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Coaching lesson: How to use intuition wisely

Coaching is useful in sports, medicine and business. Intuition is an important part of leadership -- as is knowing when to back it up.

4 min read


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My father, who practiced family medicine for more than 40 years, was a rigorous student of medical literature and was board-certified multiple times. Yet Dad, who passed away in 2007, used to say that what he loved most about his practice was the “art of medicine.”

In medicine, the diagnosis may come from science, but it may also come from intuition. The same goes for executive coaching. But first, let’s explore the role that intuition plays in medicine.

Art and practice

Anna Yusim, a board-certified psychiatrist on the clinical faculty at Yale University, believes that “intuition is important in the practice of medicine precisely because medicine is an art and a science. As physicians, our reason and rationality can help us delineate possible causes of a given illness based on our medical education, clinical experience, scientific data, and double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials.”


“Intuition,” Yusim says, “is the still, quiet voice that can only be heard when the screaming voices of our thoughts and emotions temporarily cease.”

Retired physician David Fessell believes intuition in medicine “can show up when a patient looks sick even though their blood pressure, pulse, white blood counts are all within normal limits.” Yet, Fessell says, “an experienced nurse, physician, or other health care worker may have seen patients in the past who looked this way — before their numbers went downhill. So it can prompt a more thorough investigation that can save a life.”

Yusim adds that “intuition can guide us when reason alone does not lead to a solution or cure. Intuition enables us to ask questions which may, at the outset, seem counterintuitive, but may ultimately lead to the proper diagnosis or treatment.”

Link to executive coaching

Intuition can play a role in executive coaching. Fessell, who also is an executive coach, author and speaker on wellness, resilience and humor, advises his clients to “develop deep domain expertise. Talk about issues and scenarios with people who have more experience. 

“Consider discussions with people who have different domain expertise. Track your intuitions over time and see if you can pinpoint the factor(s) that are impacting it. This [practice] can help you have an idea of your accuracy. It’s easy to forget the times you are incorrect.”

Yusim, who also is an executive coach and the author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life, says, “We help our [coaching] clients optimize their functionality in all aspects of life. A key component of this is enabling clients to become more comfortable trusting their intuition. … The more attuned [clients] become to their inner world, the more their intuition will expand in ways they could never have anticipated.” Such practices give them “greater clarity, confidence, and competence [when making] important decisions.”

Limits to intuition

However, there are limits, Yusim says. “When you make an important decision based on intuition, it may be difficult to justify to your colleagues if this decision is not also the most ‘reasonable’ decision. In this way, reason and intuition can sometimes be at odds with each other.”

Fessell agrees. “Data and analysis, when available, are fundamental and the backbone of most successful strategies. Intuition can be a spice to add sparingly. If you use it, know your limits. Be prepared to be wrong so that you, and others, don’t get hurt.”

Intuition, therefore, plays a role in executive coaching as it does in medicine, but it should be used in tandem with science and experience.

John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and is a leadership keynote presenter. He has been recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He is also ranked as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by Inc. John, the author of 15 books, has a leadership resource website.



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