“The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery; the only real valuable thing is intuition.” – Albert Einstein
Intuition is the faculty of attaining cognition “without clear rational thought and inference.” Increasingly, this intuitive “ability to foresee” is being assessed as a valuable skill necessary to be an effective leader. Even with a plethora of available rational data , leaders use their intuitive sense to “find the meaning in data” to complement or supplement their decision-making ability.
Malcolm Gladwell explores intuitive thinking and decision-making in his bestselling book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” Backed by extensive research, “Blink” illustrates how people form “very quick judgments based on very little information” that are “every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” The ability to do this lies in a part of our brain called the “adaptive unconscious” where a great deal of high level thinking, data and learning is quickly processed and stored.
In Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman et. al., the author often credited for bringing emotional intelligence into the mainstream, refers to this process as “silent learning” This is because neurologically, the brain constantly and unconsciously registers and stores lessons along with associated emotions about what works and doesn’t work during experiences. Then when a similar situation occurs, our brain unconsciously pulls information from the past and informs us through a compelling sense or feeling of either right or wrong within our gut.
However, both Gladwell and Goleman don’t advocate for the sole reliance on adaptive or unconscious intuition. It is better to use with other kinds of data because of the potential for “other interests and emotions and sentiments” to influence intuitive feelings. Senge supports this notion of integrating reason and intuition as part of using every available resource to develop the discipline of “personal mastery.” According to Senge, studies show leaders “rely heavily on their intuition,” combined with other data, to find patterns and parallels “to other seemingly disparate situations.”
The premise of learning and strengthening intuition with practice correlates with my own experiences. Like most of us, I spent most of my formative years and life developing my cognitive rational abilities. Why? Because this is the more socially accepted and valued of the two abilities. I routinely ignored my intuition because it conflicted with others that valued rational data and thinking. Often the consequences or outcomes were less than desired, either to myself or the situation. While these situations were difficult, they taught me valuable lessons that led me to consciously practice listening to my intuition. Like all skill development, I realized the more I practiced it, the stronger and more frequent my intuition became – it self-perpetuates. At times the strength and frequency of intuitive hits is somewhat unsettling. The remedy is surrendering control – sitting with it without judgement or attempt to change it. By letting it be what it is and go wherever it leads, it shows whether it is true or simply a bias acting out. So not only do intuitive abilities strengthen, but so does sorting out truth from fiction.
The inevitable by-product of this growing intuitive abilities is a growing confidence in who I am as a person. I believe that intuitive judgment is a real and true rather than some mysterious power. It is the result of the unconscious and conscious, experiential learning, courage to follow ethical convictions and surrender to spiritual guidance. Finally, I believe to solve the increasingly complex challenges facing today’s world, our effectiveness as people and leaders requires embracing and engaging all that we are – the power and intelligence of our conscious left-brained voice of reason and our unconscious right-brained, spiritually connected intuition.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. http://www.gladwell.com/blink/index.html
- Goleman, Daniel, Social Intelligence, New York: Bantam Book Random House, 2006. http://www.danielgoleman.info/blog /
- Goleman, Daniel, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
- Laseter, Tim, Matthias Hild, The Power of Plausibility Theory, Many Worlds website, www.manyworlds.com
- Merriam Webster OnLine, http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=intuition
- Royal Roads University. Lt 566 Leadership in Organization Course Notes. Victoria: Royal Roads University, 2005. http://www.royalroads.ca
- Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline; the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday, 1990. http://www.presencing.com/People/Peter.html
- Spears, Larry C. “On Character and Servant-Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders.” The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership Website, http://www.greenleaf.org/leadership/read-about-it/Servant-Leadership-Articles-Book-Reviews.html