Merge's Blog

Relying on leadership instinct can sometimes get you into trouble

I’ve said in the past that If you’re not careful, past successes can prove to be decision making pitfalls. In much the same way, so can leadership instinct.

InstinctDo you operate on instinct? Sure you do. How many times have you sat in your car, driven home (or to work) but had absolutely no recollection of the actual specific journey? Yeah, I thought so! In much the same way, you probably rely on leadership instinct to help you manage a variety of situations in the workplace. And leadership instinct serves a very useful purpose; it allows us to learn routine behaviours which have identical or similar outcomes so that we don’t have to expend mental energy in situations where they don’t serve an optimal objective.

But as leaders, doing things by instinct will not always serve you well. There are three leadership circumstances in which relying on instinct can get you into trouble.

  1. When you want a different outcome. You’ve heard the old adage – doing the same thing over and over again will give you the same result. Relying on leadership instinct and doing the “same old” will give you more of the “same old”.
  2. When the business or workplace environment you’re working in has shifted. Working environments are not static; rather they shift and change over time, often due to competitive or social factors. Making decisions based on old experiences in a new environment can spell a recipe for disaster. So check the environment before you resort to instinct.
  3. When the decision-makers in your situation have changed. Sometimes, not only does the environment change, but so do the key players. A new CEO or manager may have a completely different outlook or even agenda, and taking action based on the priorities of a past leader can get you into trouble …. fast!

So as a leader, it’s worthwhile to keep your antenna up for when these three possibilities occur. And to be alert to when you need to consciously and deliberately and thoughtfully not fall into the trap of “what has worked for me in the past must work for me in the future.”

So what have been your experiences? Are there other circumstances under which you should not rely on instinct? What situations have you faced where leadership instinct was NOT the right way to go?   Please share.


  • Awesome perspective!! Now, are we talking about Intuition here? Or simply Instinct? Are both similar or different? I’d like to hear from Merge’s community of followers. Post right here.

    • Robert, good question. When I wrote this blog post, I was using intuition and instinct interchangeably as is often done. But I think your point is valid — in its truest sense, instinct is more of a physiological response; whereas intuition is decisions made on the basis of collective wisdom gained usually from experience. So if I were to be more specific, I would say that I am talking more about leadership intuition than I am leadership instinct. Interested to hear if anyone else has a strong opinion 🙂


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