Greatness begins with awareness.

Intuition As A Leadership Skill

I gave a talk about intuition in the workplace (and in life). Is it something only a few possess? Can it be used as a leadership skill? When should we trust it and when should we not?

What is intuition and how does it support us at work?

Merriam-Webster defines intuition as:Intuition and leadership

  • quick and ready insight
  • immediate apprehension or cognition
  • the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference

The definition gave me a clear way to think about it: intuition is a deep sense of “knowing without evidence.”  I recognized that using my intuition is something I have done for years and have come to trust and even rely upon. Everyone has intuition and we tend to experience it through our five senses.  Some people feel it in their gut (“I have a gut feeling about this”);  others hear or smell it (“It doesn’t sound – or taste – right.”)  When people say these things, they are often responding to their intuition.

Different Leaders, Different Approaches To Intuition

To prepare for the talk, I interviewed both people who, like me, embrace and rely on their intuition and people who need more information or a process when they are making decisions.  I asked everyone the same questions:

  • Has intuition played a part in your professional success?
  • Do you use it as a leadership skill?
  • If yes, how does it come to you?
  • What are examples of how it has helped you?

I found some interesting, unexpected stories and patterns. The people like me (wingers or improvisers) described using their intuition often, yet had a hard time explaining in detail how it worked because it is such a natural part of their process. On the contrary, the more analytical folks were very clear about when and how insights came from their intuition.  They said they pretty much only use it if they are able to do some fact checking to prove their hunch is correct before they are willing to trust it. One software business owner, an “improviser”, described how he often uses his intuition in job interviews. He asks questions based on his gut sense about the candidate.  Most of the time, his gut sense proves to be right on and helps him discover information that is key to whether he would hire the candidate or not. Another interviewee, a senior leader in an engineering firm who is a process and analytical guy, reported that he often creates working pairs for projects using his intuition on who would work well together. The pairings might look strange to some, yet they often produce very good collaborative results. Almost everyone recognized that projects and timelines were shortened and problems often averted when they were permitted to use their intuition. Many said they have come to trust their intuition as a leadership skill more as they have aged and some even said they wish they had trusted it earlier in their careers.

Developing Intuition Into A Leadership Skill

So how can we increase our intuition?  That’s a growing challenge in a world that is busier and more fast-paced than ever. The fact is, we need to give ourselves “quiet time” – time that is consumed by doing or delivering something – so we can hear and sense these internal messages. Start by regularly seeking some quieting activities like meditation, journaling or walking in nature. Do you use intuition as a leadership skill? I would love to hear your stories and interview you, if you are game.


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