Review of SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence

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Disclaimer: What follows is a book review of the recently published SQ 21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence by Cindy Wigglesworth. I was contacted by Cindy's publicist and asked if I would be willing to write a book review. I've gone through Cindy's training to facilitate work with her SQ21 Inventory as a way to work with clients in spiritual guidance or direction work. I've taken the inventory myself. I found it very helpful and have received positive feedback on the process with clients. The views expressed in this piece are mine. 


"Spiritual Intelligence, as distinct from both spirituality and religion, is a set of skills we develop over time, with practice. It can be developed either within or independent of a religious belief or tradition. The key point to note here, however, is that it does need to be developed. I believe we are all born spiritual, but we are not born spiritually intelligent. Spiritual Intelligence takes work and practice. In the same way, a child may be born with musical talent, but unless she learns the skill of playing an instrument, and practices her art consistently she will not grow up to be a great musician.

So what is Spiritual Intelligence? Created with much consideration, my definition of spiritual intelligence is: The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation." (SQ 21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, p.8)

sq21-the-twenty-one-skills-of-spiritual-intelligenceCindy Wigglesworth's new book SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence lays out the case for spiritual intelligence as an important and up to now largely neglected dimension of becoming fully human. The book's central argument is that spiritual intelligence is one of the many valid streams of human intelligences (building off the work of Howard Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences) and that capacities or skills within this stream of spiritual intelligence can be inventoried and developed. In other words, a person can get a sense of what skills they would like to build in learning to behave with "more wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the situation."

First a quick explanation of some of the shorthand. SQ (Spiritual Quotient) is shorthand for spiritual intelligence, just like EQ is shorthand for emotional intelligence of IQ is for cognitive intelligence (Intelligence Quotient). SQ21 is therefore an abbreviation for the 21 skills of spiritual intelligence.

Wigglesworth describes the SQ21 model as "faith-friendly and faith-neutral." That is, a person can be an adherent of a traditional religious system and gain benefit from this model (this is the faith-friendly part). That believer would interpret the various questions and terms like Higher Self according to his/her tradition. On the other hand, a person who identifies as 'spiritual but not religious' or atheist or agnostic will find that the language in the skill sets does not require belief in any religious tradition (this is the faith-neutral part). This latter emphasis is particularly important, as Wigglesworth knows, in the corporate world. One of the great strengths of this model is its potential to reach into corporate, healthcare, educational, and other contexts in a non-threatening way as it's not a Trojan Horse for any specific religious belief system while nevertheless facilitating individuals to actually explore their spiritual dimension and its development.

The previous significant research in the area of spiritual intelligence was James Fowler's book Stages of Faith. While a major advance at the time, Fowler's model was unilinear in nature (i.e. a single line with discrete stages) and was, as the title suggests, solely focused on an individual's reported sense or understanding of faith. The excellence of Wigglesworth's research is that she has broken the quite broad topic of spiritual intelligence into twenty-one skill sets (each with five levels of development). It allows for far more precision than Fowler's model. Chapters Four through Seven of the book give short explanations of all 21 skills.

In other words, under the idea of a distinct stream of human intelligence called spiritual intelligence there are, according to this model, 21 mini-streams or tributaries. While various tributaries do flow into one another or cross paths (i.e. they do influence one another), it's helpful at least conceptually to also recognize the integrity of each on its own.

This stream of spiritual intelligence is only one of a number of streams of human intelligence. As Wigglesworth describes in this piece (and fleshed in out in Chapter 2 of the book), SQ is related to EQ (emotional intelligence), IQ (cognitive intelligence), and PQ (physical intelligence). She calls SQ a "capstone intelligence", depending on, building off, and reinforcing the other intelligences. The four intelligences combined, create what Wigglesworth calls "deep change."

