Your Gut Helps Your Goals
Ultimate Leadership Newsletter
by Dr. John Townsend
What do you do with hunches, intuitions, and gut responses in your leadership situations? All leaders experience these apparently out-of-the-blue sensations, but often they don’t pay attention to them, or perhaps they just don’t know what to do with them. The reality, however, is that these internal experiences can be extremely helpful to you in decision making, problem solving and reaching your goals. Let’s understand how to make the best use of them.
The key tools that every leader needs are information, and ways to understand information. Leaders are expected to make decisions based on the information they have available from all sorts of sources. Whether these decisions are about finances, people problems, administration, or training, you will always find yourself having to choose some path or answer, hoping it is the right one. The data you have at your disposal is critical to you. Solid research, reports, spreadsheets, and analyses will all help you plan the next move. It’s sort of like the CIA: you’re only as good as your intelligence.
There is, however, another source of information that every successful leader uses well. That source is your own internal world. Numerous things are going on inside your mind, which can be extremely helpful in being the leader you want to be – one who makes good choices and brings about good outcomes. The most successful leaders are those who have mastered the ability to mine for what is inside, just as readily as they do what is outside. One of the most important aspects of this internal world is your intuition. Let’s understand what it is, and how to use it to bring about good fruit in your leadership.
Intuition is an experience that points you in a particular direction or choice, without a noticeable flow of logical thought. It is generally immediate and tends to be pretty certain about what it thinks. For example, have you ever had the strange experience of interfacing with a person who looked good on paper, but something inside you was flashing a warning? The individual may have come with a good resume, track record and very positive recommendations, but you were uneasy with them for some reason. Then, as time passed, you found out the resume was not as accurate as your gut was.
Often, leaders do not trust their intuition because it is not very observable and measurable. They think it’s part of the touchy-feely world, and that they should defer to more reliable aspects of judgment. Actually, this is a valid concern; sometimes our hunches can be based on a fear, desire, or even just being in a bad mood that day. However, don’t make the mistake of dismissing the power and helpfulness of sound intuition.
Let’s take the mystery out of the idea, as hunches actually do make sense. Intuition is not some mystical, magical process that comes from outer space. It actually has its basis in reality. Intuition is based on your experiences. It is a summary and synthesis of your own interactions and history with a certain situation, or a type of person. It takes all those experiences and comes up with a conclusion. If you unpacked what it was about that person you sensed warning signs with, you might, for example, have been reminded of a certain insincerity or untrustworthiness that you’d seen before in other people and settings. Perhaps you had bad personal experiences with people who related on an insincere level. Over time, you have experienced tell-tale patterns that suggest, “You’ve been here before.” Thus, your intuition just summarized what you already knew, and delivered an opinion to you.
Think, for example, about a major league baseball player, up at bat. The pitcher hurls a ninety mile an hour ball at him. Most of us would just watch the ball whiz past us. Because he has done this thousands of times, along with being innately gifted, the hitter is able to almost instantly figure out the type of pitch, its speed, and where it will end up. With that information processed at the speed of light, he shifts his body and bat in the best position to respond. This is much like intuition on a physical level. He reaches the right conclusion quickly because he has synthesized these situations in his mind.
The concept is part of how we are designed by God to grow in wisdom and discernment. It is simply part of the ability to have insight: “A man will be praised according to his insight, but one of perverse mind will be despised (Proverbs 12:8, NASB).” Insight that leads to intuition is a valuable commodity for your leadership, no matter what you are doing. Here are some tips to help you make the best use of your intuitive abilities:
Train yourself to pay attention to your hunches. Give your intuition the same focus that you give external sources of information. If you were doing a financial analysis, you’d never exclude the Profit and Loss statement; you need that data. In the same way, realize that you’re not done in a particular situation until you have checked out any possible internal reactions. You just haven’t finished until you have investigated this part.
Check reality against reality. Compare what your hunch is telling you with the objective information you have. Sometimes they match up. Sometimes they collide. And sometimes it looks like they collide, but actually the intuition is just processing the information at a different level. It is always worthwhile to check this out. There are people who rely only on the gut, and do so at their peril. God created reality, and it doesn’t change, ultimately. You can trust what is truly true.
Investigate other causes. Could your hunch be coming from another, not so reliable source? For example, suppose you are excited about a growth opportunity in collectibles, such as antique cars. Without a lot of solid information, you have a strong hunch that this could be something to invest time and money in. But then, on reflection, you realize that antique cars are a lifelong love of yours, and the hunch has more to do with passion and desire than it does a synthesis of business and financial experiences. Keep in mind that desire sometimes can make us try to bend reality, and that never works for us.
Take some risks. Part of leadership is pushing things along that sometimes aren’t popular, or don’t make sense to others. As they say, often yesterday’s fool is today’s genius. Leaders see and do things others can’t or won’t do. Otherwise, there is no need for a leader. You’ll make some mistakes; try to keep them from being fatal, but get used to them and learn from them. You are also training your intuition to work at a higher and higher level.
You can be structured and organized – and highly intuitive! In fact, it’s the best way to be. Give that gut a little breathing room and see what happens. God bless.
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