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9 Types of Intelligence for Business Managers To Develop

December 31, 2023
A business manager developing team relationships using intelligence

Intelligence is a multi-faceted, complex subject that is more nuanced than it might seem. In the same way that being “right-brained” or “left-brained” is an inaccurate conceptualization of personality types, intelligence doesn’t boil down to being “smart” or “not smart.” Rather, there are multiple ways in which an individual can be intelligent, and many of these types of intelligence are essential to master if you want to be an effective business leader. 

Psychologists have developed breakdowns of the various types of intelligence to better understand society. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences breaks down various examples of intelligence, ranging from logical-mathematical to musical. Similarly, Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence sorts intelligence into three sections: problem-solving, dealing with novel situations, and the ability to function in one’s environment.

New models and opinions on how intelligence should be categorized are likely to continue cropping up, but overall there are some common categorizations between each theory.

Understanding the different types of intelligence can help you more effectively develop these areas and the skills related to them. This is particularly true for business managers who need to use various types of intelligence throughout the day to lead their teams. Here are a few different types of intelligence you can use in your career.  

1. Bodily-Kinesthetic

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence refers to the use of our bodies to learn, communicate, and navigate the world. When kids use letter blocks to form words, they’re using kinesthetic learning because they’re touching the letters and placing them in the right order.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence also relates to body language. Managers can use body language to show how they’re practicing active listening and to communicate emotions along with their words. An employee is more likely to feel heard when their manager is making eye contact and nodding at their points. In the field of international relations, good body language can help overcome language barriers and cultural differences. 

This intelligence takes practice to develop. Watch your body language in a mirror or talk to a partner or friend to learn what your body language unknowingly communicates.  

2. Collaborative

Collaborative intelligence helps people work well with others. Some of the skills associated with this trait include clear communication, active listening, compromising, and delegation. Collaboration is used on the managerial level to lead teams, but also on the employee level. For example, one team member might know their co-worker doesn’t enjoy an aspect of a project, so they’ll volunteer to take on that part instead.

This form of intelligence often comes with practice. The more you work in a collaborative setting where each team member brings something unique to the table, the more you can see how groups of people work together to complete large projects. Without good collaboration, managers will struggle to delegate or lead their teams effectively. They also might get overwhelmed by their workloads because they don’t have a peer support system to help them.  

3. Creative

This form of intelligence is closely related to problem-solving. It refers to the ability to think in unique ways to come up with ideas and solutions. For example, a manager might use creative intelligence if they have a limited budget and need to identify strategic cuts without impacting their production levels. They might develop unique solutions to help customers while also supporting employees.

Creative problem-solving often taps into previous experience, but this skill can also be developed on its own. For example, some schools focus on creative intelligence for managers in their master of business administration degrees to help leaders build these skills.

Creative intelligence is essential for leaders because your team members look to you to solve problems. Even if an employee presents multiple solutions to a problem, you will need to be able to weigh each option and determine the best one.  

4. Emotional

There are two key parts of emotional intelligence: the ability to understand your own emotions and to understand the emotions of those around you. For example, if you’re in a bad mood because you skipped breakfast, your emotional intelligence can tell you to eat something before you react angrily to an email. If an employee recently lost a loved one, emotional IQ helps you respond with sympathy while giving them time to grieve. 

This is a particularly difficult form of intelligence to develop because it relies on an understanding of your own mind and the thought processes of others. Start by using a Feelings Wheel to put words to your emotions. If you feel bad, ask yourself why. You might feel stressed about an upcoming deadline and overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do. If you can communicate those feelings clearly, more people around you will understand your emotions and reactions.

5. Interpersonal

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to develop relationships with other human beings. This is another form of intelligence that taps into different skills. You can use good communication to learn about your employees and use teamwork to encourage your staff to complete big projects on time. Conflict management is also a key part of interpersonal intelligence, which comes with sub-skills of its own like active listening and creative problem-solving.

Try to identify where your weaknesses lie with interpersonal intelligence and try to hone those skills. For example, if you have a hard time listening to people and remembering what they say, practice active listening techniques. Small steps to improve interpersonal skills can help you become a better manager who your employees feel comfortable working with.

6. Intrapersonal

Intrapersonal intelligence is the understanding of your own emotions, thoughts, and ideas. People with this skill often have high levels of self-reflection and strong control of their feelings. 

Managers need this intelligence to respond calmly in stressful situations. If you react without reflecting, you might do something like yell at your employees or say harsh words that hurt them. This creates a toxic work environment that could lead to higher turnover rates and potentially your removal from the organization.

Leaders with high levels of intrapersonal intelligence often have good intuition and take time to process events after they occur. If you want to hone this form of intelligence, learn to STOP: stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed. This is used by children and adults alike to evaluate situations before responding to them. 

7. Linguistic

Linguistic intelligence is a form of verbal intelligence. While it includes skills like learning new languages and growing your vocabulary when you encounter new words, this form of intelligence also covers word choice. Managers need to speak clearly when they talk to their employees but also need to be careful with their words. For example, if a company experiences layoffs, employees need to be let go in a firm but compassionate manner. 

Good linguistic intelligence helps managers overcome uncomfortable situations. They use their words to navigate conflicts between team members or to deliver bad news. Linguistic and interpersonal intelligence often go together, as good word choice helps you communicate with others.  

8. Logical-Mathematical

Logical-mathematical intelligence is a form of analytical thinking. It’s most commonly found in business analytics positions and finance careers. For example, an analyst will take a large dataset and organize the information in a meaningful way to draw conclusions about the company’s operations. A finance professional forecasts costs over the next few quarters based on previous spending trends.

People who are good at creative problem-solving often have good logical reasoning. They can look at the facts before them and brainstorm conclusions and solutions to act on. Managers rely on logical reasoning each day to move their team forward, whether they’re setting reasonable deadlines for projects or allocating appropriate budgets for specific teams. 

Honing this skill can be fun. Pick up a book of logic puzzles and brain teasers to enjoy in your spare time. This can help you learn to think creatively and explore ideas in new ways.

9. Spatial

Spatial intelligence is the ability to look at various moving parts of something and see how they fit together. For example, someone with spatial intelligence can see a pile of Lincoln Logs and see how they could fit together to form a cabin. Spatial intelligence in its most rudimentary form allows people to play Tetris and know which pieces will fit together.

Spatial intelligence is often used metaphorically in business. Your team isn’t literally building a log cabin, but multiple pieces of a project go together to create a finished product. Managers need to set deadlines for each piece and oftentimes have to manage multiple aspects of projects at the same time. Fortunately, many project management software systems help with this and provide visual resources for spatial challenges. 

Managers often start small when honing their spatial intelligence by taking on small projects. As they grow these skills, they can take on bigger projects that have significant impacts on the organization. 

Without realizing it, you’ll use multiple types of intelligence throughout the day. You’ll use logic when looking at a data set and then interpersonal intelligence to review the information with a coworker. Having awareness of these skills helps you hone them and thrive in your leadership position.