The 21 Skills


This image shows all 21 skills broken into four quadrants. Each quadrant groups a category of related skills. The Upper Left-Quadrant 1 is Self Awareness, the Upper Right-Quadrant 2 is Other Awareness. The Lower Left-Quadrant 3 is Self Mastery and the Lower Right-Quadrant 4 is Social Mastery/Spiritual Presence.

Wigglesworth quite consciously modeled her categories on the work of Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis who pioneered the study of emotional intelligence. Not pictured in this model (but covered in the book) is that the quadrants are both a helpful framing of related skills but also maps out a most efficient order of engaging with them. Quadrants 1 and 2 (Self and Other Awareness) are the best to work with first. Then the person flows into Quadrant 3 (Self Mastery) and finally into Quadrant 4 (Social Mastery/Spiritual Presence). This roughly follows The Integral Learning Cycle of undertaking practices to build awareness, then integrating that new awareness through interpretation/relationships, then finally leading to changed social action.

I find this flow (Q 1+2 --> Q3-->Q4) really helpful. There's a real wisdom in that flow it seems to me. First the person builds awareness. This process of building greater awareness of both self and other is not necessarily easy but it is empowering. Then the person moves into some of the skills from Quadrant 3: Self Mastery. The skills in that quadrant really are resource building (e.g. #16 Seeking Guidance from Higher Self, #15 Sustaining Faith During Difficult Times). The person doesn't immediately have to go from building new awareness skills (Quadrants 1&2) to having to fully implement them in the context of social leadership (Quadrant 4). Quadrant 3 works as a bridge from the awareness to the action. That process is empowering, resource-building, or (in more traditional religious language) grace-filled. The grace (empowerment and resource building) comes first and then the person goes to live that new reality out in the world, to be an agent of the good.

It needs to be said that seeing this whole picture does not mean that everyone needs to max out every skill set. Wigglesworth writes:

"As you begin to consider these four intelligences and to engage with your own development, it is important to remember that there is no fixed or pre-established amount of any intelligence that you 'must' have. Physical, Cognitive, Emotional, and Spiritual Intelligences need to be developed to the level necessary to meet the demands of your life and fulfill your desire to grow." (p.21)

sq hierarchy graphic1Practical Use

Wigglesworth has created an inventory to track an individual's development of the 21 Skills. The training I've undergone with her is around the overall theory of spiritual intelligence as well as interpreting the feedback from the inventory and how to properly use this tool when working with a client in a context of spiritual guidance or coaching. For those who would are interested in the statistical science behind the reliability and verifiability of such an inventory, see Appendix 1 in the book. The short version is that is a strong tool. As Wigglesworth says, "It is an assessment designed to begin a conversation and a learning journey. It is not perfect. But it's really good as a starting place for one of the richest conversations you might ever have with a coach, or with yourself (p.194)."

The book is a helpful introduction to the topic but the inventory is what really allows a person to operationalize the concepts in it. My experience working with the inventory, both for myself and with others, is that Wigglesworth is spot on--it's not perfect but it's a really good starting place for incredibly rich conversations and it works well to establish a course for spiritual practice.

Each skill is rated on a 0-5 scale. A five does not mean a person is done or finished with this skill. It's simply a marker of having reached a sufficient degree of development according to the way the model scales these things. There is always more room to become wiser and more compassionate, to act with more inner and out peace regardless of circumstances.

A person who reaches a fifth-level in any skill is not immediately St. Teresa of Avila. Which leads to a point I want to make which is not so much a criticism as it is simply a contextualizing of the book and its argument (as best as I understand it).

What About States of Consciousness?

In the language of integral theory, we've seen Wigglesworth describe a number of elements of the integral map: 1. lines (or streams) of development, in particular Spiritual Intelligence; 2. quadrants and 3. levels (or structures) of development.

What then about states of consciousness, one of the other key elements of the integral map? The model does include states of consciousness. For example, Skill 11 concerns Experience of Transcendent Oneness. Other skills show more spiritual state capacities at the higher end of the skill set (e.g. 16 Seeking Guidance from Higher Self, 20 Being a Calming, Healing Presence, 6 Awareness of the Interconnectedness of Life).

