Navy aviators often talk about “leemers,” a gut feeling that something isn’t right. A pilot feels puzzled, agitated, or anxious. Even though he doesn’t know exactly what’s wrong, he knows that he needs to abort the mission. Typically, those leemers turn out to be good intuitions: Something, in fact, is wrong.

– Keith Hammonds, The 5 Habits of Highly Reliable Organizations

Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.

– Jonas Salk


You have hunches about things, right?  A gut feeling about something, sometimes?

I do.  In my work, a lot.

And they’re problematic for me.

For starters, leaders are generally not open to making decisions just based on my hunches.  They require facts, data; and analysis; and a compelling, concise presentation; and, of course, bankable ROI.

That’s often too high a bar for me and my leemers … and besides; geez-us does all that feel like buzz-killing work!

I rarely have definitive proof.   I have a gut feeling — inexplicable and unable to be articulated — I can’t make a linear cause and effect argument that moves from an implausible premise to an oh my gosh he’s right conclusion …

Another problem with my having leemers is that they almost always indicate a problem with the status quo.  Could be in the particular approach to a problem, or could be a project plan or service offering …

Something’s off.  Something is not right.  Like the pilot’s intuition above, something is wrong.  Abort.

This is threatening to leaders; they are wholly vested in the way things are, and the way things are done.

And I’m going to indict them and all that with a gut feeling?  With no definitive proof?  Without even a cogent argument?

*     *     *     *     *

For me to actually drive real change,  I need two things, one from me, one from my leaders —

  • I need to trust my leemers when I have them;
  • I need to feel safe enough to share them.

Look: it is no surprise to anyone that leaders are leery … they need certainty, not unsubstantiated gut feelings.

But here’s the thing:  I’ve been around the block a few times now.  I know when I’m out of my league; when I have my hunches in those times, they’re just interesting, but I don’t advocate.

But when I’m in the flow of the game; when I’m immersed in the issues; when I’m seeing the whole system without seeing any part of it, I know that when I have a feeling, a hunch, an intuition, it means something; it should be considered; it should be explored.

At the very least, it should be heard.

It could tell leaders where to look for the flaw in the plan.

It might be enough to abort an ill-fated mission.

Or change it up just enough …

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