A vast volume of data can give leaders great insight into a business. But what if too much puts you out of touch with your instincts? An adventurer and former royal marine may have the answer…
Focus, integrity, decisiveness, commitment – these are just some of the key qualities that make a great leader. But in an age when business leaders are under relentless pressure to slash costs, boost profits and bat away competitors, many have grown dependent on reams of data and analysis for decision making.
This seems sensible. After all, facts and figures can offer insight into everything from a potential employee’s technical skills to trends and customer needs. But the more chief executives rely on analytics, the less they tune into another tool vital both in and out of the boardroom – intuition.
Guiding a team through unchartered waters can involve a high level of uncertainty and risk. This is where intuition – or trusting your gut – can prove invaluable. When an unexpected event throws everything off course, it’s often a senior executive’s sixth sense that steers their team away from the cliff edge and back onto safe ground. It’s no wonder, then, that more leaders are seeking to reconnect with this way of working.
A survey carried out by executive search firm Christian and Timbers revealed that 45 per cent of corporate executives now rely more on instinct than facts and figures. In another by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 83 per cent of UK business leaders said their decision making had improved as a result of using intuition over analytics. It’s also faster and easier. But it takes a lot of self-belief to adopt an intuitive approach to business – especially when one wrong decision might mean hundreds of jobs or millions of pounds lost. And many CEOs simply feel too afraid to trust their own judgement.
One man, however, is looking to change that – as far away from the office as possible. Former Royal Marines officer Calum Morrison, 48, is the founder of Extraordinary Adventure Club (EAC), which runs a revolutionary programme combining some transformative personal development techniques with bespoke wilderness expeditions. Morrison’s clients can be whisked off anywhere from the desert of Sudan to the Mongolian wilderness, trekking with nomads or motorbiking through tough terrain. The idea is to take people out of their comfort zones and help them confront their fears, emerging more resilient and confident as a result. “It is about creating an experience that enables the person to reconnect with themselves, feel the margins of their own capabilities and stretch them,” says Morrison.
The process begins with an intensive induction retreat in the Scottish Highlands where a physical and psychological assessment takes place. Laptops, watches and phones are removed, clients are unplugged from technology and placed ‘in nature’. There are daily exercise sessions and activities which can include anything from walks to flying a glider plane. “It is a simple exercise but shows people they sometimes need to feel, not think, their way out of a situation. They are given a brief lesson on how to operate the plane, then they take the controls and fly through the Scottish mountains. It’s up to them which direction they take,” he explains.
The initial retreat, on which the EAC team establish an individual’s needs and goals, is followed by a two-week expedition much further afield. The client is told nothing about what lies ahead until, one month later, a sealed black envelope arrives containing only their meeting point and a packing list. The destination stays secret until their arrival. Expeditions are designed to challenge and generate self-sufficiency and resilience. This, Morrison says, is why they appeal so much to business chiefs.
“We attract all sorts, but many high-achieving individuals in the corporate world who have lost their direction in life,” he adds. “The CEO is often this charismatic figure who has to know and control everything. But they have no control over the environment we take them into and no connection with the outside world. In that situation they can regain a sense of their own identity and recalibrate.”
Trips can mean anything from dog sledding in Arctic Norway to exploring the equatorial jungle in Guyana. For the former, clients are plunged into temperatures of -30°C and travel in isolation for hours, digging snow huts to sleep in. The latter means a progressive jungle survival adventure, journeying through rainforest before being dropped alone on an island with basic tools. Both aim to reduce emotional co-dependence, with participants encouraged to interact with locals, often staying with families who speak no English.
“They have no idea what they are doing next,” says Morrison. “By becoming comfortable with the unexpected, they use their own judgement.” He says clients leave with renewed purpose and motivation, and better communication skills, which can have a positive impact on all aspects of life, especially work. “I took one business owner to Mongolia and left him for 24 hours with camel herders who spoke no English. He was terrified initially and felt like a five-year-old left at school for the first time. Then he just got on with it and helped them make cheese. The experience gave him so much confidence and made him realise how important communication is. He vowed that, on returning to work, he would leave his office every day to talk to people.”
Other CEOs Morrison has worked with decided they want to travel more, change sectors or run their companies differently. One banned work email when conversation was more appropriate, forcing people to communicate in-person, often meaning they would bounce ideas off each other. The EAC also includes regular face-to-face coaching, mentoring and a closing retreat. With six-month bespoke programmes at around £150,000, it’s a huge investment, personally and financially. But Morrison says it’s worth it for leaders who want to restore “humanity” to business.
“Money only gets you so far, then it is all about relationships,” he concludes. “Not only with others, but ourselves too. The better a business leader can trust their own instincts, the more confident, assertive and dynamic they become.” Steve Jobs – who once advised, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition – they somehow already know who you truly want to become” – would undoubtedly approve.
5 ways to improve your intuition
1 Switch off phones, remove laptops and create quiet in order to connect more with yourself and the environment.
2 Let go of the fiction of absolute control. Practise taking ‘feeling-centred’ action based on the situation.
3 Have the courage to listen to your inner voice.
4 Do something that makes you uncomfortable regularly. The more you do so, the more you build resilience and self-confidence.
5 Simplify: reduce complexity in both your thoughts and actions.