Great leaders base their decisions on evidence, on good quality data and only press the button to go once they have taken qualified advice from those they trust. Or so it is seems. But once in a while, serendipity steps in and decisions we would expect to be well thought-through and made rationally by the brain, get made by the heart or gut. Personally, I have found those decisions to be the most valuable and impactful in my life so trust your gut instinct. One such serendipity moment happened for me in August 2019.
Earlier that year I noticed a post-graduate course that really interested me, but I told myself that I was far too busy and would not have the time to do justice to such a big commitment. So it went on the back burner; something to think about in the future. Nevertheless, I was keen to keep my personal development going so I booked on a range of shorter, training courses. One of these saw me spending a sunny Sunday in a Storytelling workshop at Sadler’s Wells theatre. And guess who I happened to be sat next to and partnered with for the day? It turned out to be the leader of the course I had put on the back burner. It was such a random, chance meeting. My gut instinct told me it was more than a co-incidence, that it was meant to be! So within a week and without giving it a second thought, I had completed the paperwork, an interview and signed up for the 12 month programme, an MA in Internal Communication Management with the IOIC and Solent University.
It was absolutely the right decision for me. We covered a whole range of subjects such as organisational theory, culture, change management, power and influence, and communication and engagement through uncertainty and emergent change. It took me back to basics, updated my theoretical knowledge, helped invigorate my critical thinking and develop qualitative research skills. Being a pragmatist, I appreciated the focus of the course on putting theory into practice.
I often reflect on how going purely with my gut worked out so well. Usually, when we feel confident about the processes we follow and have an evidence base that works we tend to stick to what we know. This is rational and logical, it saves time and stress and prevents a feeling of having to reinvent the wheel, but it can also create blinkers and close down options. So, before intuition is dismissed as a baseless whim perhaps consider that while the preference may be to follow a rational, evidence-based approach, this gut instinct is not about rejecting evidence, but being open to and exploring different possibilities. To do this we need to let go, relax some of the need to remain in control or plan everything to the nth degree, stop over-thinking things and actively consider any possibilities that may be right in front of us.
Our gut instinct creates chances to explore new opportunities and then choose between them. It isn’t as spurious a decision-making tool as might be imagined. There is neuroscience research showing that complex, functional and adaptive neural networks live in the regions of our heart and gut which exhibit memory and complex processing independently of our brain. Listening to our gut and our heart means we don’t just note how we think about changes but also how we feel about those changes. And feelings are important when working with others. Feelings have a strong currency when it comes to influence, leadership and even survival.
So, as we leave behind 2020, a year that has been full of ambiguity one reflection might be that it has been the perfect scientific lab for trusting our gut instinct. As we embark on the new year with this continued period of uncertainty it could be helpful to learn to quieten the mind and tune into our intuition. This doesn’t mean letting go of beautifully crafted strategies and plans but listening to your whole body and being just that little bit more open to exploring different possibilities.
I tend not to make new year’s resolutions, but I do give myself one or two key themes to focus in on. This year’s key theme for me is to prioritise going with my gut and intuition.
Here are a few pointers in how to help yourself and your team members in creating the space to listen, tune in to your intuition and learn to trust your gut instinct.
Three steps to become more open to opportunities
Quieten our brain so we can hear our heart and gut
To allow ourselves to hear what our whole body is telling us, and not just the speediest, threat focused part of our brain, relaxation is helpful. Colourful breathing can help to quieten all those thoughts flying around. A minute or so of this creates a more balanced state, so choices can be made in a clearer and objective manner. To do colourful breathing imagine you have red air in front of you and breathe it in through your nose for four counts, hold for two and then breathe out cool blue air through your mouth for six. Repeat until you feel calmer.
Create space for ourselves to think
When you have a serendipitous moment and find more opportunities opening up it can feel like there are too many options on the table. Here a grounding technique, like rainbows can be helpful. Here you run through the colours of the rainbow in your head and name three items of each colour. They might be things you can see around you, or you can pull them from your imagination. By the time you reach violet you should feel calm enough to give some objective thought to which option you prefer.
Create space for others
Finally, as leaders we owe it to our teams to help them understand and make space to develop their own sense of intuition and learn to trust their gut instinct. Offering this space and discussing how it is part of the decision-making process can help others handle their own emotional journey that comes with change and transition. Empathy, active listening and effective support structures can help team members to deal with change. Once they are ready to acknowledge and embrace change they can start to join you in listening more to themselves to consider and explore new possibilities for how they can make change happen.