While some enjoy promoting its seemingly magical qualities, intuition isn’t some mysterious gift or touchy-feely psychic ability. There’s science behind it, which means you can learn how to leverage your intuitions for optimum results as a manager or part of a team.

In my experience coaching executives, I understand why some hesitate to use their intuitions because they’ve been trained to mistrust anything that isn’t based on logical, analytical reasoning. They mistrust gut feelings. And yet, there is more to learning how to harness intuitive thinking to make decisions than simply using your gut feelings for “truthiness.” We need to treat intuition as a strength that can be acquired and expanded by building—and making better use of—a rich experience base.

“The real challenge is not whether to trust intuition, but how to strengthen it to make it more trustworthy.” ~ Gary Klein, PhD, The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions at Work (Crown Business, 2004)

Intuition improves as we learn to process and fully understand the situations we face. The more experiences we have, the stronger our intuition becomes. Repetition (practice) sets the stage for competency. Intuitive decision-making improves when we acquire more patterns, recognize how they play out and develop a larger repertoire of strategies.

Yet, you cannot improve intuition with experience alone. You must continually challenge yourself to make tough appraisals and learn from the consequences. Not everyone I’ve worked with is good at using intuition. I’ve noticed that really good intuitive leaders rely on keen observation, pattern recognition and mental models.

Pattern Recognition

Repeated experiences are unconsciously linked to form patterns. A pattern is a set of connected cues. When you spot a few of the cues, you can expect to find others.

As we gain experience at work, we assemble a catalog of recognizable patterns. Over time, it becomes easier to match a situation with a previous pattern. Learning to detect patterns may prove challenging, but your practice will eventually pay off.

Pattern recognition explains how leaders can make effective decisions without conducting a deliberate analysis. They’ve learned which cues are relevant.

Truly inspired decisions require a more sophisticated mechanism: cross-indexing. The ability to see similar patterns in disparate fields elevates your intuitive skills.

What have been some of your experiences using intuition? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me here or on LinkedIn. Let’s talk!