A Leader’s Intuition

leadership Jan 26, 2024
leader, leadership skills and intuition - Access more advisory and mentoring

We are all familiar with the stories about very successful people without any or with minimal education who created their fame and fortune by making intuitive decisions that have served them well.

Stories of retailers or factory owners, for example, who started with one store or one factory which grew into multi-billion-dollar empires that spanned the world.

What about when you felt someone staring at you, so you turned around and yes, they were.

What about you were thinking about someone you hadn’t talked to for a long time, and soon after they contacted you.

These stories are true because they have happened and will probably continue to happen. These are stories that illustrate the use and power of intuition.

The question that then arises is the question about the value, or otherwise of intuition.

Is it an innate characteristic? Can it be nurtured? Is it reliable? Can it be applied in all contexts? What are the benefits and disadvantages of one’s intuition? What are the limitations, if any, of using intuition? What is the role of intuition and leadership?

Intuition relates to one’s ability to understand something, to know something, or consider something likely, without needing to consciously determine it through reasoning.

Such words as impression, sixth sense, idea, feeling, hunch, suspicion, instinct, premonition, and inkling all suggest the presence of intuition.

If one uses one’s intuition in a particular situation, then one doesn’t rely on facts, reasoning, or knowledge. When one reflects on cognitive capability and the deliberate seeking of evidence and facts, then one might infer that relying on or even using intuition is unwise.

However, this is not realistic, nor is it helpful as intuition “has its place” and has its uses. Successful leaders use their intuition “as much” as they use facts and reasoning.

As an example, when you have known a person well, and they say something to you (or the way they say it) is contrary to your experience with that person, it’s not unusual for your intuition to tell you that something is different, wrong, or problematic with that person.

A good salesperson can “read” a target customer and know when to pitch for the sale.

The successful entrepreneur we opened with in this article could “smell” and “feel” the right location for the store or the shop floor layout or the eye-catching colours.

There’s little doubt that intuition is heavily influenced by empathy, feelings, emotions, as well as openness, low negative ego, and so on. Some might even argue that strong intuition is the lubricant that enables a person to “escape” into a new or higher-level reality.

Without intuition, one follows the given systems, procedures, and disciplines – and one can certainly be successful. With intuition, the person introduces another level of insight, perception, understanding, and opportunity. Intuition can also help one avoid problems related to the reading of people and contexts and thereby save a lot of heartache and hassle.

Another aspect of intuition is that it is “alive”. Unlike other skills and attributes, one can’t easily store your intuition away in a cupboard of the brain and draw it out when you need it.

By being “alive”, we mean that it’s always present and awake. When what you’re doing, saying, or seeing doesn’t sit well with you, with your understanding or with your objectives, intuition raises its head and triggers awareness.

That’s when it makes us think things like, “there was something about him that doesn’t makes sense,” or “I smell a rat,” or “that doesn’t seem right to me,” or “that location would be great for my store.”

This is a powerful influence. When a leader relies entirely on fact and evidence, that doesn’t mean that the leader doesn’t possess intuition. It’s just that the leader has subjugated their intuition in that context, sometimes quite legitimately.

Generally, it is understood that intuition can’t contribute much when you have plenty of data, clear rules for effective decision-making and objective and acceptable criteria for such decision-making. Aeronautical engineers, for example, use computers and diagnostic algorithms rather than rely on the mechanic’s intuition.

Conversely, intuition might be used to fill a gap between evidence and fact-based criteria needed to reach the decision-making threshold. If you need a certain amount of information but don’t have it all, then intuition may be used to fill the gap in appropriate contexts.

Another perspective is that of urgency. There are decisions that many of us make where we don’t have time to analytically reflect and consider the evidence. Urgent situations such as firefighting, many police activities, the heat of battle for soldiers, etc., rarely allow for a careful contemplation of the evidence. Lives depend on fast actions and intuition plays a key role here.

