We were all born with natural instinct. We cried when we were hungry – not because we were taught to, but because it was our instinctive response to our physical need. Emotion calls on instinct too. The flight or fight response to fear is one most of us have experienced and, with the adrenaline pounding through us, we know the reaction was not the result of a calculated decision-making process.
Our natural instinct is used most in sports, drama, music and other non-academic activities. It tends to be suppressed as we mature. Instinct, or intuition, remains in us as adults, but is usually underdeveloped and under-recognized. Youve surely had the experience of meeting someone new in both personal and professional situations – and having a gut feeling about them. Or of walking into a room and sensing the vibes good or bad. This is your instinct piping up, giving you a chance to trust your gut and listen to the vibes.
Instinct is insight based not on reason, but on awareness. When we allow it back into our consciousness, we can become more effective in many areas of life, including our role as a leader. Allowing it back calls for a heightened sense of openness to our self and others.
Openness to our self
To draw instinct into play is to increase our self-awareness. Suppression of feelings is an impediment in this quest. Your first step must be to abandon any reluctance in recognizing your feelings. Rather, embrace them, learn about them, and experiment at living with and by them.
This first step can be difficult as many people are unfamiliar with this part of themselves. Acknowledging and identifying your feelings is at least half of this ongoing process.
Check yourself throughout the day, in any and all settings, by asking yourself, What am I feeling now? How am I reacting to this person? To this situation? Some answers will be positive: you may feel joyful, generous, or creative. These are usually the easiest ones to admit. Others are not – you may feel angry, worried, or depressed. While these are harder to acknowledge, they are equally valuable in your effort to gain access to your instinctive self.
Openness to others
To effectively apply your instinct in your interactions with others, you should be aware of their feelings, motivations, and sensibilities as well as your own. To do this, you need to be a good listener, an invaluable and underemployed skill fundamental to effective leadership.
Being able to listen well means paying close attention not just to words, but to the nonverbal communication that accompanies them it often speaks more loudly than the words themselves.
Listening well help you to become more aware of others peoples feelings and how they influence their actions. This is called empathy. In his insightful book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Daniel H. Pink writes, Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone elses position and to intuit what that person is feeling. . . . It is something we do pretty much spontaneously, an act of instinct rather than the product of deliberation. . . . It is feeling with someone else, sensing what it would be like to be that person.
This happens when a parent is engaged with his/her childs development and growth. Watching your 8-year-old perform a play on the ball field is often an empathetic experience. You know the feelings that accompany his earnest reach for the ball as you watch the progress of the play.
Instinct in leadership
Using your instinct in your role as leader means developing a keen awareness of your staff, colleagues, and clients as individuals, and recognizing that not only is each person different, but they are different from you. It means understanding what they go through on a day-to-day basis and yields insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Using your instinct, you are able to walk into a meeting and be aware of how others are feeling and reacting around you.
An effective leader blends strong leadership skills with this empathetic awareness, guiding others to meet challenges and opportunities for their own benefit and the benefit of the organization. When such a leader takes the time and effort to know all employees personally on this level, the results in employee morale, empowerment, performance, and retention are excellent.
Gary Klein, well known for research into decision-making, discusses intuition as a learnable skill. In his book, The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, he states that 90 percent of critical decisions are based on our intuition.
Your staff and colleagues define you as a leader by what they see you do. Your actions are based on your decisions and your decisions can be influenced favorably by your instinct. As a good leader, you can use instinct in making decisions that align your personal and organizational values and lead to your desired outcomes.
He who knows others is wise.
He who knows himself is enlightened.
— Tao Te Ching