The role of intuition in the boardroom

by | Jul 21 2021

There is much discussion about the role of boards today.  What are the makeup and skills required for a relevant and highly effective board? How can boards ensure they engage individuals with diverse, rigorous and curious thinking and voices? As an industry sector, we are focussed on skills, gender and other aspects of diversity, but this isn’t enough. 

Having some innate and complex personal attributes in the mix of directors plays a crucial role. And for this piece, the specific attribute I’m talking about is intuition. Intuition is one of those complex, personal, intangible skills that needs more acceptance and understanding around its place in a director’s armoury and how to trust in its messages.


When it comes to diversity, intuition is an attribute that boards should now be including in their “skills matrix”. Interview questioning needs enhancing in order to ensure that there is a mix of learned and lived experience (expertise) alongside a blend of intangible and personal style (intuition) in board candidates. I would suggest that nowadays this should be prioritised. 


The definition of intuition is that it is a form of knowledge that appears in consciousness without obvious deliberation. It is not magical, but a faculty in which hunches are generated by the unconscious mind rapidly sifting through past experience and cumulative knowledge.


Albert Einstein said that “the only real valuable thing is intuition”. Is this correct or is it one tool? A critical tool that you either possess naturally and intuitively or can it be learned and honed with time, experience and practice?


Is it a tool that can be applied in business? Should it be relied on more to guide decision making, strategy, operations and culture? What is the role of intuition in the boardroom? How can and should a chair apply their intuition? For many of the right brain thinkers running Australia’s boardrooms right now, the notion of using intuition to guide strategy might be enough to make them shift in their chair. Or walk out…


Before you rely on intuition, you must first know what you want:

To succeed in understanding the role of intuition, first view your instincts as a filter for a yes or no decision. It can be a powerful guiding tool, however, when you have no idea what you actually want (or from the perspective of a board, what the business wants), there is no radio signal for you to tune into in the first place. For intuition to have a greater role in business, ensure that you filter the decisions by including an understanding of the objectives, challenges and risks in front of the business. 


What intuition is and what it isn’t:

Acknowledge that intuition is subtle. It isn’t the voice in your head screaming at you through a microphone. It is the underlying voice whispering in your ear. In order to access this data and accelerate your growth, you must have some self-awareness. Not everyone possesses self awareness but it’s an important underlying attribute that sets directors apart from each other.


The relationship between self-awareness and intuition:

As this HBR article explains, true self awareness is a rare quality, but if we are self-aware we make better decisions, we are better leaders and we often enjoy more successful careers. Unfortunately, experience and power can hinder our intuition because (basically) we think we know it all or enough to make decisions quickly without tuning into the ‘radio signal’. If boards and businesses required leaders (executive and boardroom) to uncover their internal and external self-awareness, intuition has the potential to play a positive and productive role in decision making.  


Intuition in the boardroom:

Rather than being a sign of weakness or inability to decide, intuition actually works to contribute positively around the board if it’s coupled with confidence. It only works if you’re able to handle the outcome of your decision or point of view. Then it’s very powerful and has a place in the discussion and around the board table. 


The more you can build a foundation to trust your intuition, the more powerful it will be in making the right decisions time and again. What may seem illogical on the surface is actually a calculated method of jumping ahead.