There’s a popular myth going around that true “leaders” operate on gut instinct.

I saw it repeated just last week on social media, by a fairly popular personal development writer, that real leaders make decisions in the heat of the moment, even if they have limited information, and trust in their emotional intelligence to propel them in the direction of passion, purpose, and success.

What a distortion of what it takes to manage a life, let alone be a leader.

On the national stage right now, we’re getting plenty of examples of what happens when behavior is mostly informed by gut feelings and leaders act with limited information. I’d say few following along with that farce are impressed.

Gut instinct is a wonderful thing. Intuition is a wonderful thing. Neuropsychologists speculate that the phenomenon we call gut instinct, or intuition, might have evolved as a result of our brains picking up on cues and signals in our environment that were too subtle for our conscious mind to register, but which aided in our survival. Those cave-people who had decent intuition were selected for; those who lacked it were at an evolutionary disadvantage.

It’d be silly to deny how valuable our guts can be in appraising situations, making decisions, and solving problems.

That said: it’d be equally silly to suggest our guts are well-suited to be our primary decision making organs.

Fact is, when it comes to decision making, our guts frequently have you-know-what for brains.

We have lots and lots of tools at our disposal when it comes to making decisions. Many of those tools are awesome– for what they’re good for. Gut instinct is a great example of this. For sizing up a situation quickly, especially a situation that involves identifying or avoiding a threat? Our guts can be invaluable.

But when it comes to decisions where we have the luxury of a little more time to think and evaluate, consider our needs, values, and goals? Relying on our gut 100% of the time is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.

Especially when it comes to decisions like, you know, how to spend your money.

What food to put in your mouth.

Whether to end a relationship.

Whether to have a child.

You know. Little things like that.

I know, I know. There are people who swear up and down that their gut instinct has never steered them wrong. And it’s a valid concern, getting so caught up in the dreaded “analysis paralysis” that happens when we overthink our problems to death. I’m not saying never listen to your gut or act on impulse. Hell, sometimes those decisions lead to a lot of fun, spontaneity, and momentum.

But the very best decisions we make are those that use all the tools we have available. Your gut, your cerebral cortex, your memory, your values, your senses.

The most successful people I know, both the people who succeed professionally and get better in therapy, are those who discover and use decision making tools they’d forgotten about or undervalued in the past.

If they were primarily a “gut” thinker, they learned how to harness and use the cooling and analytic power of their forebrains.

If they were an over-analyzer, they learned to get back in touch with their instincts and access their less strictly rational impulses.

If they primarily operated on principles of expedience and convenience, they learned to clarify and pay more attention to their core values.

If they were rigidly enslaved to their principles, they learned to be more flexible in their approach, and how to compromise in ways that didn’t betray or deny those principles.

If you’re heading into battle, you don’t want a leader whose model for decision making is always instinctive, impulsive, driven by gut feeling in the heat of the moment (especially when there is limited information available).

You want a leader who utilizes and appreciates all the tools at their disposal for decision making– especially those tools that they’ve had to work to develop, precisely because they don’t come naturally to them.

What decision making tools do you rely on? Which tools might you have undervalued or underdeveloped in the past?

You don’t have to just go on your gut. You don’t have to ignore it, either.


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