Regular readers will know that we believe that listening is the most important of the core leadership skills. It’s the L in our iLEAD programme (Listening, Energy, Authenticity, Direction) and comes first for a reason. Simply put, leaders who don’t listen can’t lead. But it’s not just about listening to others: it’s also about listening to ourselves, to our inner wisdom, to our gut.

This is something I regularly talk about with my mentees, and I encourage them to tune in to the whisper of their wisdom when they are trying to solve a problem or make a decision. Sure, our intellect and our experience can all feed into those times when we’re reviewing a situation and trying to choose the correct course of action, but actually, it’s our inner wisdom that will ultimately point us in the right direction.

Shall I give you an example? Here’s the perfect illustration from something that happened to me just a couple of weeks ago.

I was shifting things around in my home office in preparation for an online presentation I was due to give, to make a bit more space for me to move around, write on a flipchart and so on. One of the things I decided to take out of the room temporarily was a long mirror. Once I’d removed it, I tried to find somewhere sensible to stow it away for a few hours. As I carried it into the bathroom my gut told me it was a bad idea, but when I saw there was some room behind the door, my intellect took over and told me that I’d work it out.

A bit worried about the door handle damaging the mirror if someone went into the bathroom not knowing the mirror was there, my wisdom was still telling me it wasn’t a good idea. Again though, I listened to my intellect and decided I could mitigate against the risk by putting something between the door and the mirror to act as a door stop.  Looking around, I found a pack of toilet rolls which would do the job well. All the time I was doing this, my gut was questioning my decision, even though I’d thought it through properly and had checked that the toilet rolls were of the right dimensions to prevent the door handle from hitting the mirror. Even when I was back at my desk there was a niggling doubt where my innate wisdom told me my solution wasn’t a good one, but my intellect overruled the feeling and insisted that all would be well.

Ignoring the voice of my wisdom, I continued with my day and completely forgot about the mirror.  An hour or so later one of my sons went into the bathroom, slamming the door hard behind him.  What happened? As the door was shut with force, the reverberations around the room caused the mirror to fall and it smashed to pieces. I have to confess that I laughed, knowing that if only I’d listened to my wisdom and disregarded my intellect, the whole situation would have been avoided!

While me sharing this experience might make you chuckle, and reassure you that you’re not the only one who makes the wrong decision at times, it’s important to recognise that it’s not easy to listen to your gut. Even when it tells you something loud and clear three times, as it did to me with the mirror, we frequently don’t hear the message. Sometimes the more leadership skills and experience we’ve acquired, the harder it is to quieten our intellect and hear the small voice of our wisdom.

There are some good tips in this short article which you may find useful, but ultimately the secret lies in following and trusting your instinct. Calm your mind and put aside rational thought for a moment, adjusting your internal antenna so it picks up the message your gut is trying to send you.

While a minor mishap such as a smashed mirror might not matter in the long run, I also know from experience that not listening to our wisdom can lead to unhelpful or even disastrous consequences.

I’m sure you have plenty of your own stories of when you’ve listened to (or ignored) that inner voice and what the outcome was.  I’d love to hear them!