Caryn Skinner, Co-Director of Sharpstone Skinner
“Several times lately, I have finished my work, closed the laptop and sat staring out of the window of my spare room office worrying that I don’t have the answers. That my team are looking to me for guidance about the future…and I simply don’t know.” Paul Jackson-Cole, Executive Director of Engagement, Parkinson’s UK.
A genuine, honest reflection from one of our clients. He is an impressive and successful leader. He has gravitas, is trusted and a great coach to his senior reports. He is also highly intuitive, with an innate ability to be a pioneering visionary who can then work with others to ground that vision into reality. And yet, he is stuck. He still has his instincts, yet with the world, in flux, he is finding it hard to convince his team to go with him because they need more tangible evidence to ground his ideas.
We all have that inner voice, the one that taps us on the shoulder and whispers in our ear and yet at work we seem to have been conditioned not to listen to it because it isn’t ‘scientific’ enough. Paying attention to it could be just what we need to do in these ambiguous times where certainly is hard to come by and the old rules have been ripped up.
Here are some ways to tap into and use your gut-feel judgement:
1. Know that your instincts are not woolly ideas but based on your years of experience. The thought has come from somewhere, an experience you have had, something you have read a conversation you had with a colleague.
2. Feed and grow your instincts. The more exposure you have to your business the harder your instincts will work. Keep getting out and about, visit your people, talk to them, learn from them about the front-line challenges and successes.
3. See your business through the eyes of your customer. Why do they like doing business with you, what would they like you to do better and does your business align with their needs.
Make your own observations about what’s next for your business rather than staring at spreadsheets of cold data. I heard about a stock exchange trader who regularly walks the shops to see what’s selling and what isn’t, it informed her instinct about where the next investments might be.
4. Keep in touch with the world around you, tune into what’s coming over the horizon. A client of ours was in marketing for a bank, he regularly spoke to his teenage nieces and nephews about how they communicated, how many digital “languages” they spoke and which social platform they used for what. They were his future customers and the conversations fuelled his instincts when the bank resisted going online and changing the way they communicated with customers.
5. Trust your gut then test it against other types of thinking to ground it and help you sell it in. Others may not get your vision so painting the picture for them with more solid evidence will make your job easier. Then be prepared to put the hard work in to make it happen.
It is an exciting area of leadership and one that, perhaps, has been overlooked in a world that can access evidence, stats and data at the swipe of a screen. Making decisions on gut instinct might be making a comeback, it could come back into fashion and for many leaders, it never went away.
Richard Branson says, “I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics”, and he’s not done too badly.
Next time you find yourself staring out of your home office window, let your thoughts wander, don’t evaluate them or crush any ideas that come to you, it might be that your gut is trying to tell you something.