Intuitive decision making for leaders that’s not “scary-feely”

Eric Ho
Table of Contents

The machine starts beeping faster and faster, and then, without warning, it’s a long, constant, deafening beep. You can’t hear it, of course. You’re on the surgeon’s table. And your luck is running out. The routine operation you’re having to remove your appendix has caused a bleed. Your vitals are dropping fast. The junior surgeon raises their eyebrows, turns around, and asks the nurse to call for help. The beep continues. 

Another surgeon, a Consultant, glides in, takes the scalpel, and fixes the bleed. The beep reverts to a normal, life-affirming rhythm.

What’s the difference between these two surgeons?


It’s one of the most important skills for leaders to embrace because it can simplify and enhance the quality of decision making.

But what does using your intuition mean in practice? And moreover, what happens if your intuition turns out to be wrong?

Intuition can be “scary-feely”

I was in a team meeting discussing a group coaching programme we were offering. A question came up about how we should approach a marketing campaign, and someone asked me “What does your intuition say?”. 

I wasn’t expecting that question.. Like any lawyer who should know all the answers, I had a “scary-feely” moment trying to tap into my intuition. Not only trying to eek out what it was telling me (which was nothing!), but also fretting about whether I could rely on it (definitely not in this instance!).

Using your intuition as a leader might not be a matter of life and death, unless perhaps you’re a surgeon. 

So what is intuition, and how do we use it wisely? 

What intuition isn’t

Using our intuition is definitely not about being “woo woo”. That’s like trusting the fairground fortune teller who says your problems are the result of a three-year period of bad luck. 

Intuition also wasn’t something I could rely on to pass my first year criminal law exam. I didn’t know enough to draw on my intuition. I simply needed to study more.

When relying on intuition works, it can seem almost magical. After all, the Consultant surgeon saved your life on the operating table. 

But intuition isn’t magic, and it’s not simply what we feel is right, or what comes naturally.

If you’re relying on intuition for those reasons, you’ll probably notice yourself having that “scary-feely” sensation too.

Letting things emerge

As a lawyer, I’ve set up many joint ventures for clients, particularly in emerging markets. The juicy moments are when disagreements arise about how they should be run. If a client asked to set up a joint venture in a new location, like Mongolia, my intuition could tell me – and the client – , in an instant, what the likely issues might be and how they could be resolved – or not.

Intuition, without the “scary-feely”, is born from experience

I could only tap into my intuition to help my clients because for over 20 years I’ve seen the patterns that arise in joint ventures and worked out what details to pay attention to.

Likewise when you’re flatlining and the Consultant surgeon saves you, they’re taking all those years of noticing and acting quickly to make a life-saving decision – in a way that looks magical. 

Years of your logical, analytical left brain working its magic to stitch together the overarching canvas of understanding.

Deepening your intuition

So, if you’re not as experienced as the Consultant surgeon, or a joint ventures expert, how can you cultivate your intuition? 

We can start deepening our intuition by asking ourselves these types of questions whether you’re managing a team, or a running project:

  • where do I notice patterns, or the dots I’m connecting?
  • what are the important details can I discern from this
  • what is the broader context here?

Then it becomes simple (even if it’s not an easy path).

But relying solely on your left brain isn’t the whole picture. 

Your right brain, with its creativity, emotional, artistic side is craving its moment in the spotlight, too. 

Give it too much attention at the expense of experience and you’ll hear that flatline beep. Your career might be over. Give it too little, and you might miss those moments when intuition is tapping you on the shoulder, handing you a novel insight for resolving your Mongolian joint venture dispute.

Over to you

So here’s my suggestion: instead of a shining a bright spotlight, or shrouding yourself in darkness, light a candle for your right brain so you can pay attention to its flickers.

Paying attention is difficult if it’s not intentional, especially when we’re busy. One of the best ways I have found to pay attention to my own intuition is to schedule a regular moment to write about it, or – even better – to have a conversation. 

When you have a decision to make, rather than solely relying on your logical left-brain for the answers, ask yourself “what does my intuition say here?”. 

I’m often surprised asking myself this simple question. Sometimes the answers are zany. Others are deeply impactful.

There are other questions you can ask yourself, too, to help you deepen your intuition.

  • What do you notice when you turn to your intuition?  
  • Where does your intuition happen easily?  
  • When does it remain silent
  • Where has your intuition helped, and where has it hindered?

Instead of blindly trusting your intuition, and hoping for the best, I invite you to keep discovering the answer to these questions so that your decision making is embued with your deep intuition, without it being “scary-feely”. 

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