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When Leadership Development Is a Bad Thing

I used to think I had to change to be a good leader. Now I see the strengths I had all along.

“How do you know?”

I can’t tell you know many times that question has stopped me cold. As a highly intuitive and introverted person, my favorite way of knowing is through my intuition. I naturally collect information without conscious reasoning, synthesize it behind the scenes, and come to a quick and convincing conclusion. The problem is intuition doesn’t come with hard evidence. When people challenged me to explain my conclusions, I often couldn’t do it.

Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of intuition is this: “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence: a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why; something that is known or understood without proof or evidence.” This definition makes intuition sound a bit like magic, but it’s not based on pixie dust or hocus-pocus. It’s based on instinct, experience, knowledge, environmental input, and unconscious awareness of sensory stimuli.

Intuition is legitimate. And while relying on intuition is not always the best way to make a decision, sometimes it is.

After facing several challenges to my intuitive convictions in my professional life, I learned that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to back up my intuitive conclusions with empirical data. I had to use a slower process of logical reasoning—something I knew how to do, but didn’t always prefer. Ultimately this challenge was good for me, but the way I interpreted these incidents wasn’t.

I took professional challenges as signs of shortcomings, and I was determined to change my natural tendencies. This was just one more in a series of misunderstandings that had made me feel like a misfit throughout my life. I was a highly sensitive child, quiet and thoughtful, highly creative—and yes, intuitive—with a vibrant inner life. I longed for quiet places and space to think. I loved the arts, the outdoors, and spiritual conversations. I was a voracious reader and an enthusiastic writer, intensely interested in people but exhausted by crowds, an idealist who wanted to make the world a better place. When I was in a group, I listened first, then spoke. By the time I did, sometimes no one else was listening anymore.

I’m Not a Leader!

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an INFJ—the rarest type in American society. It was no wonder I often felt I didn’t belong; feeling like a misfit comes with the territory. In particular, my introversion and intuitive preference were often questioned, not rewarded. And I questioned them as much as anyone else, believing they were weaknesses to be overcome or changed.

August22, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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