Leadership Insights Blog with Shelley Row

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InfotuitionOne-and-two-and-three-and-four… My dad sat next to me counting out the beats as I practiced the clarinet. Night after night he taught and I learned. I was good but was never going to be the next Bennie Goodman. Nonetheless, I read and play music and appreciate the true virtuosos. My life is enriched by my knowledge.

Today my work is in helping others discover how to use both cognition and intuition in complex decision-making when data alone is not enough. I call it infotuition – the intersection of business pragmatics with gut feel. Frequently I hear, “You can’t teach an intuitive business sense. You have to be born with it.” Au-contraire. I firmly believe you can enhance your infotuitive skill because I’ve done it. To be clear, I’m not talking about gazing into a crystal ball or reading tarot cards. Infotuition is accessing the wisdom stored in both the cognitive and intuitive part of your brain for use in a business environment.

Decisions that swim in uncertainty and ambiguity can’t be made by using the cognitive part of your brain alone. You must tap into gut feel. It’s real and it’s valuable. Like learning music or another skill, you must want to learn. Here are five tips.

1. Value it. You must place value in infotuition. Of 75 leaders I interviewed, 74 of them attest to the value of their intuition or gut feel. They learned from trial and error that the nagging feeling provided wisdom that warranted their attention. Neuroscience shows that we store information in parts of our brain that communicate through feeling. Further, your gut has the same neurotransmitters found in the brain. But the gut and the intuitive brain do not access language. Nagging feelings are their communication tools.

2. Apply yourself. Let’s say that you’re the analytical type (like me). You cultivated, developed and value logical, rational thought. The logical part of your brain is skilled and it feels good to use it. Great. Hold on to that information and balance it with intuitive wisdom. It’s as though you go to the gym and only exercised your left arm. It’s strong but the right arm is neglected. You must commit to exercising both the left and right arms. It’s the same with your brain – which is a muscle. If you apply yourself you can develop the intuitive part of your brain and use it in a skilled way. Neuroscience tells us that we develop new behaviors and skills through intentional focus. It’s called self-directed neuroplasticity.

3. Start early. The brain is plastic particularly early in life. That’s why it’s easier to learn new skills – like music – early in life. Start early in your career to engage in diverse activities that build a storehouse of experiences in your brain. And I don’t mean just work activities. Your brain draws on lessons from all aspects of life. Put yourself is positions where you must make decisions. Look for opportunities that allow you to take some risk. Then consider both fact and feeling as you decide. Notice the nagging voice and give it a name. Naming the feeling makes it more tangible and allows you to work with it. With each decision you develop experience…and your brain.

4. Start now. Okay, so you’re not early in your career. You can still cultivate infotuitive skills because the brain retains some plasticity throughout your life. It’s not too late! Plant reminders to prompt you to think, “What am I feeling about this issue? What’s bugging me about the decision?” Pay attention to your answers. Those prompts will surface additional information to inform your decision.

5. Practice. Whether early or late in your career, practice cultivates your infotuitive sense – your gut feel. You don’t have to find the time because you are always practicing every minute of every day. Are you practicing behaviors that serve you? Do you practice noticing the nagging feeling? Practice plus intentional focus will teach your brain new tricks. In time, infotuition will become a habit. It’s takes effort and, to end at the beginning, you have to want it.

Sure, some people have a knack for sensing the intricacies of a complex situation. They intuitively sense how others will respond and how a scenario will play out. They are the virtuosos. Just because they are virtuosos doesn’t mean you can’t develop your own skill to a new level of competence. My musical ability will never rival Shakira’s, but I learned enough to enjoy playing, appreciate the great artists and enrich my life. You can do the same with infotuition.

Motivate & ManageIs there someone in your office who needs a little motivation?  Are you part of a team who you’d like to motivate to higher performance?  Do you need motivation? Or are you simply looking to continue your professional development growth?

No matter what your motivation, I invite you to join me for part 1 of a webinar, Motivate & Manage: Brain Friendly Techniques to Enhance Performance.  Here’s what makes this webinar different.

