Leadership Intelligence – A Holistic Approach

By David McCuistion

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Multiple intelligences are rarely if ever, talked about in leadership circles.

Two that might be discussed are intellectual intelligence (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Frames Of Mind by Howard Gardner mentioned seven types of multiple intelligence in human beings. Gardner argues that there is a wide range of cognitive abilities and that strength or weakness in one area or ability does not necessarily correlate to another intelligence.

For example, the theory postulates that a child who learns to multiply easily is not necessarily more intelligent than a child who has more difficulty with this task.

While Gardner did not mention leadership in any of his multiple intelligences, it is easily recognizable that to be an effective, efficient, and productive leader; intelligence is quite naturally required.

As such, I believe there are four kinds of intelligence that directly affect one’s leadership capabilities and methodologies to become a successful leadership practitioner.

Leadership Intelligence

A holistic approach to leadership requires knowledge, i.e., intelligence, in these areas: Physical (PQ); Intellectual (IQ); Emotional (EQ); and Spiritual (SQ).

They are interrelated in that they build on each other as one’s intellectual level increases over time through normal life experiences, academic achievements, and professional expertise in our chosen fields.

Christine McDougall, on her website Positive-Deviant, writes about the importance of Physical Intelligence (PQ) to the overall well-being of personal health and fitness.

Physical Intelligence relates to Gardner’s bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Furthermore, current studies and findings prove the necessity of maintaining a strong fitness level to improve longevity and body functions. PQ theory says that individuals need be knowledgeable in fitness, nutrition, and bodily wellness.


Life-long learning is widely regarded as the increase in the intellectual level – IQ – of everyone wishing to improve one’s mind, professional expertise, and position in life. IQ contributes significantly to the personal “wisdom” one attains throughout the maturing process.

Henri Bergson, in his book Creative Evolution, reminds us: “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” Continuing education is a never-ending process in raising one’s intellectual level, i.e., IQ.


Daniel Goleman, writing in What Makes A Leader, says that his findings have shown that the most effective leaders all have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) says EQ is associated with better performance in nine different areas of leadership and management. Goleman’s research clearly shows that EQ is the sine qua non–absolute requirement – of leadership.


Cindy Wigglesworth, in her book SQ 21, outlines from her research 21 key elements of Spiritual Intelligence (SQ), which she emphatically differentiates from religious and religious beliefs. She believes that SQ is developed over time, with significant practice.

SQ is defined as: “The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation.” Wisdom and compassion are the pillars of SQ.

Servant Leadership

In The Servant As Leader, Robert Greenleaf lists twelve characteristics of Servant Leadership that practitioners need to exhibit in order to be classified as a servant leaders. Two of Greenleaf’s characteristics – Awareness and self-awareness are directly related to the above four bits of intelligence.

Self-awareness refers to having a deep understanding of oneself. You need to understand your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. “Who we really are” as we exist in the world.

It requires reflection on personal behaviors, interactions with others, and our overall decision-making posture in leadership. Further, it refers to the moral and ethical value system we use as the foundation of our leadership practices.

Awareness refers to our surroundings with whom we interact and build relationships in our leadership positions. Awareness also refers to a leader’s ability to consider the points of view or behaviors of others in an attempt to logically learn the inner self of their behaviors.

The following briefly lists some of the salient points of each of this four leadership intelligences:

Physical Intelligence (PQ)

  • Ability to listen, identify and respond to internal messages about one’s physical self. Pain, hunger, depression, fatigue, and frustration are examples.
  • Learn about and understand the mind-body connection. For instance: the stomach tells the mind it is time to stop eating, understanding the difference between the internal voice of wants vs. needs, the body’s need for exercise when we want to be lethargic.
  • Determining our body’s perfect weight, fitness level, and perfect diet.

Intellectual Intelligence (IQ)

  • Enrolling in classes of higher learning, obtaining a second degree, and technical expertise improvement classes.
  • Research intellectual topics such as philosophy, religion, symbolism, leadership, and psychology.
  • Surrounding yourself with people or organizations where life-long learning exists.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

  • Learn principles and practices for improvements in Self-Awareness and Self-Management: self-confidence; self-control; adaptability; initiative.
  • Becoming more socially empathetic; service orientation to others and the organization.
  • Relationship Management: inspirational leadership practices; change management; conflict resolution skills; teamwork building techniques.

Spiritual Intelligence (SQ)

  • A deeper understanding of one’s own worldview, life purpose, value hierarchy, and controlling personal ego to consider the higher self.
  • Self-mastery of one’s spiritual growth, living your purpose, values, and vision, sustaining faith in and seeking guidance from a higher power.
  • Universal awareness of world view of others, limitations and power of human perception, awareness of spiritual laws, and transcendental oneness
  • Social Mastery/Spiritual Presence: wise and effective mentor of spiritual principles; leadership change agent; making wise and compassionate decisions; and being aligned with the ebb and flow of life.

Gardener’s “mind’s eye” theory refers to the human ability to “visualize” or “see” images in mind. Arguably, this requires deep and intense thinking in order to see objects in the mind that cannot be touched or felt.

However, sports coaches and teachers will tell you to visualize certain actions, such as hitting a tennis (The Inner Game of Tennis) or golf ball (Little Green Golf Book), throwing a football, or similar activities.

Have you expanded your Leadership Intelligence beyond your own personal views and thoughts? Do you exercise your “minds-eye” in your daily leadership of others?

Is leadership required to understand the intelligence of others whom you lead?

How Do You Understand Leadership Intelligence?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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David McCuistion
David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.
  • Mark Graybill says:

    Nice article David. Very nice treatment of the multifaceted nature of human beings that leaders should be aware of. Although I’m not a fan of typology/trait psychology, if I may, recent development has led to “discovering” perhaps another important “quotient”: social intelligence, which could be considered the other side of the EQ coin. In fact, the term was introduced by none other than Daniel Goleman.

    • David McCuistion says:


      Not surprising that Social Intelligence is becoming part of the whole leadership intelligence conversation. I certainly see its value. Thank you for the insight into Goleman’s Social Intelligence, I will do more research on it.


  • David McCuistion says:


    Thank you for your comment.

    Regarding Social Intelligence, Goleman addresses the social aspects of EQ in which he includes, self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy and social skills. Social Skills is a proficiency in managing relationships and building networks, and finding common ground to build rapport and relationships.

    Goleman’s self/social matrix breaks down the various recognitions and regulations necessary to fully build one’s EQ.

    You may already know this, given your comment.


  • colin marais says:

    I am very interested in this topic of an holistic leadership approach …IQ , EQ, PQ , SQ and CQ …Conciousness ….being thoughtful versus mindfulness…are we where we at…

  • Malorie Grebetr says:

    David, thank you for your exhaustive article!

  • Dr. Rumi DasGupta says:

    David, very precisely woven article regarding Holistic Leadership Approach….Thank u a lot….



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