However, as the model is faith-neutral it does not go into great detail or specificity around the gradations of various higher state experiences and awakenings as for example one might get by studying Daniel Brown and Ken Wilber's book Transformations of Consciousness. There are no maps of gross, subtle, causal, and nondual in the book. There aren't charts about the 9 Yanas of Tibetan Buddhism, the shamanic chakra system, or the stages of the Christian mystical journey. The book can only more generically point to such realities and a basic competency measurement around them and then encourage folks to study more deeply in a form that is appropriate to them (e.g. from their religious tradition or from more contemporary nondenominational spiritual teachers).

The model does put strong emphasis on the distinction between the ego and The Higher Self, which I call The Soul (see Afterword for more detail).* A good number of the 21 skills involve this distinction: e.g. 5 Awareness of Ego self/Higher Self, 13 Keeping Higher Self in Charge, 18 Being a Wise and Effective Leader/Change Agent, 19 Making Compassionate and Wise Decisions. Part III of the book shares some practices about how to shift from conditioned egoic responses to the wisdom and compassion-based responses of the Higher Self while yet incorporating the value of the ego--embracing it from the wider compassionate wisdom of the Higher Self.

Points To Keep in Mind

hopefaithThe 21 skills of spiritual intelligence Wigglesworth charts are a reconstructed set. She has done a significant amount of research on the topic and has created (based on her work) a representative sampling. As with any type of codification like this one, there's a balance (maybe even a compromise) to be struck between breadth and usability. The SQ21 spiritual intelligence system could have included other skills to be sure, though doing so would possibly have diminished its practical value. With a topic so deep and broad as spiritual intelligence a potentially infinite amount of skills could (I suppose) have been drawn up but at that point how effective a tool would it be?

The same goes even more so for anyone who takes the SQ21 skills inventory. The results of the survey are dependent on the accuracy of self-assessment from the person taking the inventory. Other variables are also of course at play. A person could misread a question or be having an off day when they take the survey. The inventory is simply a snap shot in time. Having worked through the SQ facilitator training, what I appreciate about Wigglesworth's approach is how much she stresses the ethics of working with individuals using the assessment. The assessment, as she says, is simply a way to open up a conversation. Any data has to be verified with the client (and they do well to share with some trusted friends to get some honest feedback). It's not however a final definitive statement. It's not a pass/fail test. It's a snapshot, time real-time, looking at 21 skills under the rubric of spiritual intelligence. It's an attempt to get a reasonable read on the skill sets of a person in these 21 competencies related to spiritual intelligence. I think it does that very well.

From there everything depends on the client then finding resources that will guide them in a helpful direction and undertaking practices that will help in the growth of the competencies they are seeking to develop. Of course learning the model and even taking the inventory is not going to induce growth in spiritual intelligence. It simply establishes a baseline and gives a read out. (Wigglesworth and her team at Deep Change is at work on creating a resource list.)


SQ 21: The Twenty-One Spiritual Intelligence I believe has significantly updated the idea of spiritual intelligence, as a distinct stream of human development. Wigglesworth has set the standard. It's a real gift she's offered. The topic of spiritual intelligence was in great need of a person to dedicate time, insight, and resources to its study and to create a useable diagnostic tool for people to decide how best they might work on their own spiritual intelligence development. SQ21 the book and the inventory is precisely that and then some.

I think it locates an important sweet spot. Too much of the Western spiritual scene I think is built around higher state technologies but not enough emphasis is placed on discipline and ethics. Also measurement or assessment, such as there is any, is largely left either to the individual him/herself who may not have sufficient background in this area to be a wise judge or it's left to various spiritual teachers. In my experience, their assessments are largely derived from the traditions emphasis on various state awarenesses. But what if a person isn't drawn to 21 day silent retreats or heavy duty meditation or intense shamanic initiations? Are they therefore unable to develop spiritually? Are they simply left with the commonplace answer of people that they are spiritual but don't really put my attention and energy into the development of that aspect of themselves in any coordinated, rigorous, disciplined manner?

