blog, I briefly explained the interaction between SQ, EQ and IQ. This time, we will look at the spiritual quotient and why it is the core of leadership.

I realize that at this point you might be sceptical, perhaps smiling, maybe even laughing. Well, read on and we will see if we can get this dialogue between my ideas and your mind and heart going! My goal is that you will see that the spiritual quotient is a necessary and suffient condition of great leadership.

First, however, we must define the word spiritual. According to Webster’s, the word is derived from the latin word spiritualis meaning of breathing or of wind. So depending on your life views, what I have to say about this topic may be as important as the air you breathe … or it may be a lot of hot air! In any case, the words spiritual and spirituality are not part of the traditional lingua franca of business schools, for as Bolman and Deal have pointed out, spirituality is often associated with religion and is, therefore, an uncomfortable topic to discuss openly in society. Cultural norms across the globe are quite unanimous in that religion and spirituality are private matters. Coupled with this is that universities have traditionally attempted to provide students with value-free knowledge based on positivistic traditions – which clearly conflicts with the norms of many religions around the globe.  Spirituality and the spiritual quotient can include a discussion of religious matters such as faith, hope and love, but must not.  I accept the fact that many people cannot have such discussions void of God or a higher being. Before we know how to interact with with others (that is the next part of the series on the emotional quotient), a real self-awareness takes deep look at our truest drivers – and these are based on our world-views, beliefs and values and therefore our life-mission.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: ‘Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.’ That is what we are doing in the St. Gallen MBA. Before students arrive in St. Gallen, they will be asked to take the LIFO Personal Style Survey – a straightforward way for people to learn more about how they prefer to do things. This is a tool that our students can use to have a better self-awareness of their preferred way of dealing with the world around them as well as a base for their coaching sessions.  Once students arrive in St. Gallen, we ask them to complete a very personal Visions and Values Essay which is the second ingredient to our personal and career development program. Students are given three weeks to answer such questions as:

–  What legacy do you want to leave behind? What will remain or continue as a result of your life after you die?
–  Identify your top 15 values out of a list of 51. Now, from this list of 15, identify 10 that are most important to you. Now, identify the top 5 out of these 10.  Rank these final 5 in terms of importance to you.
–  List 131 things you would like to do or experience before you die. List any common themes.
–  You just won $100 million in the lottery. Explain what will change in your life as a result of this.
–  Project yourself into January 1, 2021. Develop the image of what you hope and dream your life will be on this day.
–  Imagine that you are free from all personal, social, and financial responsibilities in your current life for one year. How will you spend this year?
–  What is the meaning of life for you?

I encourage others to find themselves and be more of that person. Personal authenticity and genuineness are universal leadership characteristics. Answering questions such as I listed above can be a daunting experience because it often requires us to go far beyond our natural comfort levels in order to do so. It is very personal and deeply intimate, not to mention valuable, to go through this process – and to revisit it again and again over time. In the end, we all want and need to know our meaning and purpose in a firm or organization – and even this world.

In St. Gallen, we are investing in this journey together with our students because we know and believe something quite important:  women and men who know themselves, who can articulate their beliefs, values, world-views and visions are more effective leaders.

It starts here!  It starts with you!


9 thoughts on “The Spiritual Quotient – the Core of Leadership

  1. Dr. Straw,

    The Visions and Values Essay seems really interesting since it takes too much self-awareness to impartially specify the insights of your own personality. In my view, leadership is not only a matter of personal charisma, but it is also a matter of social understanding. I hope that this task will help me clarify my strategy to achieve my goals.

    Kind regards,

    • thanks – i fully agree. what good is a charismatic leader who lacks superb social skills, awareness and understanding?

  2. Dear Rob,

    I find this to be an exciting initiative and perceive this soul searching to be an extension of the common MBA application process.

    Do you intend to have students discuss these themes in class, or in informal groups? I can imagine this leading to some interesting dialogues and rewarding ideas.

    Incidentally, you echo Nietzsche when you write:

    > I encourage others to find themselves and be more of that person.

    His (second, mature) autobiography, “Ecce Homo, ca. 1888”, has as its sub-title, “Wie man wird, was man ist”, or “How one becomes what one is”. 🙂

    Warm regards,
    MBA HSG Class of 2009

    • Srikanth – thanks for your reply. Because the questions and answers are intensely personal, we will only discuss them in informal groups. While many will be thinking about these issues, they may not want to reveal their hearts and thoughts in class. We honor and respect this and thus will create informal events where students have an opportunity to discuss these important ingredients of success.
      This is the first time that my thoughts on this issue have been associated with Nietzshe – his philosophy was usually meant quite fatalistically.

  3. Hi Rob,

    Great article, thought provoking. Your theory of SQ is intriguing. Perhaps SQ is even a “necessary and sufficient condition” for great leadership. The questions you’ve posed are no doubt good ones for each individual to ponder about and seek answers from within. The thoughts arising in my mind are, how can SQ be measured? If it can be measure, it would certainly help someone know if he/she is developing himself in the right direction. I think the exercise of answering those questions will not be sufficient to have achieved a high SQ. But how will one know for sure?

    BTW, during my MBA batch, we didn’t have LIFO in our curriculum. Could you perhaps allow interested Alumnis to take that personality survey?

    Thank you and greetings from Zurich.


    • Thanks for your comments Maran!
      – many are working on theories of how to measure SQ. I have yet to see one that makes sense. Unfortunatley. It is a bit like measuring the ROE – return on your education. It can be measured by the delta in salary before and after a program – but is that adequate? Far from it… For me, “measurement” is highly personalized. A woman or a man who has asked the tough questions and has come up with real answers for themselves and from the heart are “successful” SQers. I agree with you, just going through the exercise is not enough. YOU have to come to a conclusion. How can you be sure? I know it sounds quite soft, but i will risk it: you will know it in your heart.

      Good idea about involving alumni in the LIFO and further coachings. Let me get this rocket off the ground and flying and we will see if and how we could make that work – but I am open!


  4. LOVE the latest posting!! That’s more of what we need in the MBA program – introspection, value mapping, personal reflection, etc.

    This fall, I was planning on working on a “vision board” and as part of that project, I will include answering the questions you posed within your article.

    Thanks a lot, very inspiring!!

  5. Rob,
    Thank you for inviting me over to your blog. Your essay is quite compelling. I can not imagine a business plan or decision in which IQ, EQ, and SQ are not interacting within the decision process of an individual or leadership team. Often the composition of a team is described by the French term esprit de corps. Frequently used by business leaders, we should all stop and take note of the root word spirit. I teach that product is often only as good as the team. The spirit of the team communicates the spirit of the product, casually called the vibe.

    I will be interested for us to explore the connection between SQ (and EQ for this matter) and sustainable advantage. Commonly, IQ is recognized as a component of sustainable advantage. Sometimes, I have read pieces on the IQ and EQ blend, but never on the IQ, EQ and SQ blend to attain competitive and sustainable advantage. Keep the good work coming!

    Byron Loflin
    the Center for Board Excellence

    • Thank you Byron – let’s keep the dialoge going across this great big pond. It is funny that when I talk to great leaders, none of them have a problem with this issue – in fact, they embrace it – perhaps because they have realized that they had to to become great leaders. It is a bridge that one must cross at some point. And not only leaders. I fully agree with you that the team must have an esprit de corps. It starts with the team leader who is responsible for setting this and keeping it set. Rob

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