How important are instincts to great decision makers? VERY IMPORTANT! But to answer that question accurately, let’s be clear what leaders mean when they attribute decisions to instinct.
Instinctive decision-making is not about making guesses or having hunches. As we analyze and deliberate during normal decision processes, we are often left with more than one good choice or direction. Instinct refers to the feeling that something feels very right to you about a particular path or option. Values, experience, and facts can all play a role in creating this comfortable feeling.
Trusting your instincts means engaging with the feelings that cause your conviction that one choice is more “right” than another. Instincts that arise only from “gut feelings,” without any real exploration of what choices exist and the risks associated with those choices, can best be labeled random guesses.
Good decision-makers don’t jump to conclusions, nor do they take leaps of faith without sound reasoning. One reason this is so misunderstood is the anecdote leaders sometimes give after a decision has been made with a successful outcome: “I just trusted my gut.” This creates a false narrative. It leads others to believe that the leader went directly to instinct, never rounding any other base.
When we unpack these so-called instinctive decisions, we commonly find they have been deeply debated and deliberated. Only in the end does the leader trust their instincts to select between two good options, or to follow a path not obvious to others who are blind to the decision process.
All good decision-makers use their instincts. They want to feel comfortable with the decisions they make. When they feel uncomfortable, they explore why, and allow their doubts to linger until they are erased or confirmed by new information.
When a decision just feels right, the best idea is to go with it — as long as it has been stress tested in the way all good decisions are. If after thorough analysis and deliberation, your instincts tell you to make a particular decision, trust yourself and make it. You will rarely be wrong.