The webinar shows you how to use five brain “toggles” that can activate the threat or reward response.  Wouldn’t you rather be motivated by reward? We’ll talk about and work on ways to intentionally activate the reward response – whether you wish to motivate someone else or yourself.   In part 1, we’ll look at the role of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the brain science behind it.  Then we’ll work with two of the five toggles that are particularly critical. In part 2, we’ll discuss the other three toggles.

I’m sure you’ve participated in webinars before but this one is different.  First, the program is based on research in neuroscience so that you understand how to use the brain’s natural functioning to enhance motivation.

Second, it is as much like an in-person session as possible. You’ll have a worksheet and will put down your own thoughts about how to apply these principles in your real-world setting.  You will leave with practical ways to use this work immediately.

Part 1 is on August 22nd at 4pm Eastern. Register now. Since this is the first webinar in my new series, part 1 is free. All you need to do is register and log in on August 22nd. I look forward to having you participate with us.

Head storiesYou’re in a long security line at the airport. A LONG line. A frazzled, middle-aged, perspiring, blonde woman rushes up from behind. “Excuse me! My plane is leaving! May I cut in line?” In that moment, what do you think? Perhaps some of the more gracious of us think, “Oh…poor thing. I hope she catches her flight.”  Others of us may think, “Really? Why is this my problem?” or “If she prepared better and planned ahead she wouldn’t be in this situation.” Honestly, I would probably be in the later camp.  Except that this time, the woman was me.

Two newsletter articles ago I wrote about the man who had a heart attack on the plane and probably died. I was so upset and flustered that I forgot I had a connecting flight. I realized it on the rental car shuttle in the wrong city.  To have any chance at making my connection I had to get back through the long security line. I was forced to politely ask for a favor from strangers.  Most were great. I only got a couple of exasperated looks. There was no time to explain the unusual circumstances (how often does a person have a massive heart attack on a plane?) that led to my predicament. I asked, said thank you, kept moving and ignored the looks.

At one time or another, we all created a story from circumstances and slim information. And then believe the story! The boss slings edgy comments at you in the meeting and you think, “Oh no! She’s dissatisfied with my work!” When the real situation is that she’s exhausted after landing at 1am.  Or a team member doesn’t get a deliverable in on time and you think, “NOW what are we going to do? He let us down.” But the real situation is that this team member was in the hospital emergency room all night with his kid’s asthma. The range of options is innumerable and we can’t image them all. Instead we create a story that usually includes us and believe it.

Those stories are destructive and stress inducing. It only takes a bit of perspective to put the stories in their rightful place which is to eliminate them.

  • Take in the situation. When disappointed or upset by a situation, take it in without judgment, and take a breath to slow down the mental storytelling that’s gearing up.
  • Detach you from the situation. When you hear the story beginning in your mind, remind yourself that the situation is not likely about you and that there is more going on than you know.
  • Reframe the situation. Remind yourself of the vast range of options that could be impacting this situation. Your assumptions are bound to be wrong and likely unfair. Open up to the possibilities.

I made my flight that day but only because person after person graciously allowed me through. They will never know the story of that day. And we may never know the real stories behind each situation we encounter but we can take a broader and kinder view that allows for options beyond our imagination.


marish / 123RF Stock Photo

Tired brain

I had a plan. On the first leg of the flight to Reno, I would work on a new webinar series and on the second leg of the flight, after connecting in Vegas, I would work on materials for a client.  I worked steadily during the first flight until the medical emergency happened that I wrote about last week. By the time we landed, I was flustered and upset, and I knew it. After deplaning, I called my sister and a friend to help me calm down. Even so, some residual stress lingered.  But, I was calm enough that I decided to get the rental car and drive to my Reno hotel.

Walking through the baggage claim area I noticed signs for Mariah Carey, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s tour, and Penn and Teller. “Wow,” I thought, “I didn’t realize that Reno had such big acts.” I boarded the rental car shuttle and again thought, “I’m surprised that Reno has a rental car shuttle. I expected it to be a small airport with rental cars at the terminal.” On the bus, I reset my watch and again thought, “Hmmm. 9:30am. I thought I arrived in Reno later than that.” As I pondered the work I completed on the flight I thought, “I expected to get more done.  I didn’t start the client work that I planned for the second leg of the flight.”  The SECOND LEG of the flight! I only took one flight.  Where am I? Looking out the bus window I saw the skyline of the city: tall buildings, desert landscape and the Eiffel Tower and an Egyptian Pyramid. Vegas. I was on the rental car shuttle in Vegas…not Reno.

