What’s your gut telling you?

Departments - Learn to Lead | Managing your business relationships

Why intuition is just as important as facts when making big decisions.

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December 6, 2018
Dr. Sherene McHenry

TanyaJoy. Adobestock

Have you ever experienced discomfort about a person, opportunity or decision? Did you listen to your gut? Or, like many who rely on quantifiable facts and what you can see, touch, taste, feel or hear, did you override your uneasiness with logic? How did it work out?

I recently talked with an individual whose organization hired a Hacker (someone actively trying to cause problems in the workplace, described in my October 2018 column in this magazine) who stirs the pot and tries to pit people against each other. After dealing repeatedly with the drama, the second in command said, “While I had a feeling she wasn’t the best choice for our team, I kept quiet because I lacked proof. What a mistake.”

It’s been said that leadership is part science and part art. Part of the art of leadership is learning to trust your gut. I don’t know about you, but as a logical person, this didn’t happen naturally for me.

My journey to trusting my gut started in my doctoral program. In a taped interview, Dr. Carl Rogers, famous as one of the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology, said, “Over time, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I’m almost always right.” My immediate response was, “If it’s good enough for Rogers, it’s good enough for me.” After a quarter of a century, I’m happy to report my intuition is almost never wrong. On the contrary, it’s when I override my intuition with logic that I get into trouble.

Scientists have studied the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) connection between our gut and our brain for more than 50 years. Composed of 100 million neurons, the ENS resides in our stomach. According to Dr. Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head — it’s functioning as a second brain.”

Beyond Rogers and the study of ENS, research from the Max Planck Society indicates individuals who intentionally strengthen their intuition make better, faster and more beneficial decisions. The following are tips for helping you tap into your and your team’s second brain:

1. Pay attention to what you are feeling. Rather than overriding internal alarms such as feelings of dread, reluctance, stress, tiredness, queasiness or niggling doubt, key in on them. While you may not be able to articulate what you’re experiencing, your internal compass is signaling something isn’t right.

Your gut can also signal the positive. As I was ending my career as a professor, I was asked to serve on a committee. While my inclination was to say no, I had the feeling something good might happen if I said yes. My gut was right. That yes led to a significant amount of consulting work.

2. Ask questions. When things don’t feel right, respectfully ask questions of your boss, your team members, customers and vendors. If the answers silence your internal alarms, great. If you still have doubts, give voice to your trepidation. “I can’t put it into words, but something doesn’t feel right.” Refuse to be rushed into decisions. Refrain from doing things you have a feeling you’ll regret.

3. Create a culture where your team asks questions and gives voice to their gut instincts. You can do this by giving voice to your instincts and gut reactions. Your team will follow suit. In addition, ask team members, “What are your instincts telling you?”

Your instincts are an invaluable resource you can tap into personally and as a leader. Boost your team’s ability to access their intuition and the results will be significantly multiplied.

Dr. Sherene McHenry boosts your People IQ so you can increase purpose, productivity and profitability. Learn more about her services and get your copy of “Navigate: Understanding the Five Types of People” at sherenemchenry.com