CEO Coaching: The Problem With Intuitive Leaders

I’ve coached folks who probably have an IQ that’s double mine. Some are linear thinkers who are process-oriented, and some are more entrepreneurial and rely heavily on intuition. Both can be great leaders. But process orientation and intuition can, as with most strengths, be disabling. 


Highly process-oriented leaders can create a bureaucratic mess by applying a microscope to everything when a wide-angle lens is more appropriate. There isn’t readily available proof for everything, and sometimes speed beats thoroughness. Using their “gut” makes them anxious. Making major decisions by relying on other people’s gut makes them crazy! 


Intuitive people have a different challenge. Before we get there, however, let’s assume our subject today is truly intuitive. They can make decisions that are right at a significantly higher rate than a coin toss. I’ve met folks who believe they’re intuitive but are really just capricious. Randomness isn’t the same as intuitive.


Some would argue that intuition is merely the result of lots of experience. I can buy this to some degree. It’s also the ability to take in and process information quickly around an internal set of guidelines that they may have difficulty articulating. Here’s the problem with that when you’re a leader. Your job isn’t just to arrive at correct decisions; it’s to excite people to follow you and to align the troops. That means you must explain why and how you came to the conclusion you did. 


I recently wrote about frustration, and I’ve observed that intuitive leaders can get frustrated when others don’t see the world the way they do. 


My message to intuitive leaders is this: It’s not about you! It’s about all those other people who need to know the whys and hows so that they can understand where they’re going! You may not like to explain yourself, but to gain support and alignment, you must. 


Imagine a quarterback who doesn’t call a play but rather just says “trust me” in the huddle. What does the left tackle do? What does the tight end do? The quarterback may be able to scramble and find the end zone once in a blue moon, but if he called a real play so that his team members could fulfill their assignments and be accountable, they’d possibly win the game. Not so with our rogue quarterback.


Intuitive entrepreneurs can sometimes bring a great idea to market, but they won’t get far unless they can present their ideas in a way that others can commit to and follow. Perhaps even create a plan! (Heresy, I know…)

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