Leadership Intuition – How To Develop It

leadership intuitionLeadership intuition is not a word often used. For many, our upbringing and professional work lives have resulted in only acting once we have “thought something through” and have “the full facts”. Yet research has shown that the best leaders act on intuition, so how can we develop our own intuition? Here we review how to recognise, listen and act on this often underdeveloped and little trusted leadership skill.

1. Recognise Leadership Intuition

Very often we experience a sense, an internal feeling, of something not being right. It can be described as a ‘push-back’ or visceral/physical reaction to a situation or context your find yourself in. Someone says something, and you get a sense it’s not the whole story. Your team presents a solution to a known problem, and you feel something is amiss. You review your financials for a pitch, and your gut tells you’re focussed on the wrong thing… This is most likely your leadership intuition at work.

Recognise that internal feeling. Don’t assume you’ve eaten something dodgy, or be blinded by rational facts. For leadership intuition is not based on your rational logical mind, but your deeper and more ancient emotions, feeling sand senses.

Moving something from the unconscious to the conscious takes effort and is crucial to increasing self awareness. So once you’ve noticed that “push back”, take some time to reflect on what the push back is. What are you feeling? If you could put the sense into words – what would it be saying? Is it about you, about someone else, your team, strategy, the business… the list is endless, but recognise what it is you are feeling, and why. If you don’t trust the feeling, if possible, take some time to reflect on it. Write it down, draw it, mind map it, listen to some music whilst reflecting on it, take a walk… you may be very surprised at what insight you gain.

2. Act on it

Those who trust their leadership intuition don’t wait for empirical evidence and data when they feel something is wrong they simply act. Very often others will doubt you, unless they trust their own intuition too. What marks a leader is seeing something others don’t, so don’t be surprised if you are alone in your hunch. Time will tell if you were right – and allowing yourself to make mistakes is all part of self development.

If you are unsure about your gut feel, here are some tools you can use to check out your intuition;

  • Play the ‘what if’ card: military personnel take life-saving decisions more quickly when they pay attention to their bodily signals, so listen to yours.
  • Be aware of others; notice others and what they are thinking, feeling and doing.
  • Visualise all the outcomes of a decision and note how they affect you.Create connections when you feel something is wrong but you’re not sure what… substantiate hunches by looking for patterns in the information you’ve gathered, however small. By doing this you will start to note a pattern and thereafter ‘catch’ it happening and work with it rather than ignore it.
  • Scrutinise your instinct – look for evidence that undermines your hunches, test out counter-arguments, check for personal biases and ask others for feedback. How does your intuition hold up?

3. Be brave

Corporate life has a corporate language; and ‘gut feel’ never quite made it into the language of persuasion. Research in neuro-science, however, is providing evidence through MRI scanning that will facilitate change.​ Here’s what David Rock as to say on leadership intuition;

‘When we start to value insight as the moment at the heart of change, we start to create ways of facilitating it. The great thing about the energy of insight, which is partly adrenaline, is that it drives people to take action. Insight engages people, it makes people get up out of their chair literally, and want to drive change. This is one important lesson from the science: insight is not helpful to long term change, it’s central to long term change. But each person needs to have their own insight, not just listen to their leader’s insight.”

Neuroscience Enlightens Leadership: David Rock Interview. 08.03.07


Leadership intuition is an oft lacked skill, yet can be developed. By actively focusing on the steps highlighted above you can further develop your intuition; recognise it, act on it and be brave. Many of our clients have developed their intuition with outstanding results through engaging in personal development and coaching with us. If you would like to understand more, or want to develop yourself and/or your organisation get in touch today.


(c) Welcome Insight. Written by Kay Weijers and Mark Bateman, Jan 2013 (edited June 2013).