Leadership Library Review: “The Roadmap to Nobility”

May 2019

“The Roadmap to Nobility”

TEDx Talk by Cindy Wigglesworth (2014)

What are the big take-aways?

In “The Roadmap to Nobility,” former Exxon human resources director Cindy Wigglesworth tells the story of how – after 20 years in corporate leadership – she started her own company whose mission was discover the describable traits and behaviors of the world’s most admired humans (think: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Mother Theresa), and then figure out how to measure them.  This project resulted in a definition of “spiritual intelligence,” a complementary form of intelligence to IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) that is remarkably succinct: “the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the circumstances.” Wigglesworth’s rigorous research and resulting instrument identified the skills, which are laid out in detail in SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence (SelectBooks, 2014).

Why do I like it?

I like the SQ21 because it is a practical approach to effective leadership that incorporates mind, body and spirit in ways that are deliberately informed by adult development theories (Kegan’s, Cook-Greuter’s, etc.).  More and more business leaders, researchers and organizational development specialists are acknowledging that the journey to embodying the best leadership – transformational leadership – is a “spiritual boot camp,” to use Bob Anderson and Bills Adams’s turn of phrase in Scaling Leadership (Wiley, 2019).  It is a process self-transformation that, over time, can allow an evolving leader to grow the expansive capacity for complexity required to effectuate cultural transformations.

This process of self-transformation (experienced by many people as the quieting of our internal “ego voice”) happened to Wigglesworth.  While still in her job at Exxon, and during a particularly challenging time in her personal life as well as at work, Wigglesworth undertook some major personal growth efforts.  Eventually she noticed that a huge shift had occurred within herself, and she “was able to lead with more grace than ever before.”  This observation made her extremely curious about the nature and scope of this type of “intelligence” she had apparently cultivated.  She left Exxon, founded Deep Change and began her research.  Wigglesworth found out that when people are asked to list the qualities of the people – often leaders of various kinds – they admire most, and what makes them different, the words that come up the most frequently include: authentic, courageous, visionary, inspiring, humble, loving, selfless and calm/centered.  But how do people become that way?

In what situations would this be useful?

Wigglesworth’s research revealed that there are pathways to this kind of maturity, this kind of ability to listen to the voice of your truest, “highest self.”  Part of it is viewing your own life as a hero’s journey, part of it is recognizing that what you admire about the noble leaders you look up to is likely what you seek for yourself, and the largest part of it is a willingness to do what it takes to nurture your ability to lean into becoming your highest self.  In the TEDx Talk, she suggests beginning with humble curiosity, using self-awareness-building tools and reflection practices like journaling, and asking self-coaching questions such as, “What is the noblest thing to do in this situation?”

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

For a much more detailed explanation of the “spiritual intelligence” research, the interplay between SQ and EQ, a step-by-step analysis of the SQ21, and how to cultivate those skills in yourself, I highly recommend Wigglesworth’s well-written and fascinating book.  For more about adult development theory (also known as vertical development, ego development or consciousness development) and the “developmental gap” in business leadership as described in Anderson and Adam’s Scaling Leadership, see this white paper by Anderson.  It draws heavily on the work of Robert Kegan; my favorite book of his, with Lisa Laskow Lahey, is Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in You and Your Organization (Harvard Business Press, 2009).

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