Leading from your gut

By October 22, 2020 Leadership

“Several times lately, I have finished my work, closed the laptop and sat staring out of the window of my spare room office worrying that I don’t have the answers. That my team are looking to me for guidance about the future…and I simply don’t know.”

A genuine, honest reflection from one of our clients. He is an impressive and successful leader. He has gravitas, is trusted and a great coach to his senior reports. He is also highly intuitive, with an innate ability to be a pioneering visionary who can then work with others to ground that vision into reality. And yet, he is stuck. He still has his instincts, yet with the world, in flux, he is finding it hard to convince his team to go with him because they need more tangible evidence to ground his ideas.

He is leading from his gut because he thinks that’s the only way to respond to the unknown. If in doubt, follow your instincts.

It is an exciting area of leadership and one that, perhaps, has been overlooked in a world that can access evidence, stats and data at the swipe of a screen. Making decisions on gut instinct might be making a comeback, it could come back into fashion and for many leaders, it never went away.

Agile thinking is a crucial leadership skill. We work with teams to help them widen their abilities in this area to impact decisions, problem-solving and prioritising. If you unpack it there are five facets:

Systems thinking – investigating an issue from a broad perspective to understand the interdependencies

Possibility thinking – to be open-minded and generate a wide range of possibilities, the classic brainstorm

Logical analysis – to reach valid conclusions using clear, rational logic

Evidence-based thinking – identify core issues by analysing evidence from relevant resources

The fifth one is gut-feel judgement – relying on your gut instincts to provide valuable input for decisions.

Richard Branson says, “I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics”, and he’s not done too badly.

Most of us use all or a few of them combined. Yet in this world of unknowns, your instincts may need to be more finely tuned. It isn’t easy to find evidence and interdependencies if we have never been in this situation before. Rational logic needs something tangible to test it against, the world feels pretty nebulous at the moment. Being open-minded looks like a good option yet can get stifled because the possibilities are almost endless.

Think about letting your instincts run free:

  1. Trust yourself to follow a spontaneous urge to make a quick and subjective conclusion.
  2. Your enthusiasm or emotional response to an instinct may not correlate to the validity of your conclusion so always open it up to your team to work with.
  3. Embrace your gut feel about situations then test it against the other thinking styles.

You have a wide range of experience so even if you think gut feel is not reliable or scientific in there somewhere will be sound judgement.

As Anderson Cooper (US journalist and writer) observes, “You do what’s in your gut – if you’ve been doing it long enough, what’s in your gut will be appropriate”.

Next time you find yourself staring out of your home office window, let your thoughts wander, don’t evaluate them or crush any ideas that come to you, it might be that your gut is trying to tell you something.