I’ve been seeing for a while a big trend about intuitive leadership, especially linked to strategy and innovation. I’m glad that more feminine values are entering the realm of leadership but I’m a bit dubious as how it is actually “implemented” in companies.
I’d like to address this vast subject with two questions:
- How do we harness the power of intuition to help our companies succeed?
- How can we support our leaders’ intuition development?
Intuition is an inner (hidden) knowing, it is the part of our thinking that is not conscious. We consider it not rational, because we cannot explain it completely. When we “receive” an intuition in the form of a gut feeling, or an out-of-the-blue idea, or any other inner way that is “not coming out of your rational brain”, we may or may not trust it. The more we are risk averse, or process-driven, or logical thinkers, the more difficult it is to trust an intuition because we cannot fully retro-engineer the idea. We feel much more comfortable with something that we can control, that we can explain in words or mathematics, or that we have created consciously.
I like to use the image of intuition as a alien black box computer which can only send outgoing messages in an alien language (images, chemistry). No dialogue possible. And you can only hear these messages when you are not focused. Like you get a brilliant idea or solution to a problem you’ve been working on for hours, only in the middle of the night, or while you are doing something relaxing at home, and you are disconnecting from your rational brain.
Now, we all have this black box, but two key things are differentiating the people we call “intuitive” from the others:
- Intuitive people sense, pay attention to and act upon the alien’s messages.
- Intuitive people have nourished the alien. I will explain this one further down ;o)
So to come back to our initial questions.
How can we harness the power of intuition…
…in order to invest in the most promising startup, or to recruit the “right” CEO, or to know how to respond on the spot to a crisis?
My first quick answer is: it is about culture.
Any leader can be intuitive but if she/he works in a very risk-averse culture, it will become impossible to act upon whatever intuition they may have. It could even lead them through frustration to leave the company, or through lack of confidence to ignore their intuition.
So the question becomes: are you creating an environment that gives space for intuition, for people to express their inner knowing without risk, that is ok with navigating in uncertainty, that is not systematically criticizing anything that cannot yet be explained?
Now imagine you have a culture that is favorable for intuitive leaders. Is that enough?
The quality of our intuition is dependent on how you have nourished it – how you have fed the alien. What I mean by feeding is what has entered the black box? What are you open to?
Imagine you live on an island. You lived there for many years so all your experiences are data that have entered the black box. In the context of your island your intuition might be spot on. You need not be aware of everything you know about the island, the knowledge is there in your black box’s database. So for anything you need to solve in that context, your intuition is very much equipped and probably very accurate.
If you move to a different island, then you may still hear messages from your black box but chances are, it will be out-of-whack. Because it doesn’t have experiences, data or other knowledge in the database that can solve problems in this new island.
So to summarize, the more leaders have rich experiences, professional and personal, the more you are looking outside of your usual business, the more you travel and experience other cultures, the more you nourish your intuition and hence the better it will serve you and your business.
This doesn’t happened all by itself. This can be strategically implemented as part of your culture transformation.