Leadership: Gut Instinct or Data?

entrepreneursGreat leaders listen, take in all sides and then make decisions. Acting from “gut instinct” sometimes works but mostly it causes decisions to be made without all the information. The more complex the situation, the more information is required. This is not meant to slow things down, however, it’s meant to make the best decisions with the best available information to do so.

Entrepreneurs are notorious for acting on gut instincts and in the absence of data, they have sometimes been right. However, to ignore the data or other voices and perspectives is just lazy. Entrepreneurs like speed and “gut” is fast, reviewing data and listening is slower. If I look back at all of the “gut” decisions I made, I think the success rate is about 50/50. If I consider those that I made after I looked at data and listened to other voices, that success rate goes up to about 80-90%. (Of course, this is not a scientific test, just a gut feel. 😉 )

It’s not a bad thing to trust your gut, it’s just that you’ll confirm or make a better decision if you listen not only to the “guts” around you but include actual data too. Truly visionary entrepreneurs see things that most of us don’t, their challenge is to help us see them. If they succeed at that and surround themselves with competent teams, magic happens. The visionary leader is generally not great at execution, therefore, why would you trust his or her gut over that of a truly brilliant tactician? You wouldn’t.

Great leaders lead first and “do” second. If all the ideas and decisions need to be gut checked by the leader, the leader becomes the bottleneck and thinking ceases to happen in the organization because it doesn’t matter. In any behavioral study, a person will stop asking or trying to do something when continually told no or worse, been made to feel irrelevant. This becomes an organization of “yes” people who simply do what the leaders say, regardless of all evidence in plain sight pointing to a better way forward.

One person, no matter how brilliant, does not have all the answers. Great leaders know this and surround themselves with smart people in all the areas they need information or expertise from. When it comes to leading a team, great leaders guide their team to the best decisions and ideas making them feel like it was theirs – even if the leader did know it first. The idea will become better, not worse if skillfully guided by the leader with input from the team.

As the old saying goes, why do we always have enough time to do it over but never enough time to do it right the first time? Ask a few more questions, get more input, check the data and confirm your gut before acting. A few more minutes, hours or days for a decision is likely the difference between good enough and great.