An Exploration of Intuition Among Senior Leaders

The study of intuition remains a frustrating and imprecise enterprise. The nonconscious unobservable nature of intuition seems inseparable from its very existence, so what is called intuition in settings of everyday conversation may not really exist in positivist social science.  Intuition is increasingly defined as a knowable cognitive process based largely on unobservable, nonconscious modes of dealing with reality, applying learned experience, tacit knowledge, and pattern recognition (Duggan, 2007; Mitchell, Friga, & Mitchell, 2005; Sinclair & Ashkanasy, 2005). Intuition is experientially built, situationally applied, and individually executed in particular contexts, so difficulties arise in operationalizing its use in ways that are predictive of behavior. Intuition always seems something that has been used effectively, but it cannot be said that it will be used effectively. Clarifying how intuition is perceived and employed in decision making and problem solving, at least in a limited context of senior corporate leadership, makespragmatic sense.


An exploration of the experiences and meanings assigned to the use of intuitive judgment by senior corporate leaders.  While intuition is acknowledged as a useful cognitive function in senior leader contexts, little practical study has been undertaken to assess reliance on intuition by actual senior-level practitioners qualitatively.  Conclusions were drawn determining that emergent descriptions of intuition as an experientially based, nonrational mode of decision making and problem solving relying on pattern recognition are credible and sound.  An exhaustive review of the literature revealed consistency in both the use of intuitive judgment and senior leader’s confidence in its accuracy and utility.  In the ambiguous, rapidly changing context of strategic level leadership, leaders perceived intuition as a reliable cognitive tool, in some cases preferable to evidence-based, rational approaches to decision making and problem solving.  

This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
SSRN eLibrary/The Exchange
The Academic Forum Exchange Journal
Date Published: 
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Place Published: 
The Exchange
Publication Language: 
Johnny L. Morris, Ph.D., G. K. Cunninghham, Ph.D.
Boyer's Domain: 

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