By: Paul Hargreaves is a speaker, a B-Corp Ambassador, and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership
Business often favours the strategic and cerebral way of thinking, using the left side of the brain, and while there’s nothing wrong with this kind of ‘how-to’ thinking, it has meant our intuition often gets neglected.
Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I was always taught to trust my head and not my heart or gut, the former being the centre of our rational being and the latter two often referred to as being governed by our intuitive mind. However, I have always disobeyed the teaching of my younger years and predominantly made decisions intuitively. In fact, the occasions when I have made poor decisions are when I have trusted my rational mind more than my intuition.
Strategic and scientific thinking has become over-dominant since the dualism advocated by Descartes and Bacon in the middle ages and has heightened in the last fifty years. Reflecting inwards on your inner person and engaging with your intuitive side is something many leaders won’t be used to doing. It can be challenging to reflect on yourself, how you are as a leader and how you turn up to work.
I am always looking for ways I can be a more compassionate and loving leader. While we need strategic leadership, we also need far more intuitive leaders who understand their motives and desires and try to act from a place of kindness and compassion. This is especially important during the current time of political turbulence, pandemics and the climate crisis.
None of us purely operate from our rational mind, whether we know it or not, and everyone is intuitive to a greater or lesser degree. Women perhaps more so than men, although both sexes in the West probably have a reduced intuition due to the overemphasis placed during our education on working from our brain’s cerebral cortex. Some recent interesting research at Harvard Medical School has shown that our gut and our brain are in constant communication, and indeed the enteric nervous system that regulates our gut is often called the body’s second brain. Braden Kuo’s paper states that, ‘Although it can’t compose poetry or solve equations, this extensive network [enteric nervous system] uses the same chemicals and cells as the brain to help us digest and alert the brain when something is amiss. Gut and brain are in constant communication.’ Ancient Eastern medical practitioners didn’t need Harvard to tell them this; their medical and meditation practices have been helping people listen to their gut for many millennia.
Many of us aren’t used to listening to our intuition because we are surrounded by noise – sometimes physical, but more often mental noise. It is difficult to intuit if we are always thinking of the past few hours or future hours or days. It is essential to quieten ourselves down, go for a walk or simply sit and learn to be without doing anything. Meditation is a process in which we quieten down that internal noise and I would recommend this as a daily practice for 10 to 15 minutes at least. I find the start of the day the best time for me; but in the middle of the day, you might be able to take time out and practise mindfulness, which may provide an energising break during the day.
Breathing deep into our gut and being aware of our physical body may help develop intuition; it is almost as if we are moving our activity from our head into our stomach or our heart. Another tip is to listen to our emotions: sometimes when we feel drained and exhausted, it is because we are pushing against what we think in our heads we should be doing, as our gut or heart has different ideas. Daydreams or dreams at night may be our intuitive self-communicating with us. Be aware too, as you go through each day, of any experiences, events or even creatures in nature that may be expressing something to you. It’s all about listening to the world around us rather than the words we hear. I start many of my team meetings with silence and by inhaling some deep breaths, and occasionally even some physical stretching exercises. As a result, because we are not only in our minds, we enjoy better, more intuitive, more effective meetings.