What Is Your Gut Telling You? How Great Leaders Leverage Intuition

07/20/2016 08:25 am ET Updated Jul 22, 2016

Are you a leader who relies on your gut to guide you? Do you find that you are keenly aware of subtle, unspoken tensions and energies around you? If so, then you are working with your intuition, a powerful leadership tool. If not, you might be surprised by how easy it is to hone your intuition and use it to strengthen your leadership practice.  

While technical expertise, data and analytics are essential ingredients for business success, executives regularly tell me, and research confirms that they ultimately go with their gut when making important decisions.

In spite of reams of data, sometimes the way forward still isn’t clear. As leaders, we often find ourselves navigating rocky terrain and forging new paths without sophisticated maps and navigational tools. 

We need to be highly adaptive and nimble in these situations. Our intuition serves as a sensitive compass to help guide us. 

What is Intuition?

Intuition is our sixth sense, a knowing that comes without thinking or learning. One soulful CEO calls it her “spidey sense”.  Another says that decisions need to pass the “tummy test”, or the feeling in her stomach that tells her if things are right or not.

Intuition is a virtual download from our highest self that offers clarity and guidance. It is not an emotional, new age kind of thing, but rather, according to Malcolm Gladwell, a critical and rigorous process of “rapid cognition” that offers us foresight and help with creative problem solving.

Intuition in Business

Studies conducted by Accenture and PwC contrast the recent uptake of big data strategies with reliance on intuition to guide business decisions. The findings showed that while 89% of executives believe that big data is very to extremely important to their business, more than half (58%) actually relied mostly on intuition (their own or someone else’s) when they made their last big decision. Remarkably, half of the CEOs (49%) believed that data is undermining the value of intuition.

When we are convinced that external data is the best and most reliable for decision-making, we can ignore subtle yet important information. A recent Forbes article showed that over-thinking complex problems can be paralyzing and counterproductive. Worse, I have seen it become a leadership blind spot that sinks projects and businesses alike. Knowing when to let go of the need for certainty, wade into complexity and trust our intuition is an essential leadership skill. 

PwC concluded that data analysis and intuition are not mutually exclusive. To be effective leaders, we need to integrate the full spectrum of knowledge in our leadership toolkit.

 4 Ways to Hone Your Intuition

The more we practice and hone our intuitive abilities, the more we can rely upon these subtle cues to guide us. Think about when you have noticed little taps on your shoulder, such as:

  • Pictures or images that pop into your mind
  • Dreams containing images (often symbolic) that help you understand something about real life
  • A physical sensation in the body, like heat or gnawing in your gut
  • A sound or word that suddenly comes to you
  • A strong sense that you should or should not do something.

These signs and signals are readily available to help us. They offer direction and foresight when the path is dimly lit. Sometimes they warn of danger ahead and other times they provide reassurance to keep going. Learning to listen to intuitive messages and work with their guidance is the first step in sharpening our intuition. 

As a leader, I always feel more confident making decisions when I’ve checked in with my intuition. But how do we do we hone our intuition so that we can leverage it to our full advantage? 

Here are 4 easy ways to get started:

Start paying attention to synchronistic events. Did someone pop into your mind shortly before you saw or heard from them? Keeping a journal can help.

Practice meditation and spend time in nature. Regularly stilling your mind can help you to access higher knowledge.

Be patient and don’t over think it! This stuff can’t be forced. While it’s exciting to access, intuition shuts down the minute our egos get involved. 

Reflect. Take some time to reflect on times when you listened to your gut, when you didn’t, and what happened. You might be surprised by how much your intuition is already a trusted friend.

When I allow myself to sit with the discomfort of the unknown in my work or personal life, and not rush to quick fixes, I am often amazed by what eventually unfolds. New ideas, knowledge and fresh insights arrive that lead to deeper connections and superior solutions.

What might be possible if you were more intentional about working with your intuition? When we learn to trust our intuition, we can integrate its wisdom with confidence. Leaders who integrate both rational analysis and intuition in their decision-making can discover transformative, breakthrough solutions that keep them ahead of the curve. The most successful - and revolutionary - organizations will learn to leverage both to their greatest advantage.


Follow Lisa Watson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaWatsonCo



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