Do the opposite, be counterintuitive


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IN his book, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author and inspirational speaker John Maxwell declares that, because of their intuition, leaders evaluate everything with a leadership bias. Intuition is the gut feeling leaders get when they know something is right or wrong. And based on this knowledge, leaders react based on a bias, which, according to Maxwell, is cultivated by technical competence and constant interaction with their people and the environment.

Great leadership intuition is a combination of natural ability (we are born with it) and instinct (we develop it). Although facts are important, Maxwell posits that the Law of Intuition goes beyond facts as other intangible factors allow leaders to evaluate everything, instinctively, by reading situations, trends, resources, people and, most important, themselves. Intuitive leaders can capture details that elude others and they never lose sight of the forest for the trees. Further, intuitive leaders do not think in terms of what they can do; they see every situation in terms of all resources available, particularly the people around them.

National Football League quarterbacks often change play calls in pressure situations. Since they memorized multiple plays for every possible defensive formation, they can almost automatically make the best intuitive call, especially when the game is on the line. The most successful NFL quarterback in recent years is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, who recently won his sixth Super Bowl Ring. Brady’s arm strength may be above average and his scrambling ability to avoid pass rushes pales in comparison to others. I think Brady’s success comes from his leadership, foremost of which is what Maxwell calls the Law of Intuition. But from time to time, Brady does something counterintuitive that sets him apart from other athletes.

Whenever we claim to be counterintuitive, we are exactly doing the opposite of our intuition, far different from what our instinct tells us to do.

A few years ago, my friends JO and ER suspected their respective wives cheating on them. By intuition, JO confronted the third party involved, threatened him and his family, and almost engaged the services of a hired gun to kill him. On the other hand, ER never sought violence but merely resorted to counselling and lots of prayers to help his wife turn away from the third party. While both JO and ER are still struggling in their respective marriages, I think ER, owing to his well-founded Christian values, has better managed the situation. ER deeply believes that he alone cannot change what his wife wants and thinks; only God can. So, he did and still does the opposite of what any typical spouse-victim would do.

Another set of friends, JU and PBF, were both mistreated by their respective companies. Despite his loyal and productive service to the organization, JU was never promoted. An associate, way junior than him in age and experience, was given the promotion and even designated as head of the department. As expected, JU left the company with utter disbelief and, in anger, took as much clients away from the company. In contrast, when PBF was removed from his senior-level position, he simply accepted his fate knowing that God is in full control of things around him. With his head held high, PBF boldly faced his detractors and those responsible for his removal. PBF simply did the opposite of what others would do in his situation.

The Bible has many counterintuitive stories, which teach us that sinful tax collectors, among others, are given preference over the most righteous Pharisees. While lessons like Jesus’ response to the sinful tax collector Zacchaeus and Job’s unyielding faith despite the struggles sent his way seem counterintuitive and contrary to human nature, we must understand that it is never easy to be godly in this human world. One of the most compelling set of counterintuitive commands in the Bible is found in Chapter 5 of Matthew, better known as The Beatitudes. In my case, the most incomprehensible and counterintuitive directive is found in Matthew 5:43-44 when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In the best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, author Mark Manson discussed five counterintuitive yet life-changing values that we can all adopt for a happier life. Of the five, I was taken aback by Manson’s first value, that is, we should all take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives, regardless of who is at fault. Manson says, “We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.” Others might get a shorter end of the stick, but we all get the same amount in the responsibility equation.

In the case of my friends, JO and ER, as well as JU and PBF, they reacted differently given similar tragic circumstances. I always believed that, in life as in poker, we all have to play the cards we are dealt with. Luck or even fate does not dictate the long-term results. But the choices we make in response to events will impact our well-being. Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man movie once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Manson offers a different version—“With great responsibility comes great power.” We become more powerful by responsibly choosing to do the opposite and be counterintuitive.

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