The SQ21 opens up a new avenue for people who do want to actually develop themselves but may not necessarily drawn into intense state-training mystical traditions. SQ21 can also be helpful for people who are experienced in the realm of higher state technologies as spiritual practicioners as the skill sets might help them emphasize elements that have been perhaps neglected or not as strongly emphasized in their own practice (e.g. becoming a change agent, awareness of worldviews of others, awareness of one's own value hierarchy, and so on).

The model is well conceived, the inventory is a very good diagnostic tool. It's an empowering vision of the good that developing Spiritual Intelligence can do to human development broadly.

* Afterword: On The Higher Self

"While the model is complex and multidimensional, the essence of Spiritual Intelligence is quite simple: it is about shifting from ego to Higher Self (SQ21: p.123)."

A great deal depends on how one understands the means of shifting from ego to Higher Self. My own view, laid out in other articles on this site, is that, speaking very generally, the spiritual path is best seen as going from ego to Spirit (Emptiness) and then from Spirit to action as The Higher Self (The Soul) in daily life. In the SQ21 Glossary (found on pages 199-203), there is listed Higher Power, Higher Self, and ego. Those are what I have called Spirit, Soul, and ego. But I think, as in the quotation above, much of the emphasis in SQ21 is on Higher Self and ego.

I don't think it's best to only emphasize shifting from ego to Higher Self...even with the proviso that Wigglesworth advocates a transcend and include model, so the ego is given relative validity, rather than repressed or excluded. I think we first have to really sink into the Absolute Abyss and them from there begin to see the ways in which everything, including the ego, is a manifestation of the One Spirit. This is the path of Tantra. This is the path of Kenosis, the path of Loving Sacrifice. This is the real meaning of nonduality. Only then I think do we have discussions of Higher Selves, whether seen as Unique, Authentic, or some combination of the two.

This point is a somewhat technical one. I'm not saying that the practices Wigglesworth lays out are unhelpful in shifting from ego to Higher Self. I just think the emphasis on always wanting to shift from ego to Higher Self can really obscure the place of The Unconditional. Skill 15: Sustaining Faith does ask about belief or trust in a Higher Power or Loving Intelligent Universe (i.e. God or Supreme Reality). But nonduality is not simply about trusting and believing in such a realty--although that is a good thing and a very good start--but it is also about realizing that all beings (including God) share One Quality, One Essence. Enlightenment is the realization of that Oneness. Then I would say coming out of that Oneness, we each manifest as a Ray from that Sun (i.e. a Higher Self from The Higher Power, or a Soul from God).


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  • Comment Link Kathryn Ehnebuske Tuesday, 13 November 2012 02:49 posted by Kathryn Ehnebuske


    Excellent article. I too, really appreciated Cindy's framing of spiritual intelligence as a core component of being an effective human in all contexts even business. Our culture tends to consider our spiritual pursuits as personal and private which makes it harder to see the profoundly practical implications of spiritual maturity that show up at work, at home and in the quality of our civic dialogue. Cindy highlights the practical, accessible skills that move spiritual from the dimly acknowledged periphery to center where its power is most effective. We are tapping these skills 24/7. We can read the difference maturity makes in every moment of our lives.

    I haven't taken the assessment but her descriptions are entirely consistent with and much more concisely presented than I could offer from my rambling and wandering approach to practice. You are right, she is spot on.

    I also agree that we learn to transcend ego so we are then free to use it in the service of something higher, not abandon it all together. But I think I was surprised to get to a place where ecstatic intuition pointed me back to living through my ego, transparent, expressing in the flow of life the same essence as Stillness. After spending all that energy transcending it it seems the cosmic joke to recognize this very ego IS the expression of the divine.

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