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Attention Leaders, Should You Rely on Your Gut Instinct to Make Decisions?


Let’s first explain what we mean by gut instinct. According to collinsdictionary.com, gut instinct is “an instinctive feeling, as opposed to an opinion or idea based on facts.” We all experience it, that feeling that tells us something is wrong, or that we should take certain actionbut cannot really explain why.

Here’s how I think gut instinct works. As human beings we’ve had thousands of small and large encounters and experiences in our lives, some of them positive and some of them negative. We cannot remember all of them, nor can we remember the important lessons learnt from each of them. There are simply too many.

However, our subconscious mind has managed to store all of these experiences and lessons learnt in a storehouse – the gut feeling – so that instead of having to recall a similar situation and how you dealt with it, you get a feeling instead. You can’t explain why you have this feeling, but your subconscious saw fit to send you a positive or negative feeling based on all your life’s previous experiences.

So now that we’ve clarified what the gut feeling is, should leaders rely on it to make decisions? Well, yes and no. I think it’s dangerous to rely solely on your gut feeling. The reason for this is because your gut feeling could be wrong. I’ve had situations where I’ve gone with my gut instinct and it worked out well, and other times where it’s really backfired.

Your gut feeling should be one of several factors involved in your decision-making process. I suggest you make decisions based on the following:

1) The data:

A good leader should often ask “what does the data say?” Others prefer the term “the numbers” while other still prefer to use the term “the facts.” Either way, to the degree that you have reliable data, you should use it to make decisions. However, remember that the data can be wrong or misinterpreted, so it behoves us to look at numbers with a critical eye.

Some years ago, I read an article about a designer who left Google in frustration. He left because not a single decision could be made without data to back it up. But how are you supposed to back a design decision with user data? If apple designed their remarkable products based on user data, we certainly would not have the gorgeous products they make today. Data is important but it has its limitations.

2) The opinions and experiences of the others in the room:

As a leader you should often ask “what do you guys think”? This question should be asked to your direct reports, which I’m assuming are not too many, and are of a relatively high calibre (otherwise they would not be reporting to you). Listen carefully and listen to their body language as well, and to the meaning behind their words. Also, try to ascertain what they are basing their opinions on. Are they talking from experience? Are they making too many assumptions? Listen carefully, and always apply critical thinking.

3)Your gut feeling:

When compared to the data and the advice of your trusted lieutenants, gut feeling should take a secondary role in your decision-making. I don’t think it should be ignored, but it also shouldn’t be given more importance than necessary. Also, if your gut instinct is giving you a negative feeling about a certain decision, try to figure out why. This might take a few days. If the decision can wait this long, then take the time to fully figure out what your subconscious is trying to tell you.

When combining the above three factors, your decision-making process should hopefully be easier and less stressful.

Hope this helps and please get in touch if you require some high-level leadership training.

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