My decision-making fell victim to a brain compromised by stress and the power of confirmation bias.  “Fine, Shelley,” you think, “But what does that have to do with work?” Everything.  Each workplace squabble, each passionate disagreement, or each set of hurt feelings creates stress and compromises the brain. Stress makes it more likely that you’ll see and hear what you want to see and hear – which is confirmation bias. I forced everything in the Vegas airport to conform to my belief that I was in Reno.

How can you ensure that you don’t make a bad decision under stress?

  1. Know when you are stressed. You probably know when you’re under considerable stress.  You may not fully appreciate smaller instances of stress. When your boss gives credit for your work to someone else; when you have another tense conversation with THAT person in the office; when your big project is due but everything goes wrong with the deliverables. Each of these and many more generate stress.  Learn to your body feels when under stress – tightness in the chest, constricted breathing, sweaty palms. Pay attention to whatever it is for you.
  2. Take steps to reduce your stress. Do you know what reduces your stress? In my situation, I needed to talk to someone(s) who would understand and care about me while I calmed down. What can you do?  Take a walk around the block, take a coffee break, share with a friend, call your kids, write about your feelings.  Whatever it is, do it. If you don’t know what calms you, figure it out or try different approaches until you have a workable strategy.
  3. Either postpone big decisions or get an objective observer to assist. Your stress-reduction approach will help but there may be lingering impacts that color your brain’s functioning. Under stress, the brain is more likely to force-fit everything into its existing mental models. For big decisions, it’s best to postpone the decision until the next day when your brain has settled and you have perspective about the situation. If that’s not possible, seek out input from others with differing points of view to validate your decision.

Luckily, I managed to return to the airport and catch my flight to Reno (more on that in the next newsletter). For you, don’t hope for luck. Learn to recognize your stress level and take steps to moderate its impact.

lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo


It started like any other flight. The memorized announcements, beverage service, and a few peanuts. With my head buried in my laptop, I became aware of a commotion two rows in front of me. A woman asked for help for her husband. The announcement over the speaker system was for doctors or nurses on board. Across the aisle from the husband needing help was a retired paramedic wearing an Orlando firefighter tee shirt. He was also an instructor for paramedics.

The problem unfolded quickly.  The man had a heart attack. Soon, he was lying in the aisle of the plane surrounded by a team: two doctors, two nurses and the paramedic who was organizing the work flow. For a half hour, they worked like a well-oiled team to save this man’s life, but they weren’t a well-oiled team. They didn’t even know each other’s’ names.  What caused them to function as a team so quickly and how can you use it?


Call to action. Any team needs a call to action. In this case, the call was clear and quick. A life needed saving. While your team may not be dealing with life and death situations, their call to action should be compelling enough to inspire interest and action.  If not, why bother?

Trust. This ad hoc team had no time for forming, storming and norming. They only had a one-word description of their credentials: nurse, doctor, paramedic. And that’s all they needed. They trusted each other’s skills. Yes, this was an emergency. Without creating an emergency, how do you create an atmosphere of trust?  Any good team must trust the others to uphold their role and be good at what they do.

Persistence. Rarely does anything go as planned. A good team continues their mission in spite of the challenges.  Teamwork is like water flowing around a rock in the middle of the stream. The effort flows around the challenge and keeps going.  Similarly, this team worked for 30 minutes to revive the man lying in the aisle. They never gave up and were administering an injection up until the moment we touched down in Las Vegas. They were committed to a positive outcome. Is your team just as committed?

Humility. Teams gel around the leader. In our case, the retired paramedic expertly called out instructions to coordinate the team. The doctor knelt next to my chair rummaging through the medical kit for anything they could use: syringes, tape, medication. The doctor and he worked hand-in-hand until the other paramedics met the plane at the gate. And then there was humility.  As the sick man was taken off the plane, the paramedic knelt in the aisle and crossed himself.  Then he crawled along the floor to pick up the debris and any sharp objects that may have been left behind. He literally crawled along the floor to do what needed to be done. Are you, as the leader this humble? Will you do – do you do – anything necessary to make the mission successful?

