Using Gardner’s Theory Of MI To Your Advantage In The Workplace

Great leaders are not defined by their title, responsibility, or pay grade, but rather through their ability to bring people together as a team by appealing to their interests and needs individually. These leaders are constantly seeking out the best ways to support those working with or for him or her.

How easy this would be with a “one size fits all” approach. To give directions, send emails, ask for drafts only to be met with prompt brilliance. But we all know that’s not the world we’re living in.

Diversity has become commonplace in today’s workforce as people from different places who speak different languages and practice different religions work together toward a common goal — But do we ever take a moment to consider the differences on the inside – the way we absorb, digest, present, process, and create information?

Howard Gardner’s globally recognized Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) sets the framework for just that. The notion that there are different types of smart people is broadly accepted these days, but is accepting the same thing as embracing? Just because we understand doesn’t mean that we encourage.

Let’s imagine that you’re the leader of a newly formed cross-functional project team created to address the growing disconnect between customer feedback that is shared internally and the reviews and commentary posted on social media. People from various departments have been enlisted to the task force and it’s on you to guide them to a creative and actionable plan.

At the first meeting, you shuffle into the conference room, carefully squeezing past occupied chairs, juggling your coffee while piecing together today’s mental to-do list. Sunlight flits through the shades and you feel the chair bounce back as it quietly absorbs your weight.

Projecting your voice clearly and articulating all of the major points, you scan the room and take note of your colleagues in all of their various forms. Susan furiously scribbles notes. When she speaks her body language seems to convey more than her words. Tom is sketching out an organized chart of some kind with neat columns and rows, while Kim sits attentively, eyes and ears on whomever is speaking.

As their leader, you want to make sure this great convergence of thoughts, ideas, and valuable feedback taking place is not lost when the meeting is over and the room has emptied. You value these people’s opinions and want to make sure you’re all on the same page with access to the same information. Familiar with Gardner’s theory of MI, you start to turn over what you know about the different types of intelligences.

  • Visual learners do best with charts, graphs, and a “see, then do” approach.
  • Kinesthetic learners like to move it. Often big note takers, they also enjoy tinkering and use body language to their advantage.
  • The auditory or musical learners find their ears the most important tool for learning. They can often be found banging out a big project with earbuds firmly in place.
  • Interpersonals are those who can make conversations with anyone, putting those around them at ease with their effusive natures. AKA the sales guys.
  • The logical/mathematics are likely to be the excel wizards. They do well with numbers and systems and find reason the best method to solve a problem.
  • Linguistics are your wordsmiths. Words, letters, language are their fuel for life and learning.
  • The intrapersonals tend to be intuitive and introspective. Often preferring solitude to that of companionship, these people tend to work best alone.

Recognizing your task force covers at least three or four of these intelligences, you want information from the meeting available in various forms, allowing your team members to choose the medium that best suits their needs.

Having recorded the meeting, you later turn the information into a variety of media to span different intelligences; Power points for the visual learners, written notes for the linguistics, and a posted recording for the audio types.

Your next step is to organize this information in a digital space that is structured and accessible. This way, the entire team stays on the same page, despite their different preferences on how to consume this content, post-meeting. By putting in a small amount of extra effort on the front-end, you’ve put everyone in position to do their best work.

The business world has changed tremendously in the last five, ten years. Appropriate workplace attire and even the concept of what an office looks like are vastly different now than ever before. It seems that as a culture and society we’ve begun to care more about the quality of the work instead of these weirdly stringent parameters in which it previously had to be completed. If you do excellent design work, who cares that you’re wearing jeans? If you’re a social media wizard with a knack for making things go viral, does it matter that you work from home? If you’re a skilled coder and you like to listen to music while you work, why the heck not?

By embracing these external and internal differences and supporting the various ways people work best, everyone benefits. After all, it’s your differences that make you most dynamic, right?