And true to the diagnosis, I didn’t even know it.
I only first realized it some years after I got married: that there really was something to the “women’s intuition” that Carol displayed, especially as she turned out to be correct, more often than not, in discerning the real intentions behind someone’s words.
Her instantaneous ability to gather pertinent information from various and sundry sources—words, tone, context, patterns, body language, and even comparative historical references and who-knows what-all—and be proved spot-on with her assessment, sometimes left me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. I’d be stunned: How does she do that?!
(My daughter is also pretty intuitive in communicating, but she also is very quick in discerning what is fashionably acceptable in her father’s sartorial choices—and what is “just WRONG!”)
Intuition (defined for us concrete-thinkers) is the direct perception of a truth or reality apart from any reasoning process. It’s the very real ability to immediately comprehend a situation or instantly generate a keen insight. (And it doesn’t have anything to do with gender, as I discovered—everyone possesses intuition in their own areas of strength.)
Whether innate or acquired, the ability to instantly read people, trends and situations is not just a tremendous talent to be sought by any leader; it is the hallmark of an exceptional leader.
In the novel The Noticer by Andy Andrews, the title character explains his talent. “I notice things that other people overlook. And you know, most of them are in plain sight… I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That’s what most folks lack—perspective—a broader view. . . and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again.”
What intuitive leaders do, and do well, is notice the details that tend to elude others, and from them gain an insightful perspective. And because what they notice is focused through a leadership lens, they are able to sense attitudes, trends, work flow, team chemistry and other intangibles, even before they have all the facts and stats. With that crucial perspective, they are then better able to anticipate challenges, leverage resources and mobilize their team in just the right direction.
To leaders working within their strength, like my wife in communication, this kind of intuition comes very easily and naturally. But if you, like me, haven’t been born with the gift (see Mr. Clueless above), it doesn’t mean you are doomed to remain oblivious. If you’ve a thinking head, you can learn the skills to create an informed intuition that just as effectively raises your team as a tugboat on the tide.
When my youngest son entered seventh grade, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of high functioning autism. One of his symptoms was his inability to read people’s faces: angry, sad, happy, surprised—none of these commonly displayed emotional signals meant anything to him. It was a mystifying language he could not understand. However, with therapy, coaching, and intentional observations, he was eventually able to learn to interpret them in order to function in social interrelationships. Even today he would never claim that reading people is a strength, but he has so improved in this former area of weakness, that he earns a living teaching college students while pursuing his Master’s degree in physics—which is where his innate intuition functions extremely well.
Such an improved intuition requires a practice of intentional observations, applied appraisals, and purposeful planning. It’s a key discerning device in the leadership toolkit.
To develop your intuition, learn to recognize it.
If you are going to learn to trust your intuition (“Use the force, Luke!”), begin by paying attention to your thoughts, notions, feelings and insights when working in your greatest strength. When do you simply know something is right before you have the evidence? How have your instincts been proven correct? When have you been able to sense what step should come next?
To improve your intuition, pay attention to the details.
Become a habitual Noticer. Observe people’s behaviors and engage them in conversations. Study books on building relationships and take note of people’s sensitivities, perceptions and interactions. Discern levels of associations, shifts in momentum and nuances in ambiance. Test your assumptions and predictions, and note your successes.
To apply your intuition, train your thinking.
Incorporate its benefits into your leadership by training yourself to evaluate how you may best motivate people and develop resources to accomplish your goals. Who will be your finest team leaders and partners? Who is ready to recruit into a higher level? What current assets can you cultivate and commit? How may you most effectively empower your team for its highest efforts and best results?
MasterPoint 93: Intuitive leaders clue in to deliver up the best.
In what area does your intuition serve you best – and how has it made a difference in your leadership?