Appreciation. Once the heart attack patient was transported away, the plane erupted into applause. We had our very own heroes. As we clapped our appreciation, they didn’t seem to hear it.  They did what needed to be done.  Still, I believe they heard the gratitude. Are you expressing your appreciation for a job well done – even when it’s the job that needs to be done? Gratitude matters. Say thank you; applaud; dance a jig. Do whatever is needed to be appreciative.

I wish I could say that the heart attack victim survived but I fear that he didn’t. I suspect that we saw a life transition to the next one in the aisle of that plane. Personally, I’ve seen enough death over the last few months to last quite a while.  But this time, I had the privilege of observing a high-performing team in action. I’m grateful for their service and I’m grateful for the example they set for the rest of us.

paulprescott72 / 123RF Stock Photo

“Just the facts: they speak for themselves.” That’s the approach many take when they want to persuade someone to their point of view.

But do they speak for themselves? Not so much.

From my technical background, I have observed a fact-based approach to persuasion many times but rarely successfully. It’s no wonder. The brain isn’t designed to respond to facts alone. Analytical people are responsive to reasoned arguments more often than others are; however, even they need to be motivated to pay attention. A logical argument takes a lot of energy and is less likely to work for most people

Thankfully, there are other persuasive techniques that are more promising. (Kevin Dutton’s work provides excellent insights into persuasion). After all, when persuading someone, the goal is to get to “yes,” you see (YES, UC).

1. You-focused. “What interests you about this issue?” And, “We want to address your questions first.” The word “you” is powerful. It is immediately relevant and it is always about our favorite subject. However, all too often, we are so preoccupied with our view that we think too little about theirs.

Before starting the persuasive argument, consider how the issue looks from their perspective. Why is it of interest to them? Given their background, what viewpoint are they likely to have and why? (This presumes that you did the research to know their background and preferences.) How can you put their interests in the forefront of the discussion? When you figure that out, start the discussion with that point of view. The first point can be the most influential.

2. Empathetic. People are more easily persuaded if they have a sense of relatedness, which leads to empathy. A lack of empathy can have the opposite effect. A 2002 study of doctors found that those with a less empathetic tone of voice were sued more often. Empathy counts a lot. Before beginning a persuasive discussion, take stock of the ways you connect with this person – schools, sports teams, background, and hobbies. Use examples or analogies based on these connections that reinforce your persuasive points. This is a step toward establishing empathy.

We like people better if we feel an empathetic connection. Mirror neurons help if we allow ourselves to notice the expressions, postures and feel of the other person. We start to feel what they feel. But we don’t pick up these subtle clues if we are thinking about a practical argument and push aside feelings. Relax so that you pick up on feeling clues.

3. Simple. A leader once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” Exactly. A pile of detailed, convoluted data rarely sells the idea. Neither will a barrage of multiple points. Make it easy for them to grasp and remember. What is the one thing you want them to remember, do, or agree to? Is it simple, clear and unambiguous? The reasoning part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is energy intensive. It is easily derailed by fatigue, distraction or emotion. If you catch the person when they are tired or stressed, their ability to focus on detailed arguments is reduced. Keep it simple; include factual and emotional appeals; state the main point first and throughout. Repetition sticks. Repetition sticks.

4. Unexpected. We tend to be captivated by and remember the unexpected. Brain research shows that the emotion center in the brain (amygdala) is more sensitive to unexpected stimuli whether positive or negative. In a study, diners were divided into three groups. At the end of the meal, one group received a single candy; the second group received two candies; the third group received one candy but the server stopped as though having a change of heart, returned and gave an additional candy. The increased tip amounts (compared to the control group) for each group were 3.3%, 14.1% and a whopping 23% for the last group. The unexpected nice treatment caused a positive emotional reaction.

A friend of mine tried to persuade a company to hire her. She happened to be traveling to Maine after her interview. She mailed them a live lobster with a thank you note, and shortly afterward she got the job. Is there an unexpected twist you can add to your argument – something visual, tactile, or humorous? The unexpected turn will be more persuasive.

