Know Thyself: Why Leaders Must Look Inwards to Inspire

Know Thyself: Why Leaders Must Look Inwards to Inspire

What enables a great leader to make an inspired decision? Any chief can surround themselves with great people and the best information, but the highest achievers in life have something special.

Like an inner voice, or instinct, the best men and women seem able to tune into an internal wavelength that points the way ahead. The ability to perceive this message and recognize its importance are hallmarks of an unspoken intelligence that all great decision makers possess.

However, be it talent, genius, or instinct, evidence suggests that the leader’s ability see into themselves for inspiration is not wholly unchained from rational explanation.

After looking within, great leaders often refer to key parts of their lives and are able to analyze them, gleaning lessons as to their own strengths, weaknesses and biases as leaders.

The knowledge they reap is used to understand themselves so that they make the better decisions in all situations. The understanding delivers its own energy that continually galvanizes such individuals in all aspects of their lives.  

Read on to find out about:

  • Where great leaders find guidance for their intuition
  • Informed intuition
  • How intuition skills can be improved

Where Great Leaders find Guidance for their Intuition

Important individuals

For former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, the key aspect in her life was a person. Albright’s father was Czechoslovakian diplomat twice displaced – first by Hitler’s Germany and then by the Soviet regime as its red curtain drew ever westward following the Second World War.

When the family moved to the US, he worked as a professor in less than salubrious surroundings. Throughout her career, Albright had only to return to her memory of her father working in a flooded basement, his feet kept dry upon stacked bricks, to gain new focus and strength.


Other great leaders look within to draw inspiration from past experiences. Take a look at these two examples:

Condoleezza Rice:

Former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice grew up in an environment in which reading and education were highly valued, a passion started by her great-grandmother who learned to read as a slave in Alabama. Rice’s grandfather filled the family home with books and rightly believed in the power of having his children read them.

Such academically-minded surroundings clearly had a strong influence on Rice, whose father held two master’s degrees, while her aunt held a PhD in Victorian literature.

Steve Jobs:

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he sank into disillusion amid the chaos of the spluttering tech firm’s array of computer products. He found sanctuary in simplicity, and the entrepreneurial maestro’s eyes were opened to what needed to be done. Jobs slashed the firm’s offerings to just four products that were engineered to perfection.

He became a paragon of cutting edge technology delivered as simply as possible, encapsulated in Apple’s first marketing brochure which declared: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Jobs’ less-is-more mentality came from his days as a college dropout when he worked for Atari. The computer firm’s games had no manual and had to be simple to maximize playability in the pixelated, four-colored dawn of what would become gaming. The experience showed Jobs first-hand how clarity and simplicity can trump all.

Informed intuition

While some decisions can be based on data crunching, others are leveraged by a lifetime’s experience. Intuition is essential in decision-making, according to Shelly Row, author of Think Less Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker.

Following interviews with leaders from a range of backgrounds, Row finds that those in leadership positions in politics and business made work decisions based on instinct to a far higher degree than those in legal or engineering professions.

Row finds that working in sectors where there is less data and clear, structured guidelines, leaders would draw in all the information at their disposal to come to a conclusion in a cognitive and intuitive manner.

Again, the resulting inspired decision may be founded on information garnered from a number of highly valued sources, such as key team members. But the leader relies on their own talent and experience to inform them when “enough is enough” – when the information required to address a problem has reached saturation point, and all that remains is for a path to be chosen.

How intuition can be improved

During the 1980s, research was conducted that deemed intuition as a highly rational skill. However, it has become accepted as a management strategy; defined as a “subconscious ability to integrate information from both sides of our brain”, it is now considered “an extension of logical decision making”.

While building intuition relies more on experience, the other magic ingredient – information – is something managers can work on if they are to improve the clarity of that voice within. Intuition can help you navigate knowledge, but if gaps exist, if facts are wrong or missing, then incorrect decisions can be taken.

Emotional state also has an influence on internal clarity; being stressed, angry or preoccupied distorts the inner voice and leaves you open to stronger negative feelings. If this is the case then go for a walk, get away from your mobile phone and release your mind a little. The space you discover in their absence will help to de-clutter your mind.

Finally, intuition can be improved by embracing a process of rational analysis. Ideas should be written down – again, physically lifted out of your brain to make room for idea progression. Similarly, the criteria for evaluating your choices should be written down, alongside key facts, figures and conditions.

If these steps are followed then your subconscious mind will be given all the information, and all the freedom it needs for you to listen to make a clear decision and become a truly inspiring leader.

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