I was only 22 years old when I became a team leader for an IT support team of 160 people and didn’t know much about intuitive decision making. They chose me for different reasons and so I started my journey in personal management. We were a team of 5 team leaders that each had their own team of about 35 people with special tasks or skills. But we were each responsible for the whole team with our special tasks, too. So I was responsible for the process management, the personal management including shift- and vacation planning and later for the training management and the external crisis & complaint management.
When I started working in this company that hosted the worldwide 1st and 2nd level IT support for this huge enterprise communications company in 5 languages 24/7 I faced a few issues first:
1) I was a woman.
You might think “Why should that be a problem?” – well please let me tell you. As a woman in a mostly men-dominating area, you probably have to deal with this unpleasant thing called:
Gender discrimination. I was not being taken seriously as a team leader, was discriminated for my clothes (it was a business dress code set for everyone, so I just looked like any other businesswoman would look like), was called names (mousey, doll, cherry – well where I am from there are many cute sounding but discriminating nicknames that you can call a woman), I was ignored and told that I have nothing to do there and I should better leave – because I am a woman.
It happens to be that I was the only one out of 5 women working in this team of 160 people. Now guess how high the rate of gender discrimination was? You guessed it.
2) I was young.
In comparison to my team lead colleagues I was only 22years old. My team lead colleagues were at least over 30 and the youngest in my team was our apprentice with 19 years. Everyone else was 35+.
Because of my age, people thought I was never able to lead a team. I got hired to help finish the internal crisis and help get better work conditions for the team. The team was working tremendous over hours, mostly unpaid, and vacation times was blocked already for a while. I was there to change this for a better and improve processes so that the ticket crisis within the team would be improved. But none of the employees believed I was able to do so. My boss believed in me, obviously because he hired me. But I think he was the only person for quite some time.
3) I didn’t work in IT before.
Oh wow, never did I think THAT would become one of my biggest issues. I truly thought people understand the difference between a technical team lead (we had 2 of them) and a personal management team lead (we had 3, one of them was me). But they didn’t.
Racism? Where is that coming from? I am white and from Europe so who would be racist? Yeah right. I know racism is a kind-of-taboo topic but it shouldn’t be. And you probably think, there is no such a thing as racism against white people. There is. I am from Germany. East-Germany to be precise. I was born just 3 years before the wall came down and all I remember is, that it was not only David Hasselhoff who was looking for freedom.
You see, I have no idea what life was about in the German Democratic Republic. You could barely even call me a “DDR-Bürger” (citizen of the GDR). But I was standing in that company and got racist comments about being “East-German”, 18 years after Germany was already reunited. Seriously guys? I was asked if I wanted a banana (for almost 3 months daily) or if I was like a monkey now having a whole bunch of them at home “because I never had bananas before”. I was also asked if they should read out the news to me, because “in the valley of the unknown” (my home town’s nickname) there was no such a thing as news and education and I must be super stupid. Imagine how my abs grew within those months from all my laughing attacks. Seriously, wasn’t that SUPER funny? I was dealing with racism at work in my own country.
So what did I do to overcome those issues?
My first rule I followed was: transparency.
I was never lying to anyone about my age, my previous positions or experiences and never tried to be someone I wasn’t. I would honestly answer people’s questions and when someone asked me about IT and I didn’t know I said I wasn’t sure but would like to find out for them – and I always did. I was reliable, loyal and always had their backs even though they didn’t have mine. I remember that one of the guys had a customer that freaked out on him for nothing. He asked me for help but he knew he was never good to me. He was one of the guys that ignored me, made fun of me and never would take on the tasks I was giving out. He searched for other team leads to be around but it was my shift and I saw he was struggling so I went over and asked if I could help him. The customer was English speaking which was no problem for me but he was screaming at him and the agent got frustrated and didn’t know how to get out of this. I offered him to talk to the customer and help him fix the problem if he would stay next to me for the technical part. He agreed. I calmed down the customer within a few minutes and was able to fix the issue with the help of my agent besides me. He couldn’t believe it but was so happy. From that day he was better to me (not saying great. But it was a step forward).
When I saw him struggling I could easily have waited for him to ask me, as the rules said on our floor. But my intuition told me, he wasn’t going to ask me and the call would end up to escalate. So I went to help. As a leader, you are there to help your team no matter what. You should have their back at any time and empower them to be great. When I went over I wasn’t sure if he would even accept my help, as he was always one of the ones who would discriminate me. I could feel he didn’t feel comfortable with me helping him, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it. So what did my intuition tell me in this situation? It told me to go, break that “role-play” between him and me that he had set up and helped him out. This whole scenario changed the direction of how we worked together in the further on. I think especially that I didn’t come back at him with things like “See, I knew I can help you. What would you do without me? I am glad I could help you” or other pointless boss-talk helped a lot.
And he stopped discriminating me.
There are some similar stories when I helped out agents in my team, that have been discriminating me before and stopped after I helped them. Especially when I saved their jobs, and they heard it from my boss.
As mentioned before I faced those issues of gender discrimination, missing experience in the relevant field and even racism, but it didn’t make me a bad team leader. Even though I made mistakes (as anyone does) I was able to help the project become stable and I increased the working conditions for everyone including available vacation times.
