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Intuition and Leadership: A reflection on conversations with twenty senior leaders about intuition. And 10 ways in which you can develop yours.

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Intuition and Leadership: A reflection on conversations with twenty senior leaders about intuition. And 10 ways in which you can develop yours. 1

By Wendy Rose, Global Leadership MasterCoach.

When was the last time you sat in a meeting and revealed what your intuition was telling you regarding a forthcoming business decision?

If you’re anything like my clients, then the answer is ‘Never’!

However – I’ve recently spoken with over 20 senior business leaders about their experience of intuition and leadership.   They all said they made extensive use of their intuition but none of them ever mentioned it to colleagues – and this included two people who sat on the same leadership board!

I conducted these interviews with leaders from a range of industries including the ex-CEO of a UK supermarket, the Managing Director of an engineering company, several Vice-Chancellors of Universities, the CEO of a global law firm, a Professor of Immunology and an HR Director.

This cohort also included leading banking and finance professionals; members of the executive committee of a global high street bank, a private equity investor and the COO of a fintech company.

We use a number of colloquial terms when we refer to what we think of as intuition; a hunch, a gut reaction, a sudden flash, a realisation, an ah-ha moment, a ‘knowing’, a feeling, a tingle.  We all think we have a sense of what intuition is although it appears to be hard to explain to others.  My interviewees were no different.  I started by asking a couple of open questions: “What does intuition mean to you” and “For you, what is the difference between intuition, insight, inspiration and instinct?”

All the leaders said they were aware of using intuition; some more than others.  When they had ‘intuitions’ they all, without exception, said it was useful to them: ‘If I ignore it I get it [a decision] wrong’ said one Director of OD.  Another, from a science background,  said: ‘there has to be a bloody good reason for me to go against it’.  Many said it played a major part in the way they operated.  One leader in financial service said intuition played a part in 8 out of 10 decisions he made about where to invest money.  Others said it alerted them to things that were potential problems, helped them to make busines decisions, to sift information, pay attention to important data that had been out of awareness or guide significant HR conversations.

Several said having access to intuition saved time and signalled or alerted them to something useful among a mass of data which would otherwise be overwhelming or get overlooked.  Leaders often say they are overwhelmed by data, options, possibilities, uncertainty, ambiguity – and never more so than now.

One CEO commented that he thought intuition became more important with seniority as information became ‘sugar coated and I have to see through this’  I wish I’d learned to trust it earlier in my career.’

In our conversations it was hard for these senior leaders to define intuition. They knew they had it, that it was useful, but they didn’t know what it was, where it came from, how much they could trust it, how to explain it to others, why they sometimes had access to intuition and sometimes not, and how to increase this access.  When they did define it, in their terms, there was little linguistic alignment between them.  They struggled to distinguish between intuition, instinct, and insight.  What was instinct for some was intuition for others; what was insight for another was deductive thinking for someone else.  Others used terms like tacit knowledge, inner wisdom or tapping into a lifetime of collected but unconscious experiences.

For several it was cognitive function; a way of using their brain or thinking function differently.  Others said it was definitely an emotional or feeling experience; that things ‘felt right’ or ‘comfortable’.  ‘It gives me certainty’ said one CEO.

Some had a somatic or physiological sensation (in their heart, stomach, chest, shoulders), others visualised solutions in their mind’s eye.  Others described a deep sense of ‘knowing’ which was familiar but hard to put into words.  Several mentioned a sudden breakthrough when doing something completely different, when they had switched off from thinking about the problem in question – when out running, in the shower or driving for example.   ‘How is this different from creative or divergent thinking?’ one of the leaders asked.

Another leader had a very different experience when describing a problem-solving experience on the bus when his phone had died.  He had nothing to do for 40 minutes except concentrate on one particular issue; and had a breakthrough.  In this example, his mind was super-concentrated on the issue, unlike the example above where concentration was focussed elsewhere.  He wondered if this was his intuition or convergent thinking – and what was the difference?

