The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
– Albert Einstein
There is a great tendency by people to want to think in whole truths, to think for example that someone is intelligent or not. But the problem with thinking this way is it creates “I am” or “I am not” mentality. Sometimes the result of this can be to oversimplify and hence self limit oneself, i.e.: as you “are intelligent” you don’t need to learn more or to change or as you “are not intelligent” you accept, you can never learn or do certain things. However, intelligence – like personality – is not this simple to define and rather there are many ways to express intelligence, or better said many types of intelligence. For this reason it is unlikely the case that someone is just “more intelligent” than everyone else, rather they are more gifted in certain usage of intelligence.
Rarely is one person more intelligent full stop, usually they are quicker or more gifted at certain specific mental processes but rarely is it as simple to say they are just more intelligent than everyone else.
Howard Gardner first introduced on a global scale the idea that there were many types of intelligence. Over a period of time he defined these are nine types listed below:
- Naturalist (nature smart with living things)
- Musical (sound and pitch smart)
- Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
- Existential (life philosophical smart)
- Interpersonal (people smart)
- Bodily-kinesthetic (body movement smart)
- Linguistic (word smart)
- Intra-personal (self smart and aware of personal feelings)
- Spatial (picture and building block smart)
You can read more about the types of intelligence at this excellent blog post but what is important for this leadership post is to understand and recognize that when you manage a team, you will have staff with different strengths and weaknesses. Whilst part of the reason they have certain strengths (or vice versa) will come from their character and personality, another part will be coming from their natural intelligence strengths or “intelligence leaning” (i.e. the tendency to rely on, and use more, certain types of intelligence). For example a team member who is naturally good at teamwork will likely be strong in interpersonal intelligence and perhaps also linguistic intelligence. Likewise someone who is great at breaking down issues into accurately broken down parts, is likely showing logical mathematical intelligence. Even a person with highly positive and energetic body language is probably strong with bodily kinesthetic intelligence. Likewise the reverse is true, someone who finds it hard to take in or deal with feedback and is hence poor at self-reflection, quiet likely is lower on intra-personal intelligence. Also someone who finds it hard to buy into the bigger missions is likely either lower on existential intelligence or has chosen to dismiss its value.
Spotting the types of intelligence staff lean towards can help you as a leader to understand and make the most of these natural strengths.
Of course it is rarely the case that it is so simple to say one strength comes from just one intelligence type but nonetheless it still helps to be able to identify certain repeated successes or failings being in part due to less usage or capacity in a certain intelligence type. Identifying the weaker intelligence types in a staff member can help you to provide accurate support and development and might enable you to channel certain types of tasks away from that team member. Likewise when you know their strengths, you can use this knowledge to consciously assign staff tasks that align with their intelligence leaning. It is also useful to note that normally staff are more motivated by working on tasks that require more usage of the intelligence types they more naturally lean towards so understanding well staff member’s intelligence leanings can also be good for gaining valuable WIIFM buy in and building up emotional bank.
Staff normally are more motivated by tasks that align with the intelligence types they naturally lean towards.
Referring above one can see the types of intelligence well known professions tend to require more. As we can imagine the types of skills a: social worker, architect or journalist need, we can more easily identify the intelligence abilities that are behind those skills. This can help us to identify what types of tasks might be good to assign to someone who seems more interpersonal leaning for example. Below I have done a simple breakdown of the types of skills i see resulting from each intelligence type.
It is an excellent exercise to do the reverse to the above that is analyzing the effect lacking in each intelligence type can have. For example a boss who can’t connect with his staff is likely lacking to some degree in interpersonal intelligence and a person who finds it very hard to get their opinion across is likely lower in linguistic intelligence. Likewise a boss who can not get their staff to buy in to a mission may not be strong in existential intelligence and one who can not break down what to do to solve a problem may be weaker in logical mathematical intelligence. Understanding and recognizing the weaker intelligence types in ourselves and in others can help us predict what tasks we will find it harder to do and this knowledge can helps us to plan according to counter that possible weakness, i.e. by 1.) reassigning the task to someone stronger in that area, 2.) if 1 isn’t possible, working hard on prepping our-self for it due to knowing we find that type of tasks more difficult or 3.) using another intelligence type to counter that specific weakness.
Understanding our and our staff’s weaker intelligence types can helps us to plan out how to get by tasks we or others find more difficult.
A handy exercise as a leader can be to grade yourself on 1-5 (1 poor, 3 good, 5 excellent) in each of the intelligence types. With this data you will then be able to identify what will likely be your signature strength points as a leader and then make the most of them. Likewise you will also identify areas and types of tasks you will find more challenging and be able to plan to counter them ahead of time. A similar exercise of course can be done with staff. As mentioned, when you know what intelligence types people more naturally lean towards or steer away from, you can better assign them tasks and also more importantly know where you will need to help them more. It is also easier to empathize with the struggles of a person when we understand why they find a task more difficult and this empathy can be used to push for solutions over criticizing and getting annoyed.
Understanding intelligence types can help us bring out the best in our staff and ourselves.