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Intuitive intelligence in leadership pt2


Brian Bacon concludes his piece on how to develop the intuitive intelligence of leaders and why it is a critical factor in leadership development.

As Barry Gordon states in his book Intelligent Memory: Improve the Memory That Makes You Smarter, '...Since birth our brains compartmentalise experiences and information akin to an elaborate closet organisation system. The brain warehouses existing knowledge into separate files and, when new data is received, it searches the stored files looking for similar information. Upon finding a match, the new information is combined with the existing knowledge to create a fresh thought. This process, called intelligent memory, is the basis for producing creative, breakthrough ideas.'

Looking at this further, the breaking down and storing process is analysis. The searching and combining is intuition. Both are necessary for all kinds of thought. Even a mathematical calculation requires the intuition part, to recall the symbols and formula previously learned in order to apply them to the problem.

When the pieces come off the shelf smoothly, in familiar patterns, you don't even realise it has happened. When lots of different pieces combine into a new pattern, you feel it as a flash of insight - the famous 'aha!' moment.

The situations in which leaders most consistently rely on their intuitive intelligence in business include:

  • In a crisis: when rapid response is required and there is no time to go through a complete rational process of analysis
  • In high speed change: when the factors upon which decisions are made change rapidly, without warning
  • In a messy situation: when a problem or challenge is poorly constructed
  • In an ambiguous situation: when the factors to be considered are hard to articulate without sounding contradictory 

In helping leaders expand their intuitive intelligence and develop greater trust in their ‘flashes of insight’ we must train them in the following:

  1. Be present. Become mentally quiet and develop an 'eye of the storm' mental posture. As you may have seen a martial arts master do – centre yourself mentally, disconnect from the emotions of the situation. Detach from all noise and voices, just be still and observe. Be inside. Listen. Look. Suspend judgment. Don’t analyse or try to understand. Just quietly observe. In a crisis, this can be done in just a matter of seconds. It’s the starting point to engagement of the whole brain.
  2. See the whole picture. Interrogate the context. Become a detached observer of the situation and embrace the big picture. Get off the dance floor, stand on the balcony and look at the situation from a different, elevated perspective. See what has gone on before. Recall lessons from history - things you’ve read and may have forgotten. Actually, it’s all stored there in your intelligent memory. Engage other players involved. Talk with them. Not at them. Be curious. Take in all different perspectives and data points. This engages your intelligent memory and theirs as well. Such conversations stimulate creative collaboration. One person's observation sparks off another, and a chain reaction of insights emerge. Now, the whole brain is engaged.  
  3. Clarify your intention: Be clear on your purpose. Bring this into the front of your mind. Your intention becomes the filter through which you observe a situation. This provides focus and helps you zoom in on the few things that are most important. The clearer and more resolute your intention, the faster and more reliable will be the ‘flash of insight’ that follows. In leadership training, place a lot of intention on developing clarity of purpose. This requires deep reflection on your own truth about yourself, where you’re headed and why.
  4. Engage your values: Either consciously or unconsciously, all choices and decisions are driven by what you value most. The clearer you are about the values and principles which guide you, the faster and more reliable will be your decision making and choice selection. Where you will end up in any situation in life will ultimately be determined by the choices you make, so close examination of values is about the most important work a leader can do to prepare for making good choices. When observing and examining any situation your purpose and values engage together to provoke a flash of insight that 'feels right'. This is when your intuition can be trusted.  
  1. Fierce resolve: Total and absolute commitment follows when there is a feeling of certainty about the things you 'feel are right'. The power of discrimination and judgment lies at the heart of leadership wisdom and character. Your ability to trust and execute your choices, based on that ‘flash of insight’ requires consistent alignment of intention, words and actions. A decision is worthless unless it is brought into action and followed through without second-guessing or procrastination. In great leaders, this is seen as their fierce resolve to stay the course and do what needs to be done.

This five-step process to develop intuitive intelligence takes place at a sub-conscious level, even if you use your conscious mind to formulate or rationalise the final results. Information is processed in parallel, not sequentially. Instead of going through the logical sequence one by one, the leader sees the situation more as a whole, with different fragments emerging simultaneously in parallel. Your brain can be trained to work as an advanced pattern recognition device. Your subconscious mind finds links between your new situation and various patterns of your past experiences. In a team setting this becomes even more powerful, as you replicate what happens in the brain in a group setting. This is how high performing teams develop creative solutions and collaborative action, based on collective insights and wisdom.

Intuitive intelligence helps you navigate faster through vast amounts of unstructured data and can work around gaps and conflicts in the information. Yet, even the most highly developed intuition can be misled if too many of the facts are wrong or missing, so don’t neglect the rational mind or need for diligence in fact gathering and analysis. Just get the balance right. The intuitive mind can become your greatest weapon in business, if you learn how to use it confidently and accurately.

‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift’ – Albert Einstein

Brian Bacon is chairman and founder of the Oxford Leadership Academy, a UK-based international leadership consultancy with 200,000 alumni, 215 people and offices throughout Europe, USA, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.


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