In a world that does not appear to be becoming less overwhelming, would it be useful for leaders to be more intuitive if it saves time and leads to beneficial outcomes?

There are undoubted problems with using a function which is essentially subjective and lacks evidence.  One very senior leader at a university said she often ‘knew’ which strategic direction to take and then ‘wasted her team’s time’ asking them to gather the data she knew she needed in order to make a presentation to colleagues.

Wendy Rose

Wendy Rose

Others pointed to the obvious dangers of using intuition in selection and recruitment situations.  How can we ensure that one person’s hunch about a candidate is not unconscious bias or overt prejudice?   On the other hand, several of my clients said that they knew a candidate wasn’t right even though they ticked all the boxes at an interview and had been appointed.  An example perhaps of a process that has become overly rational and leaves no room for intuition.  In these instances one candidate turned out to have been promoted too early and consequently struggled and in the other case the candidate was later proved to be dishonest, “but in both cases I let myself be persuaded by the rest of the panel.   I had this feeling [that it wouldn’t turn out right] but no evidence.”

If intuition is a valuable source of data how can we be more upfront about our own intuitions?  Can we train leaders to be more intuitive?  And if so, what are the implications for leadership development, executive education and for the future of leadership?

If this article had piqued your interest in your own intuitive powers, here are ten ways in which you can raise your awareness, grow your trust and develop your experience of using this valuable leadership tool, based on the experience of the senior leaders that I interviewed.

  1. Go with a hunch first and make a note of it. Then explore what the other data you have access to indicates.  Be open minded; don’t just look for the evidence that backs up your intuition.
  2. Build your trust: practice making decisions in low risk situations based on your intuition alone and see what the outcome is.
  3. Take part in a meeting and say what your intuition is about a situation. Ask colleagues what their intuition is.  See if and how these align.
  4. Think about a situation you need to resolve and then deliberately switch off and do something else. Being in nature is repeatedly reported as being useful – walking, running, cycling, being in the garden or an allotment.  Pay ‘soft attention’ to any ideas or insights that appear to spring from nowhere.
  5. Let yourself indulge in what Jung referred to as ‘liminal time’. This is the much underrated time when we potter about, doing small low level tasks or even nothing very much at all.  We often don’t do this; we’re very time conscious and think we have to account for every minute.  Let the sediment of the mind settle and let the body find a different rhythm.  Pay ‘soft attention’ to what bubbles up.
  6. Take note of the sensations in your body when you’re thinking about a situation – what do you notice in your stomach, your heart, your head, your throat, for example? Stay with the sensation and let it build.   What feelings or thoughts come to you when you sink further into the sensation?
  7. Write down your dreams or draw them as soon as you wake. For millennia dreams have been a source of intuition and breakthrough creativity, from Nobel prize winners to Keith Richards.
  8. Pay attention to your random ideas, thoughts and feelings, even if they appear ridiculous at the time. Let them linger, see what they grow into.
  9. Stilling the mind appears to be important tool in creating a stronger link with your intuition whether this is mediation, mindfulness, Tai Chi, chanting, a breath practice, yoga or something else. Find what helps your mind to stop churning and allows for a deeper sense of tuning in.
  10. Practice making distinctions between instincts that warn you of danger, intuitions that lead you towards something good and flashes of insight about how to solve a problem. You may find you experience sensations in connection with the first in your stomach, gut or bowel area. In connection with the second you may feel a warmth around your shoulders or heart, an excitement in your chest or throat or a feeling of contentment, repose or safety anywhere in your torso.   In connection with an idea or insight you may be aware of sensations around your head, your ears or your eyes.  Some people say they ‘see’ or ‘hear’ their intuition.  Or you may become aware of sensations above the top of your head or around your crown.

