How To Develop Your Spiritual Intelligence Like Stephen Covey



“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

While working on my latest book, I had more than a few people ask me about spirituality.

They wanted a succinct explanation or a simple model for Spiritual Intelligence.

A Simple Model for Spiritual Intelligence

I started going through various definitions, models, and testing what I could find.

Here’s what I arrived at:

  • Making meaning
  • Living your values
  • Finding your purpose
  • Making impact

To summarize, the most useful patterns and practices I found are living your values, finding your unique contribution, and shaping a better version of yourself. 

This happens to be the foundation that underscores my You 2.0  guide (which might explain why it hit a sweet spot with so many people.)

Stephen Covey on Spiritual Intelligence

I wanted to find a model that’s simple, practical, and proven.  I turned to Stephen Covey.

Here’s how Covey distills Spiritual Intelligence:

  1. Integrity – Being true to one’s highest values and conscience)
  2. Meaning – A sense of contribution to people and causes.
  3. Voice – Aligning work with one’s unique calling and gifts.

In yet another way, he spins it as –

Meaning, integrity and contribution“serving and lifting all stakeholders: customers, suppliers, employees and their families, communities, society — making a difference in the world (SPIRIT) “

3 Ways to Develop Your Spiritual Intelligence

Covey also provides common ways to develop it:

  1. Read and meditate (Stephen Covey’s personal approach)
  2. Immersion in great literature or great music
  3. Find it in the way you communicate with nature

I was actually surprised by how simply and elegantly Covey addresses spirituality.

I like the fact that he provides a simple lens and frames it as spiritual intelligence.

It was also refreshing to see a pragmatic and non-dogmatic approach to looking beyond mind, body, and heart, into the spiritual side of things.

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  1. I like the simplicity of your summary (also Covey expresses it nicely) and it’s very similar to how I understand spirituality for myself. I also include something about the bigger picture – finding my place in and connection to web of life.

    I don’t personally subscribe to any church or religion but I know plenty of people who develop their spiritual intelligence through mindfully following a spiritual tradition (I also know of people who’s development of spiritual intelligence is hindered by blindly following a spiritual tradition!).

  2. Hi JD .. thanks for that summary – you set out things clearly – maybe they were clear to begin with – but it’s always so useful to be directed in a direction. Steven Covey is very well known, but as I haven’t been around much recently – I hadn’t realised he’d added an 8th Habit ..I must have a look.

    We can all improve ourselves .. meditation, learning, understanding spiritual aspects .. focus on the now ..

    Good to be here – thank you – Hilary

  3. J.D., from the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan, I very much appreciate your discussion of spirituality. To Covey’s distillation of Spiritual Intelligence I would like to add:
    Integrity leads to Integration-through being true to your highest values you come to understand and accept how you fit into the cosmic scheme of things. The pieces come together.
    Meaning leads to Mythic Expression – your sense of contribution becomes a charting of your own mythic path. You appreciate and direct the unfolding of your journey.
    Voice leads to Love of Life – as you align your work with your unique calling and gifts you open to self-discovery. This leads to other-than-self discovery, or love of all of life.

    Concerning common ways to develop Spiritual Intelligence, I agree that all three ways can work. For me it is always reconnecting with nature that has profound impact. A few moments outside, simply being and accepting, always opens a doorway to the sense of aliveness that awakens my deeper spirituality and connects me to the greater web of life.

    Thank you for a wonderful post on a topic I also think and write about. Many of my insights about practical spirituality come from my walks in the mountain garden of this 300-year-old-minka that houses the small publishing company I founded. So please stop by Energy Doorways if you have time.

  4. I love the part about immersion of great music. I now have a new (used) minivan and it’s got a great stereo. My previous vehicle’s CD player had been on the fritz for some time. Being able to listen to my Bach, Handel and Beethoven again is truly transporting me to an amazing place.

  5. Important post. Throughout the whole Haiti aftermath and response barely slept; things made much more sense when 2 weeks after I had a chance to meditate even if briefly. I find the wisest people I deal with pay close attention to spiritual intelligence with no exceptions.

  6. Does the “communicate with nature” equate to “naturally communicate”? That’s a question that I have, as part of developing one’s spirit is in doing things and seeing what the results are. For example, does volunteering by tutoring high schools students help perk one up? How about helping to organize a cancer fund raiser? There are lots of things one can do to make the world a better place, but some may be easier to do or give a better feeling in the end.

    There is also something to be said for how each of us sees ourselves and how others see us. Do the values others see in us align with how we see ourselves? This can be enlightening but also a challenge as objective feedback can be hard to find in the world.

  7. JD
    I truly think that religious groups have taken away all the simplicity of spirituality – which is making me extremely resistant to their message.
    I do not wish to portray spirituality other than in living the truth of one’s values.

    I stay in touch through prayer and meditation.

    Reading and music are so important to me….

    Sometimes dessert can be a spiritually lifting experience for me also

  8. I also think many people have some spiritual beliefs that they are aware of, but haven’t consciously examined – to really test them. In other words, would they be willing to publicly say I believe this or that about people being interconnected… and so I act such and such way. Writing out a few details of a spiritual belief or principle can really be a great way to see how much faith you have. My spiritual beliefs still change in subtle ways.

  9. @ Ian

    Thank you.

    “Web of life” is a perfect metaphor.

    @ Hilary

    Covey never ceases to amaze me. The 8th Habit is a pretty amazing piece of work with some incredible research. I especially like the mental models and visuals he provides.

    @ Catrien

    The foot of Mount Fuji sounds like a great way to connect with nature!

    Appreciating and directing the unfolding of your journey is a great mental model for conscious living.

    @ Jannie

    I love how the right music can create such an intense and incredible experience, anyplace, anytime.

    I used to listen to the classic to help me study in college and it helped me find a peaceful calm.

  10. @ Eduardo

    It’s an interesting observation that the wisest pay attention to spiritual intelligence … I think it naturally grows emptahy, awareness, reflection and connection.

    @ JB King

    It’s funny how so much of life boils down to feeling good — and we all have different paths and approaches for that.

    Naturally communicate makes me think of congruence, mindefulness, and engagement.

    The Johari Window is an effective mental model for looking at ourselves, our blindspots, and other’s perceptions.

    @ Patricia

    Living the truths of one’s values is a nice, simple, and direct way to cut to the chase.

    @ Zen Choices

    I agree – Writing is a great way to test, examine, and explore your beliefs.

  11. Simple model for spirituality, wow, that sounds interesting! Never thought there could be such model, but I totally agree with what you wrote and Covey’s approach.

  12. I really enjoy your posts. This one, I believe, is important in today’s world, as having a solid spiritual foundation can truly help us manage any chaos and move forward successfully in all areas of our life.

    A loyal reader,

  13. @ Lana

    Thank you. I’m a fan of simplicity. I’m also a fan of complexity. One of my favorite things to do is find a simple lens or frame that makes it easier to drill into complexity.

    @ Monique

    Thank you. A solid spiritual foundation does help carve a path through chaos.

  14. I like Covey’s non-dogmatic approach too. I think too many people tie spirituality to religion. It gets all messy and cumbersome. Personally I believe in God, but it’s more my mix and match of ideas from religions, friends, nature, and self reflection.

    We definitely need spiritual connectivity in our lives. It helps us reframe life in a more pleasant way.

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