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Leaders: Trust your gut

Carol Ratcliffe Alm //May 5, 2011//

Leaders: Trust your gut

Carol Ratcliffe Alm //May 5, 2011//

The percentages vary, but leaders of all varieties are trusting their gut more than ever before. Eons before Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking, hit the best seller list, leaders have practiced gut check as a leadership skill.

As early as 1937, Napoleon Hill talked about the power of the “master mind,” “subconscious mind,” and “sixth sense” in his classic work, Think and Grow Rich.

The Harvard Business Review cited a 2002 study conducted by Christian & Timbers that found “45 percent of corporate executives now rely more on instinct than on facts and figures in running their businesses.” In all likelihood, the number is higher today as we have an ever-increasing and more overwhelming amount of information and data, much of which may be conflicting.

Intuition (aka gut check) is a resource that we all have, not a gift of the special few. The more we honor our intuition and practice it as a skill, the better we become at recognizing the messages from our “thinking without thinking.” And, I’ll go so far as to say our intuition is never wrong – we outthink it most of the time, or misinterpret it or override it.

It is more than thinking outside the box, it is thinking without a box. In fact, using intuition is not a cognitive process at all. It has been described as a knowing, a feeling, a voice, an image, a hunch, a sixth sense or a still small voice. In animals we call it instinct and don’t doubt that it works, but in our human lives we often consider it woo-woo.

It is not. A friend, who was with US West, relates that his intuition was so finely honed that accurate hiring decisions came down to “What does John think about the candidate?”

People attribute their intuition either to an accumulation of knowledge that forms a subconscious instant insight, or a spiritual source that comes from a Higher Power. Regardless of what you believe, you are right. Lynn Robinson, a well known author and business intuitive (yes, there are business intuitives), uses the phrase “inner consultant.”

Intuition is accessed primarily by feelings, images, or a voice, not by facts or figures or analysis. When you’re making a decision and considering an option, it can “feel” right or give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. It can make you feel enthusiastic, energized or inspired – or depressed, bored or weary. For coaching novice intuitive leaders, I use the sensation of heavier or lighter to introduce intuition to decision making, but the important thing is to stay out of your head and into your feelings.

When you receive intuitive messages (the ah-ha’s), they make you feel optimistic and hopeful, not depressed, anxious or fearful. And intuition is most easily accessed when you turn off your mind chatter. Your best answers to questions will come when you’re relaxed, playful, daydreaming, running, or hiking in the mountains. You cannot command your intuition to appear, but you can request its presence by quieting your mind.

As Albert Einstein said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”Staying in the space of possibility, opportunity and curiosity is the intuitive field and from that we derive creativity, imagination and innovation. This space leads to accurate, rapid and insightful decision making. This is the business case for intuition as a leadership competency. Tap your into your inner consultant, there is no consulting fee!

(For more how-to’s, I recommend Lynn Robinson’s book to clients, Trust Your Gut: How the Power of Intuition Can Grow Your Business.)
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A coveted strengths-based executive and personal coach, successful business strategist, and acclaimed presenter, Carol Ratcliffe Alm is highly regarded for her coaching outcomes, strategy results and powerful presentations. With more than 30 years in corporate leadership and her consulting practice, she optimizes the talent of individuals and organizations through her presence, skill and the insight of her experience. She has served as Sr. Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Associate Dean of the Daniels College of Business at University of Denver. She may be reached at [email protected] or