Intuition Matters: What The Oscar Mix Up Can Show Us About Leadership.


Michael DuVall 

This year’s Oscar finale disintegrated into an embarrassing mess. The presenters were given the wrong envelope and they awarded the Oscar for Best Picture to La La Land instead of the real winner—Moonlight.  The Oscars always get a lot of attention. This year much of it is focusing on what happened and who is to blame. I have no interest in that. There was, however, a moment of the fiasco that holds an important leadership lesson.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway stood ready to unveil the winner of the night’s biggest prize. As Beatty opened the envelope, he hesitated. Dunaway thought he was doing a bit to add to the already heightened tension, and she tried to hurry him along. He acquiesced, and let her read out the winner… La La Land.

He hesitated… That was the significant moment.

Beatty clearly recognized that something was wrong. His mind was probably racing with questions. His intuition told him something was off, but intellectually he had not yet processed what it was. Intuitively he knew he was holding the wrong card.

Intuition can be faster than intellect

Intuition works quickly, often faster than intellect. One of the skills of leadership is being able to listen to your intuition and use it to adapt in the moment. Leaders often find themselves in situations that don’t go as planned and that require a quick decision. Intuition is a useful tool for navigating moments of uncertainty when things are not going as planned, and in situations where there is either a lack of data or an overwhelming amount of it. It can help leaders to cut through complexity to reach a decision.

At the Oscars, there was a moment of opportunity to catch the mistake before it was magnified by the announcement. And Beatty almost prevented it from getting worse. To be clear, this was not the presenters fault, and given a little more time his mind probably would have caught up to his intuition and figured out what was off. It is a common experience to look back at a situation and realize what we sort of knew but did not process and act on before-hand. Why do people miss the often quiet wisdom of intuition?

Intuition needs to be cultivated

Intuition takes practice. It needs to be cultivated and listened to. The more often it is ignored the quieter it becomes, making it inaccessible in the challenging situations where it is needed most. Effective leaders develop a trust in their own intuition and learn to recognize wisdom coming from it.

Intuition still matters

The proliferation of accessible data has led to a shift of mindset and practice towards data driven decision making. The use of data provides a remarkable opportunity to make effective decisions in many situations. When it points clearly to a good path forward, leaders would be smart to use it. When that is not an effective option, like on stage before an audience, intuition still matters. Leaders should be prepared to deal with the difficult moments and decisions of leadership by listening to their intuition.  

Michael DuVall is a Program Coordinator and Leadership Trainer with Legacy International for the Professional Fellows Program. He has been facilitating and training groups for more than a decade. His work has focused on creating and holding space for learning, growth and dialogue. As the Program and Associate Director of two summer camps, he trained and mentored staff and started a leadership development program that he has helped adapt over the years since. Mike facilitated peace education at a center for reconciliation in Ireland and worked with a grassroots peace building NGO in Northern Ireland. He also directed and facilitated programming for Irish and Northern Irish college students with a leadership development and civic engagement focus. Most recently, Mike has been facilitating dialogue circles with community groups, team building and leadership development with corporate groups and restorative justice processes with youth facing criminal charges. Mike has a BA in Religious Studies from the College of Wooster and an M.Phil in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation from Trinity College Dublin.