What can we learn from the fact that many eminent scientists and artists ascribe their creative breakthroughs to their intuition?  If their experience and the experience of the leaders I interviewed can tell us anything, it’s that intuition is a valuable source of data – or maybe a tool for accessing that data – which we could well pay more attention to. Especially in these times when so many leaders report feeling overwhelmed and the future is so uncertain, usual sources of ‘hard’ data may not be the answers we’re searching for.

If you’re interested in any of the above, please get in touch. I am still researching and would love to speak with you about your own experience, whether you call it intuition or insight, inspiration or instinct – or any of the other words and terms we use.

Business

Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile

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Battling Covid collateral damage, Renault says 2021 will be volatile 2

By Gilles Guillaume

PARIS (Reuters) – Renault said on Friday it is still fighting the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of semiconductor chips, that could make for another rough year for the French carmaker.

Renault reported an 8 billion euro ($9.7 billion) loss for 2020 which, combined with gloomy take on the market, sent its shares down more than 5% in late morning trading.

“We are in the midst of a battle to try to manage a difficult year in terms of supply chains, of components,” Chief Executive Luca de Meo told reporters. “This is all the collateral damage of the Covid pandemic… we will have a fairly volatile year.”

De Meo, who took over last July, is looking at ways to boost profitability and sales at Renault while pushing ahead with cost cuts. There were early signs of improving momentum as margins inched up in the second half of 2020.

The group gave no financial guidance for this year, although it said it might reach a target of achieving 2 billion euros in costs cuts by 2023 ahead of time, possibly by December.

Executives said they were confident the carmaker could be profitable in the second half of 2021, but that they lacked sufficient market visibility to provide a forecast.

Renault struck a cautious note, saying it was focused on its recovery but warned orders had faltered in early 2021 as pandemic restrictions continued in some countries.

The group is facing new challenges as the European Union tightens emissions regulations and after rivals PSA and Fiat Chrysler joined forces to create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.

The auto industry endured a tough 2020 but a swift rebound in premium car sales in China helped companies such as Volkswagen and Daimler to weather the storm.

Auto companies globally have since been hit by a shortage of semiconductors that has forced production cuts worldwide.

“The beginning of the year has shown some signs of weakness,” De Meo told analysts, but added the chip shortage should be resolved by the second half of 2021. “We have taken the necessary measures to anticipate and overcome challenges.”

Renault estimated the chip shortage could reduce its production by about 100,000 vehicles this year.

SHARP HIT

The group was already loss-making in 2019, but took a sharp hit in 2020 during lockdowns to fight the pandemic, which also hurt its Japanese partner Nissan.

Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected a 7.4 billion euro loss for 2020. The group posted negative free cash flow for 2020.

The 2018 arrest of Carlos Ghosn, who formerly lead the alliance between Renault and Nissan, plunged the automakers into turmoil.

In a further sign that the companies have been working to repair the alliance, De Meo told journalists that Renault and Nissan will announce new joint products together in the coming weeks or months.

Renault has begun to raise prices on some car models, and group operating profit, which was negative for 2020 as a whole, improved in the last six months of the year, reaching 866 million euros or 3.5% of revenue.

Analysts at Jefferies said the operating performance was better than expected. Sales were still falling in the second half, but less sharply.

Renault is slashing jobs and trimming its range of cars, allowing it to slice spending in areas like research and development as it focuses on redressing its finances. It is also pivoting more towards electric cars as part of its revamp.

It was already struggling more than some rivals with sliding sales before the pandemic, after years of a vast expansion drive it is now trying to rein in, focusing on profitable markets.

De Meo told journalists on Friday that the French carmaker will make three new higher-margin models at its Palencia plant in Spain, where manufacturing costs are lower, between 2022 and 2024.

($1 = 0.8269 euros)

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White in Paris, Nick Carey in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing, David Evans and Jan Harvey)

 

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Business

UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn 3

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.

Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.

“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.

($1 = 0.7152 pounds)

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)

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Business

Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights 4

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.

The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.

Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.

“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.

To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.

The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.

Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.

Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.

That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.

“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.

Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.

Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.

Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.

($1 = 0.8279 euros)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)

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