How To “Follow Your Gut”

AUTHORED BY GUY WOLF, TRANSFORMATION EXECUTIVE @ GUIDEIT

Guy Wolf, Transformation Executive @ GuideIT

Guy Wolf, Transformation Executive @ GuideIT

Early in my career, a manager told me how he made important decisions.  “I always follow my gut.  In fact, I’ve put on so much weight in this job, that my gut sticks out and I literally have to follow it wherever I go!”  Kidding aside, he did stand out among leaders as being able to cut through the fog of data – some missing, some conflicting, and some just plain wrong – to guide his team along a path that was not always the obvious conclusion. 

In leading one company through an outsourcing decision, we arrived at a point where the investigation had been completed.  Two organizations were deemed qualified, capable and willing to work with us to take on a large service obligation to support the client company.  This would have meant significant savings and access to resources for the client and significant revenue and favorable marketing publicity for the service provider.  After negotiating the contracts, a key leader at the customer told us his gut was telling him not to do this deal.  What happened next made the difference in maintaining a cohesive team that would continue to work with both vendors in other ongoing relationships. 

There are at least two paths leaders follow when making this “gut calls.”  One I would call the “trust me” path.  It’s fast.  It gets to the “right” decision very often, and it avoids the hard work of forging a consensus among people with different preferences of outcomes.  When done well, it can lead to a sense of awe and glory for the leader.  “Brilliant, if a bit abrasive,” others may say of this leader.

But we ignore our sixth sense at our peril.  “Gut Feel” or “Intuition” is the stuff we know, even though we don’t know how we know it.  Or in psychology terms:  "rapid cognition or condensed reasoning that takes advantage of the brain's built-in shortcuts." (Psychology Today, 21-Aug-13 https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200704/gut-almighty It is no less valid than other types of formal analysis. But because it is hard to demonstrate, it is frequently kept hidden.

The other path, and the one this leader chose, was to engage an impartial advisor to help document the pros and cons of multiple courses of action – some of it in spreadsheets, some in narrative.  And he brought together the people who spent so much time and effort in the selection process to weigh in on the topic.  It was an investment of several hours, and under a tight deadline.  But allowing the entire team to engage in bringing these other factors to light meant arriving at the decision that preserved the outstanding working relationships they had built together within the client organization, as well as with the finalist vendors who continue to support this client in other ways. 

We would like to hear from you how you use your “gut feelings” in your decision making.