[March 10, 2019] As my driver and I approached the main gate of an Iraqi combat base, something didn’t seem quite right. Our vehicle was fully armored, but that can’t protect you that against 30 armed soldiers (or were they, insurgents?). Luckily, we were able to turn around and beat a hasty retreat. Later we found out that insurgents had taken over the gate to ambush unsuspecting Americans. I trusted my gut instincts that day, and we survived.
Instincts are a product of relevant experiences, education, common sense, and a balanced personality. Some people have an abundance of it; some have – it seems – none of it. Some call it a “sixth sense” or a “gut feeling.” When seconds count, gut instincts and the ability to make quick decisions can make the difference in life or death. That day, back in the latter part of the war, most of my soldiers and I had grown an outsized ability to detect ambushes and setups.
A leader cannot afford the luxury of standing around with their mouth open when the unexpected occurs. Situations often require fast thinking and quick action. A developed instinct will cut short the time that others take to recover their thinking ability. Thinking itself takes time but many times life depends on something faster.
Like the hunted animal that will not go into your carefully-constructed trap, a well-honed instinct can save your life. Often, instincts work in preventing things from happening and this is what you want. There will be times when things don’t feel right; there’s doubt in your mind whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. Your gut instinct is telling you something is not right. Pay attention to it.
On early September 11, 2001, a soldier assigned to my battalion was late to meet a friend to eat breakfast in the Twin Towers, Manhattan, New York. He arrived just as American Airlines flight 11, hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists, slammed into the North Tower. NYPD police officers told him that it was still safe to enter the South Tower. He declined and walked away. Fortunately for him, he was out of the destructive radius when the towers fell. His gut instinct saved his life that day.
Following your instincts can be a lifesaver but following it also means being able to make quick decisions based on experience and intellect. But when things quickly go to hell, gut instincts can save you and those around you.