Gut Instinct vs. Emotion

The last two weeks’ posts have been more Project Management focused (Stakeholders and Work Breakdown Structures), so this week Kelly’s Contemplation is going to shift gears a touch.  I am honored to have a guest post by a good friend, mentor, and life-long leadership coach/student Micah Caronna.  Micah’s entry is going to shift from pure project management into a topic that crosses the leadership spectrum…Gut Instinct vs. Emotion.

Before I turn it over to Micah, here is your video of the week

Today there’s a lot of talk about intuition and gut instinct in management. Generally, our first inclination is the need to see all the data and projections to get a clear view of the scope of any project. Yet, we find that those individuals who stand out the most in our organizations have a strong sense of intuition. I agree that there is value in leadership instinct. We must hone it, develop it, and learn to trust it. As we do, others will follow us and learn to trust it as well. At the same time, we have to be careful not to mistake emotion for instinct. Many times they feel, smell and look a lot alike. One of man’s biggest mistakes is not knowing his own emotions.

In other living creatures the ignorance of themselves is nature,
but in men it is a vice. – Boethius

We must be able to know the difference between instinct and emotion in making decisions as we manage teams and projects. There are three indicators that help determine which of the two we are operating in. These indicators are fear, love and anger.

It’s very hard to distinguish between a gut instinct and emotion while we are afraid of not meeting goals, meeting deadlines, losing our jobs, not being the first to market a product, retaining a client, etc. When fear is present, or when there is pressure to make a decision, mistakes are often made. Instinct is not going to be dependable for us as when fear is involved since it is such a strong emotion and can disguise itself as intuition.

We have to be careful when we are in love or infatuated with a particular project. We can even really like a specific employee, or team member, and not be able to see clearly when it comes to their ideas or issues.  When we have dreams and aspirations for a particular product, service or someone on our team, we have to be even more alert. Sometimes we’ll make wrong decisions based on that infatuation rather than on the pure instinct that has served us so well in the past. That emotion of love can cloud any intuition we may have, thus making that intuition unreliable.

Anger causes people to make many mistakes. When we feel like we are leading “by the gut”, or being instinctive, while we are frustrated or angry at a situation, person, or even ourselves, we are liable to make the wrong decision. Many poor business and career decisions have been made out of spite and hurt. Don’t trust your gut if your angry.

So what do we do if we are an instinctive leader but find ourselves faced with decisions while we are highly emotional? Whether it be fear, love or anger, our only alternative is to lean upon the pure raw data in order to make those decisions. Many leaders and project managers are data driven anyway. It’s the ones who stand out that tend to have a degree of intuition. They will take risks when others shy away, thus making the awareness of these indicators a useful checks and balances system.

Micah Caronna is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training Center with over a decade of ministry experience including in the areas of Youth Ministry, Evangelism, Praise & Worship, Children’s Ministry, and Multi-Media Ministry. His ultimate motivation is to empower people to lead a fulfilling passionate life that attracts the lost to the arms of Jesus.  Check out his blog and look for his recent video on Processing Tasks, Calendar Events, and Email.

5 thoughts on “Gut Instinct vs. Emotion

  1. Thanks Raj! If at the core, the manager has strong ethics/morals and is acting with best intention for the organization…leveraging their experience and data at hand, they need to go with it. As you said, there isn’t always the data to fully support it, but your gut will guide you if you have the ethics in place.

    Love/Favor for someone in the workplace should be guarded against as best as possible…whether that be a spouse at work or a best friend. If you don’t have the emotional fortitude to tell a friend no and your relationship isn’t strong enough to handle it, then don’t even get into that situation.

    Anger…the walk away :) Either be ready to apologize in front of the team or walk away. Anger can build up quickly when it comes to money, personal work/output, etc. People get emotionally tied to their presentation, their design, etc. If it gets heated you need to understand constructive tension and cut it before it escalates beyond that.

  2. Excellent post. Gut instincts are important and we should trust them enough to act on them, even if it may turn out to have an unexpected result, it makes you learn.

    Action based on emotions is called acting on impulse. Dont be an impulsive Manager, be an instinctive Manager.

    And for those Managers who go purely by data and data alone… its is good to be informed to make an informed decision, but not always will you have enough data to make a decision, and thats when acting on gut alone will be required. As a Manager, people are looking for bold leaders and if you fail in the process, so be it. At least you had the balls to take action when no one else would. There is no shame in that.

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