Intuitive Leadership: Dealing with Uncertainty

Globalisation has radically changed and influenced all of our lives. It has positives, such as access to international markets, increased knowledge sharing and experiences. Globalisation also has its negatives. Economies and businesses operate now more than ever in an ever-changing, dynamic global economy that has very few certainties.  Leaders need to adapt to the new challenges of the increasing complexity of a globalised work environment. A crucial skill leaders need in order to successfully adapt is the ability to lead intuitively. The leader of the future must learn intuitive leadership that is comfortable in complexity and uncertainty.

What is intuitive leadership?

Intuition is that “gut feeling” that tells us what we should be doing. Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without conscious reasoning. It is, however, more than just a gut feeling because our intuitions are full of meaning. They are the product of a spontaneous reasoning process that is going on all the time. We assimilate different complex pieces of information, understand them, combine them and come to a conclusion. All of this is contained in the gut feeling, but needs to be drawn out when interrogating an intuition. Developing your intuition thus involves introspection.  An intuitive person is able to look inwards and connect with their “inner voice”.

Intuition in eastern philosophy

The development of intuitive knowledge has become a very encouraging discourse for many eastern and western philosophers. In the East, religions have considered intuition as the highest form of knowledge. This is because a person with intuitive knowledge in connected with themselves. In Islam, intuition is understood by many scholars as a form of illumination. Intuitive knowledge is based on a certain intellectual confidence; a confidence in our abilities as human beings to spontaneously attain insight into the nature of things.

According to Maulana Waheed ud din Khan, a person is made of two parts, reason and intuition. Reason operates on external observations and the information collected from the experiences associated with it. Intuition is more based on inner perception and extends beyond space and time.

Intuition in western philosophy

Western philosophy has also engaged with intuition. Immanuel Kant takes intuitions to be representations of information provided by the senses, what we may loosely call “perceptions”.  The study of intuition as an introspective science is developed further in modern psychology. Intuition as an introspective science is the art of careful observation and self-reflection to generate more successful results.

Intuition has been examined from various angles over the years. What we see in all the discussions of intuition is firstly that it makes use of the subconscious and secondly that it involves an individual’s cognitive abilities. Intuition is the connection between the person’s inner self and the conclusions it draws about their external surroundings.  An ability like this, based on intuitive knowledge is very beneficial in high-intensive situations where decisions have to be based on limited information.

Intuition as a decision-making process for leaders.

Leadership is not just about power or a means of domination, it is about cultivating loyalty, trust, and willingness. This only happens when the person in charge is genuinely there to serve. Under these conditions, leaders will also then acquire the willingness of their people, which creates real power.

“When employees work for people who care for them sincerely and give them an opportunity to grow, they commit and grant the leader their loyalty and trust and give the leader the right to tell them what to do.” On the other hand, managers who are there to get things from people are trying to “produce predictable and controlled outcomes”, and “to squeeze effort out of the unwilling” (Schuitema, 2011, p.30).

Based on this definition, a successful leader transcends the dynamics of a manager. He or she has the qualities needed to achieve predictable and controlled outcomes based on external observations and data. But, he or she will also have the ability to produce results created by unpredictable, unforeseeable events. Successful leaders are able to empathise with their subordinates’ problems. Instead of just worrying about the results, they will also be concerned about making the experience more enriching for their employees.

Intuitive leadership

Therefore, intuition becomes an essential leadership tool, since it aims to cultivate an individual’s inner voice, and intelligence, which transcends beyond time and space. Intuitive leadership is not only based on external data, but also on personal experiences and the experiences of people working around you. An intuitive leader recognises when her people are not engaged and quickly resolves the obstacles standing in their way; thus, creating a more holistic approach to providing solutions.

When we asked a group of people what they considered are important traits in an intuitive boss, some of the qualities mentioned included; empathy, mentor-ship, and foresight. These qualities link back to the idea that an effective leader is not only about managing the businesses and creating positive returns but also creating a connection with their employees. Therefore, we will explain these three abilities below:

  • Empathy: Empathetic leaders are the ones who can listen to their employees. To create a good working environment, it is essential to listen to your employees, because it makes them feel seen and heard, inspiring them to believe in their leaders. Moreover, effective leaders are aware and mindful of their employees’ time outside of work and are respectful about maintaining a work-life balance for their employees.
  • Mentor-ship: If your employee is lacking a skill, you should help them develop it so they can complete the task efficiently. An intuitive leader will mentor his or her team to effectively lead others.
  • Foresight: Intuitive leaders understand trends and carry out the necessary changes needed to keep up with the times. They have the strategic foresight to make changes and to map out a journey for their people, in order to create certainty in uncertain times.


Leadership is not just about being a head on top of a company or a country, it is about providing effective guidance for your team or your people at all times. This is where intuitive leadership is required. Being empathetic, providing mentorship and having foresight are all important parts of intuitive leadership.  Effective bosses are both leaders and managers, they can provide solutions in complex, unforeseeable circumstances.

Intuition is a tool used by effective leaders to gauge the results of unfortunate events, where there is no past, external data available to make a decision. In a global environment where events unfold daily, and businesses and economic markets are constantly evolving to changing times, intuition can aid leaders of companies or countries in staying with or ahead of trends.

Connect with Etsko Schuitema on his LinkedIn Group


Schuitema, E. (2011). Leadership: The Care and Growth Model. Intent Publishing.

Kant, I. (1781). Critique of Pure Reason (Guyer, P & Wood, A. Trans.). Cambridge University Press:1998.

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