Intelligence Comes in Many Forms

Multiple IntelligenceWe all tend to honor the form and expression of intelligence most familiar to us: our own. This represents a trap for leaders because it can cut them off from the different, complementary resources of the people they lead, resources they badly need to lead successfully in complex environments. For example, if my mind organizes information in a rational, analytical manner, that same quality in others will resonate with me. If I happen to see myself as a “big picture” thinker, or as being highly creative, I’ll pay particular attention to those qualities in others, and may value and reward them and their contributions more highly than contributions coming from people whose intelligence is expressed in different manners. As an example, imagine you happened to be color blind. If you were unable to distinguish red from green, that inability would become clear to you, probably early in life. Once you understood there was a common color you weren’t able to see but most everyone else saw, how realistic would it be for you to pretend that color didn’t exist? This sort of pretending wouldn’t be without consequences. This is exactly what we do when we ignore forms of intelligence other than our own familiar one, or pretend they don’t exist.

In my work, I often see leaders falling into the trap of surrounding themselves with team members whose form and expression of intelligence mirrors their own. This creates leadership teams with enormous blind spots who are then unable to take advantage of the full spectrum of intelligence available to them, and they suffer the consequences of not being able to do so.

The tendency to gravitate toward and reward intelligence that mirrors our own is a reminder of how each of us is likely to be trapped in our own context. This context is the frame or lens through we view the world. We make this even more complicated by assuming our context is both the right context and the only context. These dual assumptions create the wrongful impression that we’re doing the thing that will propel us and our team forward in the fastest, most efficient manner. It’s only when we make some major misstep or some decision that turns out to have been wrong-minded that we have the chance to examine the limitation of failing to take advantage of the diversity represented by different forms and expressions of intelligence. However, this particular form of color blindness is so ingrained that even when we fall prey to it, we’re not likely to recognize what we’ve done to ourselves, so we’re unlikely to change course and widen the scope of our context, and we keep repeating the same mistake.

Diversity in forms and expressions of intelligence is a form of diversity that isn’t spoken about. In years past, it was common for business leaders to pretend that non-white and female individuals couldn’t possibly make the grade in leadership positions, or positions of great responsibility. Happily, those days are mostly gone. Both the business world and the larger world are better for it. We have a long way to go before we’re able to honor and enjoy the benefits of diversity of intelligence. There’s nothing keeping us from it, other than tired, unexamined assumptions about the superiority of our personal forms and expressions of intelligence. As a leader in a complex environment, can you really afford to ignore valuable resources that may be right under your nose?