Influence

 the shape of leadership

Leading by Intuition

Dr. John Townsend explores five elements that shape a leader’s internal world and contribute to success

George P Wood on July 24, 2018

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I have a bad feeling about this” is not just a well-worn line from the Star Wars movie franchise. It’s also a gut-level experience many leaders have when making important decisions. It can be a positive experience too: “I have a good feeling about this.” 

Leaders often ignore their gut when making decisions. They believe it’s best to base decisions solely on external data, not internal feelings. Dr. John Townsend thinks that’s only half right: The premise of Leading from Your Gut is this: “Great leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world.”

Townsend is a New York Times bestselling author, leadership and organizational consultant, and psychologist. He is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and offers counsel from a Christian perspective. Most of the examples in his book come from the business world, but Townsend also shows the relevance of his advice to ministry and other nonprofit forms of leadership. 

Leading from your gut is leading by intuition. Our intuition is not always right, of course, but it’s not always wrong either. Every leader can recall specific instances when the data pointed one way and their gut another, so they followed the data, only to have the negative results prove their gut right. I certainly can. 

Our intuition is not always right, of course, but it’s not always wrong either.

Why does this happen? Because leaders have developed an intuitive feel for things based on long experience that they can’t always provide reasons for. The gut is nonrational, in other words, but not irrational. Along with developing the ability to interpret data correctly, leaders need to hone their intuition. To help them do that, Leading from Your Gut outlines the five aspects that shape a leader’s internal world — values, thoughts, emotions, relationships and transformation.

In my opinion, the chapters on emotions alone are worth the price of the book. “Your emotions have a function, a purpose, a role. When you understand this role, you can harness your emotions to lead others well,” Townsend writes. They “exist as a signal to you. They alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. That something may be an event outside of you or one inside.” Townsend then goes on to describe the signal function of both negative and positive emotions, and how recognizing the signals can change the way you lead. 

Leading from Your Gut doesn’t absolve leaders from their responsibility to lead from the data. To be successful, leaders should know their “business,” whether it is making widgets or making disciples of all nations. But they should also know themselves.

Book Reviewed

John Townsend, Leading from Your Gut: How You Can Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Your Values, Feelings, and Intuition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

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