#286 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 7          July 1997

Intuition:  A Critical Leadership Skill
by Anne Durrum Robinson

Ms. Robinson, a human resource consultant in Austin Texas (phone 512-472-4412), helps organizations implement creativity. www.io.com/~stellar/adr/anne.html

In my training and development profession, I’m always on the lookout for what it is that gets certain people to take the head-of-the-table chairs in board rooms.  These are the people who deposit huge salary checks and get those big bonuses.  What makes them so head-of-the-herd?  They have and they heed intuition.

According to Dr. Weston H. Agor, of the Intelligence Company (Cocoa Beach, Florida), who has written books on intuition, modern corporations are now testing their top executives for not only how much intuitive ability they possess, but how much they use this invaluable, but elusive, mind power.


What, precisely, is intuition?  Precisely may be an ill-chosen word.  You can match the number of definitions to the number of people you ask.  Dr. Agor boils it down to “…knowing for sure without knowing for certain….”  Others will say it’s the same as a hunch, a gut feeling, an instinct or an inner knowing.

Warren Bennis, well-known author and leader in several fields, calls intuition his “inner voice.”  He believes that listening to it and trusting it is one of the most important lessons of leadership that he has learned.  “In fact,” he said in the foreword to the recently published Intuition at Work, “following what Emerson called the ‘blessed impulse’ is basic to understanding what leadership and organizations is all about….”

Perhaps Dr. Jonas Salk offered the most appropriate definition when he said, “The intuitive mind tells the logical mind where to look next.”

Louis Pasteur probably struck another nerve when he said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”  Many researchers have discovered that intuitive hints might have proved baffling if they hadn’t already filled their bright heads with meaningful information.

When Intuition is Needed

Ron Schultz, in Unconventional Wisdom, interviewed what he termed “twelve remarkable innovators.”  In their own words, they explained how intuition can revolutionize decision-making.  Each of these respected executives combined awareness of the proverbial “bottom line” with the not-so-widely-acknowledged veneration of the “top line,” above the eyebrows.

When is the use of intuition most helpful to leaders?

  when there are insufficient data, or not enough time to gather the data

  when there is too much information, or the data are conflicting

  when data seem to support several options equally

  when decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment, without time for data-gathering

  when a group’s vision has grown cloudy and/or its mission seems inappropriate or obsolete

That’s when all the logic, analysis and experience in the world are of little help, and when circumstances dictate that legitimate decisions be made and made now.

True leaders also find intuition of invaluable assistance in

  determining new an inspiring visions and the overall direction of a group or organization

  recognizing and employing, to the highest effectiveness, the abilities of all individuals in that group or organization

Fortunately, the use of this enriching source of deep wisdom doesn’t require the lowering of shades, lighting of candles, gazing at crystal balls or burning of incense.

Every hour, in the broad and unforgiving light of day, corporate leaders—of global or local amalgamations, groups and teams—are unabashedly seeking their inner counsel in their own myriad ways.

Sleeping on it

Some of intuition’s allies believe it is entirely a paranormal function.  I tend to side with the group that feels intuitive knowing combines elements of logic, experience, memory and the paranormal.  The latter can bring contributions from other minds which don’t close the seeker out from an over-arching Creative Mind (whatever one chooses to call it).  The subconscious mind is constantly stirring those various components together.  When they form some kind of conclusion, the subconscious (through awareness) may suddenly present that conclusion to the conscious mind.  Because of this tendency of the subconscious mind to keep its sorting and matching below conscious levels and to startle the conscious mind with a “ready-mix,” I sometimes sub-label my intuition workshops “The Forward Pass and Slam Dunk of the Mind.”

I feel that being intuitive is a natural mental ability owned by everyone, although some have it to a greater degree than others.  Like any ability or skill, intuitive abilities can be sharpened and made more reliable by consistent and aware practice.

Let me clarify my own concept of this super sidekick of logic and reason.  As research has shown, intuition resides more in the right brain than in the left.  It is also more a function of the subconscious than the conscious mind.  I find intuition related to the physiological condition where lower brainwave frequencies in Alpha, the frequency at which the brain’s neurons are primarily firing between seven and ten times each second—a relaxation state.

Encouraging news for the neophyte in the use of intuition is that such an “inner voice” can be utterly spontaneous or can be the result of a deliberate process.  There’s a way to intentionally set in motion one’s request for intuitive assistance in decision-making, design or future-planning.

The ideal time for such a purposeful approach is bedtime.  We have two natural Alpha brainwave frequency times:  when we’re drifting off to sleep and when we’re waking.  These are called our hypogogic and hynopompic periods, and they are both relaxed but aware.  So we can lie down, get calm, and at the natural-Alpha-just-before-entering-sleep time explain to our subconscious mind what we already know about a situation, what help we need and by when we need it.  In short, we can make a specific assignment to the subconscious and go on blissfully to sleep.

When the conscious mind has bowed out, the subconscious is free to explore all its rich sources.  It can use the sleep period to tap into the minds of people who don’t close it out; to check on memory and experience; to investigate its paranormal sources which the conscious mind can’t reach; to confer with an overarching Intelligence.  This is the mind’s vast intuitive capability.

Then when we have reached our hypnopompic “coming-out-of-sleep” time, the subconscious can present to the awakening conscious mind its all-night findings.  We have the testimony of many great thinkers, researchers and inventors to confirm this approach to intuitive help.  The time we allow for the subconscious to explore its more hazy realms is known as “incubation time” and it may be our most rewarding gift to our personal creative process.  Furthermore, it need not be saved until night.  It can function for us at any quiet time when the subconscious is given free rein.

Now that the horse-and-buggy days have long been replaced by the global gallop, there’s a greater need for intuitive knowing in all phases of living.  Its contribution to personal guidance as well as to business acumen cannot be denied. But in the realm of leadership, intuitive wisdom is now a sine qua non.  Many bright minds in our professional literature agree.  So let’s acknowledge intuition, and rely on it when logic and analysis aren’t sufficient.

Some Books on Intuition

Unconventional Wisdom:  Twelve Remarkable Innovators Tell How Intuition Can Revolutionize Decision Making.  Ron Schultz (HarperBusiness, New York), 1994.

Intuition at Work:  Pathways to Unlimited Possibilities.  R. Frantz and A. N. Pattakos, eds. (Sterling and Stone, San Francisco, California), 1996.

Intuition Workout:  A Practical Guide to Discovering and Developing Your Inner Knowing.  Nancy Rosanoff (Aslan Publishing, Santa Rosa, California), 1991.

Intuitive Management:  Integrating Left and Right Brain Management Skills.  Weston H. Agor (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), 1988.

The Corporate Mystic:  A Guidebook for Visionaries With Their Feet on the Ground.  Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman (Bantam Books, New York), 1996.

Intuition:  The New Frontier of Management.  Jagdish Parikh (Blackwell Business, New York), 1994.

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