Some say that intuition arises from the subconscious mind and is elevated into the conscious mind to affect decision-making, triggered by the disconnect between what is being seen, heard, or felt, and what is known to be acceptable. 

Factors influencing intuition.

We know that for some people, their intuition is ever-present, reliable, and accurate. Those people rely on and are affected by their intuition.

Others have intuition but it’s not as “active” in their decision-making. Sometimes they pay attention to it and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes their intuition serves them well, and sometimes it doesn’t.

However, there is a strong belief by many that intuition can be enhanced or developed in people. Not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because a developed intuitive capability adds to decision-making effectiveness. According to Time magazine, the US Office of Naval Research spent $3.85 million to explore intuition for sailors and marines. 

Some of the factors that impact intuition include:

  • Experience enables us to become familiar with contexts and people. Such familiarity enables the experienced person to recognise and understand patterns of behaviour and the relationships between the variables within contexts. When the experienced person sees a familiar pattern, they can identify what comes next or what won’t come next because of some deviation in the pattern. Nobody had to tell the person to examine the pattern – this was done automatically and subconsciously because it had long ago moved from the conscious (I must think about this) to the subconscious (I know what this is, and I know what should come next.)
  • EQ is known to express itself in the brain faster than cognitive and analytical tasks. Therefore, if the leader has strong emotional intelligence capability, then it’s likely that their intuitive skills will be high and fast. They are more likely to have a strong understanding of their intuitive thoughts and will have developed effective ways to harness or exploit them over years of practice. They will have had plenty of practice in knowing when to rely on their intuition and when to park it in the cupboard.
  • Bad experiences are good teachers – when a leader is risk-averse then their real-world experiences are limited. A leader who understands the context, variables, and constraints of a risky situation, but still proceeds, will have learned important lessons if that decision fails. The leader will recall the context, variables, and constraints so that if they ever realign the same way, they will know not to repeat the learned experience. Therefore, a risk-taking mindset will enhance intuition, all other things being equal.
  • Exposure to other people and networks enables leaders to see close-up how different people react to different situations. In doing so, they learn how other people make their decisions and the results of those decisions – what works for them and what doesn’t. One’s intuition isn’t restricted to one’s own experiences. A person can learn from others and one’s intuition is enhanced from learning from many people. If you are confined to a single room and never mix with others, then you are unlikely to have intuition that is growing.

Benefits of intuition

  • Aids decision-making.
  • Can be an “early-warning” system in some situations.
  • The more intuitive, then the more open to new ideas and opportunities. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, among many others, attribute much of their success to intuition.
  • Intuitive minds are able to read people and situations more effectively.
  • Many believe that intuition enhances intelligence by broadening and deepening it, thus contributing to wisdom.
  • Intuition may reduce stress by helping to identify issues or situation that are or will be problematic.
  • The more intuitive you are, the better you are able to read peoples’ intent, sincerity, and authenticity. This will improve relationships and place them on a more authentic basis.
  • Intuition enhances imagination, creativity, and opens up more opportunities.
  • If one’s intuition has been built on experiences that revolved around the pursuit of one’s calling, purpose, or destiny, then intuition can interpret events and situations in life and their effect on that vision one has for themselves.
  • Strong intuitive skills can enhance confidence in one’s own judgement and intelligence.

Limitations of intuition

  • Intuition isn’t always correct.
  • Intuition may be distorted by bias, emotions, and prejudice – just like everyone.
  • Intuitive decisions are hard to explain and justify to others.
  • Where a person successfully relies on their intuition in an area in which they are very familiar, they may rely on their intuition in areas that have a lower level of familiarity. The person may be overconfident in their intuitive skills in unfamiliar contexts, and therefore prone to making intuition-induced mistakes.


If you have or suspect negative responses to these issues, then your leadership or the leadership of others may be compromised.

Do you want to know more? Then email us at [email protected]

We’re proud to advise that the authors of this piece are Advisory & Mentoring directors.