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Should you act on your ‘gut’ feelings ?

The short answer to the question is that ‘it depends’.

If the decision has limited consequences then relying on your intuitive response is ok, and probable the most efficient way to operate. Likewise if circumstances require you to make a quick or even an impulsive decision, you may have no option but to rely on your inner voice to see you through.

Beyond that relying on your gut feelings, without doing your homework to gather/analyze facts, and validate your assumptions/conclusions, can be viewed as a lazy decision that you may come to regret.

It can be so easy to construct seemingly plausible stories in our heads which have no basis in fact or to assume that the situation is similar to others from our past experience.

Similarly we may be over reliant on the opinions of ‘experts’, particularly those who speak with great authority and certainty! But how good are your advisers and do they really know more than you or anyone else ?

Successful risk takers in organizations tend to be promoted to leadership positions on the basis of an assumption that they have above average insight and intelligence. They may in fact have just been lucky, and this luck might be about to run out. Yes, success can be the mother of failure.

We are also very susceptible to group think. As social animals we find it difficult to form a view which is different from the general consensus, even if the facts suggest otherwise. A good example of this is the herd instinct during a property cycle, where we continue to invest long after there is compelling evidence to suggest that prices are unsustainably high.

So, some tips for reducing the risks of over reliance on your gut feelings:

1. Seek hard evidence to validate your gut feelings about a situation and be prepared to change your mind.

2. If you are seeking an expert opinion, check the reliability of the expert’s opinion and it’s relevance to the situation. How often has the expert come across similar situations in the past. Get the expert to explain the basis of his/her opinion in terms that you can understand, if you have any doubts. Remember it is you not the adviser who will suffer the consequences of bad advice.

3. Develop in advance a structured assessment process or standard checklist of questions that you apply and allow yourself to be informed by this analysis. For example, when selecting a candidate for an important position write down your selection criteria in advance.

4. Challenge whether what is being presented as fact is accurate and relevant to the situation.

5. Listen to and encourage alternative views at meetings. Don’t be over influenced by the most vocal or opinionated.

6. In order to limit the potential for group think or a tendency to blindly follow the leader, get opinions in writing in ADVANCE of group discussions.

7. You may be familiar  with ‘lessons learned’ review sessions at the end of a project, as a ‘postmortem’ to avoid repeating any mistakes in future. Consider a  ‘premortem’,  a review session before final decision, which looks at what would have to go wrong for the initiative to fail. This  can be a useful tool for unearthing unacknowledged risk factors for consideration and mitigation.

Following any of the above guidance amounts to the postponing of intuition, the taming of ego responses and requires an open and curious mindset.

Being a good leader is not always about being decisive. If you don’t  have an informed view as to what to do, it may be best to wait until you do !


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