The main factor for me was, trusting my intuition. I was trying to imagine myself working there for that many years, like my team did, and tried to understand their requirements. As I had to change the whole process management, create new structures, rules and management tools as well as implement all of this I had to listen to my intuitive feeling of what was best. I used all the knowledge I gained from listening to my team, watching them work, sitting next to each one of them for at least half an hour to see how they work and what tools etc. are missing but when it come to a decision to chose a tool, to decide how to create a process, I was following my intuition.
Why did I do that? With only 22years old you might think I had no work experience whatsoever. But that’s not true. I started working at the young age of 13 and worked ever since. I had plenty of bosses and managers by that time already and believe me I didn’t like the ones who were very political, strategical and bossy. Yes, sometimes one have to be strict and keep the discipline up, especially in a company like we were working for, where we had to match KPIs every single day, to not pay penalties. But I still always preferred the managers who would go with their gut feeling, their intuition. The ones who were honest and straight forward. The transparent ones. If they were kind as well I would love them. But you can’t have it all, can you?
The manager who hired me was mostly all of that. Until today I highly appreciate his way of leadership and believe that he was one of the best, if not the best, managers I had. I learned a lot from him and he used to follow his intuitive feelings, too to make decisions. He said it’s crucial to the business to be able to use intuition.
But why is intuition a must for decision making in leadership?
My second project with this company above was for the world famous leader in computer and phones. We built a sales and service online support centre and needed to recruit 140 people in only 4 weeks. So we split the recruiting process between me and a colleague that was hired from extern. We were sitting together in a meeting, talking about the requirements and what we want to look out for in an applicant. He told me he has done oh so many recruiting processes he knows what he is doing. My gut feeling told me that he is surely good in his job but I felt like there could be some issues with that whole thing. I offered to do the whole recruiting together so that we can decide on the team members together, as it was me who would work with them later on. But he rejected and referred to the short time frame. 2 weeks later we met again. He had hired the 70 people already after the first week. I was surprised. I was through my 2 weeks and have just on point filled the spots.
In my process, I have not only checked the requirements for the job and actually tested them (eg. I randomly started speaking English to the applicants to see whether they can react and what level of English they’d speak) but also listened to my intuition of the team building process. Are they gonna be a fit to the rest of the team I hired already? Would the be able to work with me? Will I be able to work with them? And obviously, I would always listen to my gut-feeling. Some of them just gave me somewhat weird vibes. I wouldn’t hire them. Simply because my intuition told me not to. So I would listen to it.
After the 1st month of training, the project finally started and both teams got together to be one big team. My part of the team was getting along quite well, besides the usual quarrels, while the part my colleague has hired had some troubles. We had 2 of them leaving just a months later, some small dramas to be cleared and one that we had to let go. When I called him to talk about them, he said: “Ah that’s a shame, but I kinda thought they might not last long I had a feeling when I hired them”. So here we go. He had an intuition about those who had to go, already when he hired them – and he still did.
Intuition is more than just a feeling. It is the ability to understand or know something immediately, without evidence, without knowledge or the need for conscious reasoning. In simple words: we unconsciously know what is right. Now isn’t that magic?
When you use your intuition in leadership you will see that the decisions you make will turn out to be more efficient and therefore more satisfying.They will have a positive effect on you and your team, as you do not have to take a lot of time to think about something and your team gets faster results. Please be aware I am not whatsoever saying you should ignore all facts that are given and all knowledge you gained. They are definitely there to support your decision and to help you stay on track. But there are certain facts that, in my opinion, can be ignored.
At one of the yearly huge sales days, we had about 7 people in the team being sick with the heavy flu that got almost everyone that winter. But we were already tight on staff for both, the sales and support team and not allowed to hire so we needed to find a solution to hit the KPIs that day. It was one of the most important days, with one of the new phones being released and the phones would stop ringing, emails would fill up in the inbox.
My intuition said, that our support team wasn’t going to be so busy that day, so I went to the team lead and asked for support from 4 agents. We set them on call overflow, that means they would still get the support calls but as soon sales calls would be overflowing in the line they would get them as priority calls. The other agents were told that there call volume might get up and that there was no training time to be taken that day. I set myself onto call overflow, too but wouldn’t take them as a priority so I was able to support my team on the floor and really only take a call when nothing else was going to help.
My intuition was right. In contrary to the forecasts, the support team wasn’t busy that day and the 4 agents on the line saved our KPIs. We swapped the 4 agents through the support team, no not have the same people doing it all day long and formed it into sales-training for them.
Intuition is important for any decision in leadership. I could have easily checked the call forecasts and decided not to ask the 4 agents for help – we would have drowned in calls in the sales team while the support team would have been bored to sleep.
To follow your intuition in leadership can bring many positive effects and for me, it is a must to use it. If you simply make decisions based on facts, you will miss out on important knowledge and connections that you are consciously not able to catch.
So after this (very) long article, here in short why I intuitive decision making in leadership is a must:
- Faster reaction to requests from your team
- Increases efficiency in decision making
- Helps enormously with building a great team with same/similar values
- Helps to “ignore” facts that may blind us when making a decision
- Have a positive impact on your team
And btw. – remember that manager in my first project? One day he came to tell me he hired me because he had a gut-feeling about me. He also said he never regretted doing so.
Did you experience intuitive decision making in leadership? What are your experiences? Please let me know in the comments below.