Previously published on Forbes.com
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. — Albert Einstein
We may not think of that small voice we hear as a gift. The chatty, rational mind gets so much more air time. But learning to listen to our intuition and following it is the work of leaders.
Years ago, I learned the phrase, “Go slow to go fast.” In coaching leaders, we notice that most people in business are moving too fast to access a critical source of information—their own intuition. As Gary Klein, a renowned cognitive psychologist, writes in his book The Power of Intuition, skilled decision-makers rely on deeply held patterns of learned experience in making quick and efficient decisions.
The challenge is that you get into a groove and “jam” along and, as a result, sacrifice thoughtful reflection. You listen to the head but not the heart or gut. Without tapping into your intuition, you may have all of the right data, with the right kinds of input, but you won’t have a gut sense of whether or not something is “right.” And let’s face it: The mind isn’t always the best source of information. The ego gets involved, protecting, resisting, being fearful. We over-analyze and second-guess.
The good news is that your thinking mind isn’t the only thing running the show. Practicing mindfulness and awareness every day will help you have more access to intuition and even evolve your thoughts. And that intuition can help you assemble a team and inspire them to work together to find solutions. You can recognize when your people are not engaged—and do something about it. You can use your intuition to fix things and get your team back to high performance.
Here’s an example: Howard is the CEO of a mid-size company with nine executives reporting to him. Recently, he charged his team of leaders with some big tasks that would stretch them: He wanted to see customer complaints significantly reduced, and he wanted new products and services created to address customer needs. In weekly executive team meetings, the team would share their progress against these lofty goals. But, intuitively, he sensed foot-dragging—a kind of low energy that couldn’t necessarily be pinpointed.
In a recent team retreat, Howard talked about this intuition he had as a means of opening a different kind of conversation and, ideally, removing barriers to progress. And it worked. His team was able to talk out loud about what they’ve been afraid of, their hesitations, and their own lack of imagination in addressing these huge challenges. As a result, they were able to get to the other side together—as partners.
How Intuitive Leadership Pays Off
When leaders take the time to tap their intuitions, organizations benefit from a more holistic approach to solutions. Accessing intuition can also help you hear the voice of caution more clearly. At one time or another, we have all disregarded a “feeling” and later regretted it. The business world is full of etiquette and unspoken rules. But when your intuition sends you warning signals, and you listen and take action, you often have a better outcome.
Doing this over time and over the course of your career can help you move more quickly on your intuition, too. You gain more and more experiences that help you make faster, more sensible decisions. For example, in interviewing candidates for a position, you’ll learn to trust your “gut” when it comes down to the decision to offer a job to a candidate. Let’s say you’ve vetted the candidate and the person’s credentials and experience look good. They interviewed well. But something doesn’t sit right.
This is where tapping into your intuition and listening to it can pay off. You turn up the volume on thoughts that are causing you consternation. Then you share these concerns or reservations with other members of your team, who may have another perspective or another set of experiences. This collaborative sharing and sensibility can deliver big returns. You hire the right people, you have more grounded, open-hearted, and open-minded conversations, and you do the “right” things. All by fully engaging intellect and intuition.
The barriers to accessing intuition, with the exception of those circumstances where a rapid response is needed (if the building catches fire, or an emergency drill is called for), are often our incessant need for speed. We have too much on our plates to slow down and be thoughtful.
Slow down. Listen to that little voice that you may often ignore. Be more mindful and listen for the small voice within you. Trust your hunches more. This is the key to accessing intuition.