I just know it . . .

I just know it . . . Yesterday was busy.

The Gas Man called to service my central heating, but decided to condemn my fire instead – please don’t tell my dog – she worships it; I packed my carry-on luggage for an impending trip abroad, and am wondering how I’m ever going to zip it up (hmm . . . where is my husband’s case?), and best of all I spent a wonderful day working from home, planning some events coming my way at work over the next few weeks.

And it was while working in my kitchen, with the radio purring in the background, that I was temporarily distracted by a fascinating programme – The Art of Walking into Doors – describing research that’s been done to explore the relationship between dyslexia and dyspraxia, and a person’s ability to draw.

In applying a taxonomy of indicators that helped to observe and test a person’s drawing skills, researchers discovered that they could spot dyslexia around 70% of the time. Pretty impressive.

But as they became more proficient in using their indicators, their instincts became more attuned to the people they were testing, and admitted that sometimes they started to be able to identify that someone was dyslexic, without applying their taxonomy. Quite simply, they just had a hunch.

And that was the bit that really fascinated me . . . the notion that gut instinct sometimes counts for something.

Now I’m all for good research, and have spent some of my formative years researching when studying – but I also work in a world of leadership and coaching where I find success a little less easy to measure – at least in a way I observe others are happier with.

Or is it just me? OK, I’ll be honest . . . evaluation is my weak point. I’m not really that interested in trying to measure how good a leader is through a check-list, a tick-box, numbers, percentages, grades, charts, graphs or rating scales.

I prefer the gut instinct approach when I’m trying to determine how good a leader is. But, hang on . . . I should add that my gut instinct assessment isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. I’ll always aim to triangulate, to be as objective as I can, to weigh up many pieces of evidence, and to try to form an opinion (which I know brings at least a little bit of subjectivity into the frame) in order to establish a viewpoint on whether I think someone is a good leader. I’m experienced enough to avoid the trap of giving someone a good leader award simply because they’re nice.

And I’ve found some strength in this belief from reading what others think on this notion: Malcolm Gladwell talks about a simple gut feeling; and Clough & Nutbrown reference anecdotal, or intuitive evidence from colleagues. A senior analyst I used to work with also helped by sharing his idea (and this is in spite of all the fabulous quantitative work that he can do with his eyes closed) that sometimes, we can, and should, draw conclusions from repeat messages and stories on a theme – if lots of people are saying someone is good, then there must be something in it.

I’m also not slow in coming forward to speak up about a leader’s excellence when others aren’t feeling it . . . usually when someone’s former reputation has preceded them, or they’ve been victim of the rumour-mill, and they’re in fact now a changed person, or indeed always were fabulous. I love sharing positive messages, stories about good leadership . . . and to see the look of surprise on someone’s face when they start to think that maybe this person who they’d previously ruled out, might just be OK.

So, measuring is good – there are occasions when we have to quantify, benchmark, calculate and compute (and of course, I’m its biggest fan when It comes to any grading others have to give me on my performance!) but ask yourself how do you know that your leaders are good? What’s your gut feeling, your instinct, your I just know it rationale?

  • What are the behaviours you look for in a leader?

  • How do you want them to make you feel?

  • How did they contribute to that fabulous day at work you had recently?

  • How inclusive are they?

  • What have they shared with you that’s helped you to build your relationship together?

  • What do you see them do for which they get little credit . . . and certainly don’t ask for?

And when you’ve answered these, please point the lens back to you and ask these questions about yourself. Because that’s what the people who are looking up to you are doing . . . right now.

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