Intuition: A Leader’s Quiet Helper

Posted by on Feb 10, 2015 in Best Practices, Leadership | One Comment

Civil engineers are not typically wired to make intuitive decisions. We’re taught to make decisions based on empirical data. While the day to day brain functions associated with engineering may tend to crowd out our intuitive side, when we’re in leadership roles, intuition becomes much more important.

For Sain Associates’ employees who are interested in learning more about leadership, I’ve been facilitating a monthly Leadership Class that explores the best characteristics and qualities of a leader.

Our most recent class was all about intuition. We all know what intuition is, but it’s challenging to actually define it. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, intuition is a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without proof or evidence. It’s a feeling that guides us to act a certain way without fully understanding why. Intuition relies on information and experiences that are gleaned over time. Our subconscious thinking puts the pieces together and points us to an answer, utilizing intuitive vision.

While this concept may be a little nebulous, especially to civil engineers, it actually comes into play often through project management. It’s important for us to factor in the emotional impact of decision making for our clients to make sure we are meeting their needs.

As a leader, there are many decisions to be made, and that’s definitely true when it comes to project management. For the sake of efficiency, intuition can help. It’s not always possible to wait until you’re able to compile all the analytical information before making a decision. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and move on. Intuition can help a leader avoid analysis paralysis.

It is difficult though, because the decisions you make as a leader are often complex. Here again, intuition is helpful, because it utilizes your brain’s creative cognitive functions to make a more complete decision. I’ve found that intuition helps me factor in what analytic processes can’t – feelings, how people might react, consistency with core principles. These things can be difficult to objectively assess, but by tapping into my intuition I add those additional dimensions to my decision making ability.

In project management and other leadership roles, we often make decisions about things that will take place or come to fruition in the future. I don’t know about you, but my crystal ball is not 100% accurate. Intuition helps in these gray areas that are associated with things that will happen in the future.

Intuition flourishes when we have cognitive ease, which includes being in a good mood, liking what we see and hear, being relaxed and in a comfortably familiar situation. Research has shown that intuition produces measureable physiological changes, meaning that your body knows before your mind does through a shift in pulse and perspiration.

So as you can see, intuition is very important and a real factor in the decision making process. While we all have intuition, here are a few tips for building your intuition to make it even stronger:

• Take time to do some research first, but then take a break. Later take research and intuition into account to make a “spontaneous” decision.
• Practice meditation to help you be more aware of your pulse, breathing and perspiration. Learn to listen to what your body is telling you.. When something makes you uncomfortable, pay attention.
• Stimulate cognitive ease by taking a walk, reading a book, listening to music or taking a nap.
• Make use of distraction. When you are working on a difficult problem, take a break and do something else. Let your subconscious continue to work out the problem while you focus on another activity. When you return to the first task, you may discover your brain has produced the answer.

I think our class on intuition opened employees’ eyes as to why it’s important and how much they currently utilize this tool. At the end of the class, I asked them to rate how intuitive they are based on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning “not at all” and 10 meaning “extremely.” Most rated themselves in the 5-7 range.

Where would your intuitiveness fall on this scale?

1 Comment

  1. Tom Wagner
    March 2, 2015

    Good article, Becky!

    Your recommendations help tap our subconscious mind, which is far more powerful than our conscious brain. I think of that subconscious problem-solving as “free,” and who doesn’t like effortless work?!



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