Managers approach decision making with attitudes influenced by their education, training, and experience. Personal style preferences for the rational versus the intuitive influence choices among alternatives. Intuitive decisions are more natural to some individuals and more acceptable in some functional units than others. The decision-making climate is also a result of the interplay between situational factors like gender and culture which shape world views as well as individual factors such as style preference and functional experience.

Personal Style

Manager style can be characterized in terms of complementary rational and intuitive preferences for planning and vision ways of preparing for the future, analysis and insight ways of solving problems, and control and sharing ways of approaching work. The Personal Style Inventory (PSI) profiles preferences for the rational zone of planning, analysis, and control on the left side of Figure 2 and the intuitive zone of vision, insight, and sharing on the right. Participants in a training program stereotype the complementary ends of the rational-intuitive spectrum in terms of "straights" versus "flakes."

Figure 2 – Complementary Ways of Knowing

complementary ways of knowing

The inflexibility of both stereotypes results from carrying either style to an extreme. Straights are perceived as habitual in their approach to situations which they interpret literally by following formal policies and procedures. In contrast, flakes are thought to allow details to fall through the cracks since they lack a firm grasp of specifics. An integrated personal style avoids the inflexibility of either stereotype. [Follow the link Complete the Online PSI Strategy Profile to assess your preferences for the rational and intuitive ways of doing things. Use your browser's back button to return to this page.]

We found that managers who prepare for the future and solve problems from an intuitive orientation are comfortable with uncertain decision situations where the use of vision and insight thrives. They approach work with a sharing emphasis. Dyed in the wool flakes abhor habitual rationality. On the other hand, we found that rationally oriented managers prefer to prepare for the future and solve problems with a planning and analysis outlook.

They emphasize control procedures in their approach to work. In the extreme, straights dismiss the relevance of what they regard as irrational thinking. Whether straight or flake, style preferences reflect the relative degree of reliance on information, knowledge, and wisdom in bridging the decision gap. Rationally oriented managers tend to use the proportions associated with the lower routine end of the decision- making spectrum while intuitive managers are comfortable with a mix that includes both sources of intuition at the strategic end.

In an example of the latter, a silicon valley executive observed: "I started this business because I did not want to be just another cog in the wheel. Here, I make the decisions. I am guided by my beliefs and my instinct. I know my product, and I try and learn more about my market." In describing an intuitive experience, he went on to say:

Often in conversations with my customers something strikes a chord, and in a flash, I know what the next version of my product should look like. It is not necessarily what they said, but in that instant, disparate pieces of information seem to suddenly fit together like the pieces in a puzzle, and the picture is startlingly clear. I can't explain it. It even takes me by surprise, and I can't wait to discuss the ideas with the members of my team.

The influence of the marketing perspective on this executive's use of intuition was clear in our conversation with him.

Functional Experiences

As this example illustrates, functional experiences also influence the use of intuition. Managers who come up through the ranks in boundary spanning units like marketing are more likely to use intuition than their counterparts whose functional areas, such as production, are focused internally. In the IMD study, more than three out of four managers in corporate planning, human resource development, marketing, and research and development units stated that the use of intuition was important in their decisions. In contrast, less than one in three managers in the areas of finance, production, and materials management considered intuition to be relevant.

Managers whose experiences center around production are protected from external uncertainty by policies and procedures. Consequently, internal functions such as finance and production rely on analytical tools supported by computer systems for decisions concentrated in the rational zone. Managers with these functional experiences will often dismiss strong intuitive impressions by insisting on the rational perspective.

In contrast, managers whose responsibilities are focused externally handle input from sources whose implications are often unclear. They become comfortable using intuition to discover patterns among seemingly unrelated observations. Through making successful decisions, they develop confidence in recognizing and drawing on intuition in the small. This paves the way for allowing intuition in the large into their decisions.

The strength of the functional bias appeared in one of our interviews. When asked to discuss the importance of intuition in his decisions, the chief financial officer of a large American bank responded that he preferred "tangible facts" to "intangible feelings." Later he acknowledged that when financial statements "did not feel right," despite their apparent compliance with regulatory requirements, he continued to systematically study them until he could explain or dispel his discomfort with the data. Given his financial orientation, this executive felt more comfortable with the rational zone even though he relied on intuitive knowing to encourage him to review the rational facts in more depth.

Recognizing how intuitive wisdom complements intuitive knowledge sheds light on the importance of functional and industry specific experience in executive leadership. In settings where the decision gap can be bridged with information and knowledge, the significance of industry experience and functional background is paramount.

But when closing the decision gap depends more on using intuition in the large, functional and industry expertise becomes less important. In these situations, executive wisdom takes center stage. Regardless of their industry experience, wise executives can lead any organization that must rely primarily on intuition in the large to bridge the decision gap.

Gender and Culture

In addition to functional background, a manager's use of intuition depends on their experience in terms of gender and culture. Social expectations play a role since women in Western cultures are allowed to express intuitive knowing more than men. However when they follow organizational careers, pressures for rationality inhibit women's affinity for intuitive knowing. One study concluded that women are more likely to use intuition than their male counterparts.

However, another survey found that they were less likely. The latter suggested that women may be socialized to believe they must be more rational than men for success in management careers. Although the studies on gender differences are not clear, our experience suggests female managers more quickly acknowledge their reliance on and more often attribute their success to using intuition than their male colleagues.

For example, the marketing trained chief executive of a large multinational readily acknowledged that she is guided by an "inner voice" in selecting her top management team. She commented:

A strong track record for success and demonstrated experience in the field are the basic criteria for membership, but all other things being equal, I look for the intangible element that somehow communicates that a person is more energetic, committed or is willing to give more . . . that is something you pick up on during a meeting, it cannot be faked, and it is not part of the resume.

In her career, this executive avoided or overcame the cultural and gender bias that might have swayed her from the unequivocal use of intuition.

Although managers experience gender prejudice in Eastern cultures, they may be less subject to cultural bias. Countries such as India and Japan have less clearly drawn lines between the secular and mystical aspects of life. Hinduism and Buddhism unambiguously recognize intuition in the large by accepting knowing that transcends personal experience.

Since management practice in these cultures is influenced by spirituality, we expect individuals in these countries to be more open to intuition than in the West. The IMD study found that Japanese managers were among the highest in the use of intuition while their Indian counterparts were somewhat below the average for nine countries. The legacy of a rationally dominated colonial educational system may diminish what would otherwise be a higher reliance on intuition in Indian decision making.

Table of Contents   Next Section