When to Trust your Gut, when to go by the Rules

Are you a stickler to the rules or do you just fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best? Do you apply your gut instincts to situations or do you ignore them as being untrustworthy, unimportant or irrelevant? The challenge leaders and managers quite often face is knowing when to follow the rules and when to trust our gut. So, how do we decide when it’s appropriate to trust our gut and when it is not? And do we have to choose one or the other?

As humans, we naturally use our gut feeling and our instincts as a part of the decision-making process. It’s the other brain in our body. As leaders we need to take our gut feeling and evaluate it to see if it makes sense in context. We need to formulate strategies to help rule things out. By trusting our gut we allow ourselves to assess situations different. Ask yourself why am I feeling this way? What is my gut telling me? We cannot live by gut alone!

However, there are times when it will be our gut that rules. If we are in a dangerous situation, our gut instinct will kick in and the adrenaline rush will drive the decision and the action. We feel and then instinctively act to divert the danger. The rules may not even cross our mind. We go into survival mode. On reflection, we can evaluate and assess whether we made the right decision and can learn from it. In our businesses, there are also some conditions where you simply trust your gut. In situations where you are under pressure, time-limited and understand the activity you are making a decision about, you will more than likely follow your gut. And that’s reasonable.

There is much debate around trusting your gut and going by the rules. The reality is, it’s all a matter of perspective. If the consequences aren’t dire and you have experience in the area of decision, then your gut can be your guide. If you need to act quickly, your gut instinct will drive your action. However, if you have received feedback regarding the gut decisions you have made, and it hasn’t been positive, then sticking to the rules might be more your scene until you gain a better understanding of how to evaluate your gut instinct in context and then act. Your gut is telling you something. Don’t ignore it, work with it. We need to learn when to listen to it and when to ignore it. The rules can work hand in hand with your instinct to advance your learning around making decisions and understanding the consequence.

If you are having trouble as a leader walking the line of gut versus rules, ask yourself the following questions in deciding when to trust your gut:

  • Am I experienced with the activity in question?

  • How complex is the activity?

  • Will the consequences of my choice be immediate or longer-lasting?

  • Am I receiving reliable feedback regarding my decision-making?

  • Is the activity unpredictable?