5. Confident. Confident and credible people are more persuasive. Walk in straight and tall; look them in the eye; have a firm handshake, and speak with confidence. A truly confident person doesn’t need to be a bully because they exude an air of self-assurance. A confident person is also open to hearing others’ concerns. If you sense concern, acknowledge it. Negative feelings come from a threat response in the brain. The threat response is reduced when the feeling is acknowledged. “I’m picking up that this topic is uncomfortable/not resonating/disagreeable for you. Tell me more about that.” There is no defensiveness but rather a confident interest in understanding fully.

Facts alone rarely lead to persuasion. Improve your persuasive approach by focusing on “you” statements, creating an empathetic connection, keeping the message simple, using an unexpected twist and exuding a quiet, confidence. YES, UC will make a difference. You’ll see.



It was hot…really, hot. In front of us was a large SUV with the back open, waiting expectantly.  Behind us were boxes, a chair (really, a chaise lounge), a table and an assortment of odds and ends anticipating the ride from Texas to Annapolis inside the SUV. Our challenge was to get all of it inside the truck so that the items would not shift and we would still be friends when it was all said and done.

It went smoothly and efficiently. Together we found a way to fit in all the stuff, and we were both amazed at how well our collaboration went. Here’s what I learned.

Discuss the objective in advance. Without realizing its importance, we stood in the garage next to the pile of stuff and talked about our objective. We clarified the key items to pack in case we ran out of space and any items that needed to be retrieved on the way. Only when we were clear were the first items shoved into the truck.

It’s that way with any collaborative project.  Clear understanding of the objective is essential. Yet, too often we zip past that step because we assume that everyone understands. We might as well believe in mindreading. But the others on the project don’t understand and can’t read minds. Clear communication is one of the most difficult parts of any collaborative effort. Take the time to discuss the project’s objectives and keep discussing them until everyone is clear. It will make the rest of the work go more smoothly.

Use and respect each other’s skills. As the packing proceeded, it became clear that the original plan wouldn’t work. The chair didn’t fit in the slot we’d left. We’d need another approach. He has years of experience with logistics around trucks, boats, road trips and business. I see items as volumes. Together we had the skills we needed if we could capitalize on them. It’s all about mutual respect and trust. I trusted his experience and he respected mine. It was our ability to use the diversity of skills that made the difference.

What skills are on your team?  Do you know?  Take the time to learn the skill sets of those with whom you collaborate. And, then, use them. Too often we don’t think of skills like organization, brainstorming, listening as skills but they are.  For example, who is the innovator in your group and are you using that skill?  Who is that logical person who can dissect a problem with no effort? Who is the person on the team that everyone wants to work with? Put all of the skills to work and that’s when collaboration is at its best.

Take advantage of common values. If you know that the team shares a common value system, take advantage of it.  In our case, we quickly realized that we both share a passion for efficiency (I know. It’s lame but it worked!).  That became our mantra.  If we load the truck this way, it will be more efficient to unload.  If we leave this space for luggage, it will be more efficient to get out the items we need while traveling. Without realizing it, we capitalized on a common value system and it aided in collaboration.

Are there team norms that provide a platform for collaboration?  Maybe your group also cares about efficiency.  Maybe having fun along the way is critical.  Perhaps mutual support makes people on the team feel good.  Whatever it is for you and your group, take advantage of it as you manage the project.  Reinforce efficiencies; plan for fun moments; ensure there are plenty of pats on the back as the project unfolds.  Whatever your common value system, find it and use it to enhance collaboration.

Discuss midcourse corrections along the way. The chair simply would not fit.  We turned it backward, frontwards, upside down and sideways. Ultimately, boxes had to be rearranged to make room. As our packing project unfolded, we would not have been successful without lots of discussion and willingness to try alternative approaches.  Throughout the trial and error phase, we talked and debated options. That dialog is what made the project work and achieve its objective.

How about your project? Sometimes we hold too tightly to our original plan and can’t see or discuss better options that emerge along the way. Yes, we need a plan and we must prepare to listen to others and adjust the plan.  Throughout your project, are you constantly evaluating direction and progress? Are you open to hearing new approaches even when underway?  Collaboration is a continual process that doesn’t stop when the plan is created.

The truck was packed and it arrived safely in Maryland. Our collaboration achieved the objective. What about yours?  Try these tips with your next project. Hopefully, it will be easier than packing a truck!


Copyright: anskuw / 123RF Stock Photo