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The Law of Intuition

October 5, 2011

(Note: This is part of a series based on John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.)

John C. Maxwell has written a number of books about leading and leadership.  They all have their merits and some of the books will resonate more with some readers than others, but it is his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that provides some delicious food for thought for us in the conducting business.

Law Number Eight (or, Chapter Eight as titled in Maxwell’s book) is called “The Law of Intuition.”  The byline for this chapter reads, “Leaders Evaluate Everything with a Leadership Bias.”

Have you ever been thinking something and the person next to you says it out loud? Have you ever been talking about someone and then they suddenly appear, walking around the corner? Have you ever been thinking about someone and suddenly they call you? To me, these are forms of intuition (to others they are mere coincidences) and they happen many, many times a day. Some of these flashes of intuition are trivial and some are very significant.

Let’s talk about intuition further. Just what is it? A quick jump over to gives us these defintions:

  1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
  2. a fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way.
  3. a keen and quick insight.
  4.  the quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.
  5. Philosophy .
  •    a.   an immediate cognition of an object not inferred or determined by a previous cognition of the same object.
  •    b.   any object or truth so discerned.
  •    c.   pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.

Just reading these defintions reminds us of how intangible intuition is. It’s that “little voice” that sometimes whispers in our ears. It’s that “gut feeling” that tells us when something is great and when something is terribly wrong. It’s your “little man” inside you:

Leaders simply must listen to their intuition. Whether or not it comes to making daily decisions, or staffing decisions, or even decisions about how to execute critical tasks, you’re intuition is a vaulable resource.

Where does intution come from? Is it innate? Can it be developed? Does it develop organically with experience and wisdom?

Maxwell writes, “The Law of Intuition is based on facts plus instinct and other intangible factors. And the reality is that leadership intuition is often the factor that separates the greatest leaders from the merely good ones.” After those few words, Maxwell goes on to describe scenarios using football players, coaches and play selection. He is driving toward the process of planning – writing down plays, anticipation, preparation and then combining that with listening to one’s intuition. In a somewhat logical transition, Maxwell proceeds to discuss Gerneal Norman Schwarzkopf and his leadership abilities. Schwarzkopf was known to take sub-performing military battalions and transform them into top performing troops. How Schwarzkopf did this, though, was based on strategy, drive and planning. Intuition was a small part of the process, not the core part. Intuition factored mainly in Schwarzkopf’s assignments – he picked troops that he “felt” could improve and do a good job.

According to Maxwell, “Intuition helps leaders become readers of the numerous intangibles of leadership:”

  • Leaders are Readers of their Situation
  • Leaders are Readers of Trends
  • Leaders are Readers of their Resources
  • Leaders are Readers of People
  • Leaders are Readers of Themselves

Maxwell gives us a brief paragraph explaining each of the above. In a few short words: He talks about how leaders “feel” certain changes and trends. And, of course, he reminds us that “{Leaders} never forget people are their greatest asset.”

An interesting topic follows: “Who you are dictates what you see.” He goes on to explain a businessman might look upon a large forest and see a vast expanse of resources and wealth while another might see the beauty in the trees. Still others might just see trees, beauty not withstanding.

Three levels of Leadership Intuition:

  1. Those who naturally see it. (Some people are born with exceptional leadership gifts. Watch any kindergarten class and see who moves the kids from point A to point B.)
  2. Those who are nutured to see it (Maxwell implies ALL people can have their leadership intuition developed, but see number three below.)
  3. Those who will never see it (Reserved for people who don’t have a “leadership bone in their body” and aren’t interested in developing any leadership.)

Maxwell closes the chapter discussing some approaches leaders use to solve problems, but it isn’t as in depth as some of his other discussions. One bit of prognostication: Maxwell talks about Apple Computers and their moves that, at that time, are seeming to “turn around” the company (This book was published in 1998, when Apple was not quite the international presence they are today.).

Intuition plays such a large part in our lives as conductors. Think about how you use it: repertoire selection, personnel selection (including hiring and part assignments), rehearsal passages, rehearsal language, the amount of time “fixing” a passage, the way you conduct a phrase, and more. While not all things I just mentioned are governed by intution, they are often informed by intuition. Your intuition is there, and it is more important than you think to listen to it!

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 11:31 am

    I suspect you’ll find you’re preaching to the choir somewhat in encouraging musicians to trust and nurture their intuition!

    But in the ‘talent is over-rated’ spirit of your life’s-work reading list posted Nov 7, I’d like to re-frame the three levels of Leadership Intuition:

    1. Those who discover it young and get labelled as ‘natural leaders’
    2. Those who choose to learn it when life’s events make them realise they need it
    3. Those who develop deep and abiding blockages that make it very hard for them to develop it. (These blockages probably include beliefs like ‘you either have it or you don’t, and I don’t)

    I’m increasingly of the mind that the idea of ‘natural endowments’ is a marker that indicates the limits of a teachers skill and/or patience (said slightly tongue in cheek…slightly).

    On the matter of trusting hunches, I thought you’d like the graphic in this post from the inimitable Kathy Sierra:

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