THE BLOG
08/14/2014 11:03 am ET | Updated Oct 14, 2014

The Major Difference Between Intuition and Fear

Intuition isn't a mystical force - it's the culmination of experience, and a valuable tool that allows leaders to make wise decisions in a jam. Intuition should not be confused with fear. Fear is a powerful, reactive emotion that also compels people to make decisions quickly - which are less likely to be the best decisions.

As a leader, it is essential that you know the difference between intuition and fear.

Intuition: More Than A Feeling

An experienced Formula One driver heads into a blind turn. Normally, he would go into the corner at full throttle, but something - intuition - tells him to slow down. He does, and avoids running straight into a pileup. Later, he watches video of the incident, and the driver realizes his "gut feeling" was based in fact. He'd been looking to the audience, who were looking ahead at the crash. His subconscious pieced the clues together in a hair's breadth of a second.

In a major Leeds University Business School study on intuition and inspiration, researchers featured this story of a Formula One racer - among other examples - to illustrate their contention that intuition is pulled from knowledge and experience, not from some mystical fount of inspiration.

Massimo Pigliucci of City University of New York explains: "Intuition is the result of your subconscious brain picking up on clues and hints and calculating the situation for you, and that's based solely on experience."

The human brain recognizes patterns, giving people a shortcut because they've been there, done that, and know what's going to happen.

Emotion-Based Decisions

It is possible to misread emotion and call it "intuition." People make decisions based on emotions all the time, most notably on fear. When they encounter stressors and unexpected events -- a stranger on a dark sidewalk, a large dog without a leash -- the primal part of the brain reacts, asking: Is this going to hurt me?

The same thing happens in the office. A new policy, employee, federal regulation, price change or political event occurs, and people start asking: Is this going to harm me, my spot in the company, or our livelihoods?

A good CEO has to be able to recognize when a member of his or her team is acting based on intuition or out of emotion. If it's not fear, that emotion could be greed or envy. Whatever the trigger, something about the issue has become personal, and driven them to try and protect themselves and their interests, rather than those of the organization. As a leader, in order to determine the driver of your employee's snap decisions, you have to identify:

• How this person's reaction is unusual or irrational.
• If they know intuitively that they have the right answer, or if they're acting out of emotion.
• If they're aware of their own motivations.
• Why they're feeling emotional, if that's the case.

It sounds cynical, but people act out of self-interest, making decisions based on what will benefit them. CEOs and managers have to be able to look at decisions and reactions and determine if they're driven by intuition or by emotion. You want to surround yourself with experienced, intuitive people -- not those who base decisions on fear, greed, envy, anger, and other emotions that can be destructive to the organization.

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