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Niki McKay of Blue Danube

Leadership Lessons: How to Teach Intuition to Your Team

Niki McKayRecently, I had an interesting conversation with my mom that led me to think about my family background.

I am not the first in my family to start and own a business. My mom reminded me of how my great-grandfather built a large drugstore empire (with a full cosmetics line) in Hungary, which my grandfather took over until they lost everything during the war. My mom can recount what it was like to grow up in Hungarian aristocracy and with the wealth of her family’s business. She had everything: a summer home, a winter home, personal governess--the whole gamut. (Think 1930s European old world...)

Now, how does this all relate to my career path? According to my mom, I have my great-grandfather and grandfather’s “business gene,” as if my Hungarian/entrepreneurial roots predisposed me to the business world.

While I embrace my family’s background, I’m intrigued about this “business gene.” I know I didn’t wake up one day knowing how to create great set designs. That came from years of experience. However, I also know I cannot clearly explain everything I do and why I do it.

It goes back to the age-old question: Is leadership learned or innate? I still don’t know the answer but, in my experience, it’s a combination of both.

If one does not have innate leadership, then can leadership be learned? It could, through effective coaching and mentoring. Mentoring is a large part of who I am as a business owner and leader. It teaches at both ends of the spectrum. The mentee can learn from the experience of the mentor and the mentor can learn how to teach on the rest: the innate.

Innate leadership is difficult to teach because it’s instinctual. Today’s leaders are responsible for building the next generation of leaders. Based on my experience, here are tips to effectively teach innate leadership:

  • Be verbal and think aloud frequently. Make a conscious effort to invite the person into your thought process and motivate discussion.
  • Encourage questions! Take note of important questions asked by a team member and let these questions shape your training outline.
  • Play on the intuitive skills of others. Recognize where a team member acts on instinct and resource his or her expertise. It’ll help build a cohesive team in the long run.  

I see these tactics put to practice from the people who coach me. My mentor helps me navigate through all of my questions and ideas. (By the way, you can never be ‘too experienced’ for a mentor--even tycoon Richard Branson has a mentor.)

Find a mentor--whether you hire them, pay them or befriend them. In whatever way you have them, ask questions and challenge them on their instincts. When things don’t make perfect sense, ask for your mentor to explain. (You may have hit the innate bone in them). Then, listen and absorb.

The world tells us all the time to “trust your gut,” but it takes a different meaning when others need to learn from you. Find a way to explain why, how and when you trust your gut to make intuition sustainable.

Learning to coach effectively is one thing, but coaching on intuition requires its own set of techniques—techniques that take time to master. Be patient with the process. Over time, genuine learning will take place and propel your entire team forward.

These are the experiences that I’ve found successful. I would love to hear your successes in teaching innate leadership!

Niki McKay is owner of Blue Danube Productions, based in Seattle. Photo by Mike Nakamura Photography.


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