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Management: Understanding Multiple Intelligences
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Management: Understanding Multiple Intelligences - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Understanding Multiple Intelligences

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Understanding Multiple Intelligences

In 1983, educational psychologist Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, a book in which he defines and explores the concept that intelligence is not one general concept of ability or inclination, but a larger concept made up of eight distinct behaviors with (potentially) physiological origins in the brain. Gardner carefully posits that these are not matters of personality, but of innate awareness and agility.

These are the eight distinct intelligences Gardner names:
Musical-rhythmic and harmonic intelligence: sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones, and music. People with high musical intelligence normally have good pitch, and can play music or sing.

Visual-spatial intelligence: the ability to visualize with the mind’s eye. In intelligence testing, visual-spatial questions might present a drawing of a three-dimensional image and ask what the top view of the image would look like.

Verbal-linguistic intelligence: the capacity to understand logic, abstractions, reasoning, numbers, and critical thinking. A great deal of traditional intelligence testing is heavy on these measures.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to control one’s bodily motions and to handle objects skillfully. A sense of timing, an understanding of a physical action’s goal, and the ability to train physical responses are characteristic. Unsurprisingly, most traditional intelligence testing does very little to measure this sort.

Interpersonal intelligence: sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments, and motivations. The ability to work as part of a group is often a by-product of this sensitivity, as well as a keen awareness of social cues.

Intrapersonal intelligence: the capacity to introspect and self-reflect. A keen understanding of self, of one’s own strengths and challenges.

Naturalistic intelligence: the ability to recognize flora and fauna, to make important distinctions in the natural world, and to use this awareness productively. People who seem to have green thumbs, a seemingly innate ability to make plants flourish, may be gifted with this intelligence, as well as gifted hunters or trackers.

Existential intelligence: an awareness of spiritual matters, a sensitivity to concepts that reach out of the natural world.

Gardner’s theory, which has been modified over the years (naturalistic and existential intelligences were not part of his original theory, for example) has its supporters and critics, but whether these intelligences are truly separate, innate abilities or something more related to personality and upbringing, a basic grasp on them as separate components of ability can be extremely useful to any leader, manager, or trainer. An employee with high kinesthetic intelligence may pick up tricky procedures better through a hands-on method of training, while another employee with a high interpersonal intelligence may learn the same procedure better in a group setting, with role-playing or discussion. As any effective manager or trainer will tell you, leading is a matter of understanding where people are, then meeting them in that space and making a connection. The best can do it without knowing exactly how they make it work.

A solid familiarity with the concept of multiple intelligences puts names on these different connecting spaces, and provides a language for managers and their teams for troubleshooting and for structuring success. Gardner’s framework is not the only multiple intelligences model out there, so if the subject is intriguing, it may be beneficial to look at other models and find one that works best for you. The point is not to label anyone with one theorist’s sometimes controversial concept, but to give you and your team a keener understanding of learning styles and abilities.


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