Intuitive Leadership: Following Your Gut


A visit to Cambodia radically impacted her idea of what leadership looks like and where it stems from.
By Cynthia Cavanaugh


Hidden Gem

Yesterday, I was browsing in a Dollar Store when I noticed a new display of books. The Dollar Store doesn’t get books very often; but when it does, I always take time to browse. Where else could I get a hardbound book for only a dollar? One title caught my eye: Intuitive Leadership, by Tim Keel.

I immediately read the table of contents to see where the author was headed. The last chapter specifically captured my attention: “Reckoning with Intuition: Learning to Trust Your Gut.” Of course I had to buy it.

Anything with leadership in the title is intriguing to me. I am passionate about leadership, and in particular, empowering women to be all God has designed them to be.

Women & leadership

As I walked back to my car, it occurred to me that when I think of women and leadership, I think of that last chapter: women trusting their gut–or what we might refer to as intuition–to lead with courage and boldness.

Intuition might be described as someone having direct perception or insight. For me, some of the greatest leadership role models are women who lead this way. They are women who actively combine listening to their intuition and following God’s Spirit, which moves them toward accomplishing beautiful works of kindness, generosity and social justice.

Most women I encounter who lead with intuition are modest about their leadership. Many, in fact, might not even refer to themselves as leaders. When I look at the legacy they are creating, however, I marvel at their impact.

Serving in Cambodia

On a trip to Cambodia a few years ago, I met some of these intuitive, modest leaders. They became my heroes.

I watched in wonder as Marie Ens–a Canadian woman in her late 70s–nurtures and leads the staff at Place of Rescue in Phnom Penh, a safe haven for families living with AIDS, orphan children, orphan grannies and young, unmarried pregnant women. Since my visit, she has continued to give care and create opportunities for hundreds of people who may otherwise have no hope.

Loving the Enemy

I observed another woman boldly visiting former members of the Khmer Rouge in prison. These were people responsible for slaughtering hundreds of thousands (some say even millions) of Cambodians in cold blood.

I also listened to the story of Ling, a survivor of that genocide, who returned to Cambodia to help her own people after living comfortably and safe in North America for several years. Ling’s passion is to help children in rural villages get an education, while providing their families with clean water and developing a trade to end the cycle of poverty.

I was also deeply impacted by Sherry Lile and Debbie Tetsch from White Lotus, a ministry to Cambodian women who want to escape abuse or are at risk of exploitation.

These women lead from their gut as they serve tirelessly on the frontlines, rescuing women from sex trafficking and offering an alternative to abuse. I witnessed their love firsthand as they provide safe housing for young girls, restore dignity and give girls fresh purpose.

Leading with Light

These experiences radically changed my view of what effective leadership looks like. My heart was wrenched into pieces as I witnessed the devastation of a country ruined by evil and hopeless poverty. In the darkness, however, I saw light–the light of Jesus moving through women who trusted their intuition to lead with boldness and leave an imprint.

What I saw motivated me to listen closer to what my heart is telling me when I encounter the needs of those around me. All the women I have described didn’t necessarily plan to do what they found themselves doing. It happened, not by accident, but by “intuition” and by responding to what their hearts were revealing. They were ordinary women who believed they could make a difference one step at a time. That’s intuitive leadership.

Serving Close to Home

A few years back, my own gut led me to be involved with a group of women you might not ordinarily find showing up on your doorstep or at your church. I have a friend whose passion is to extend love to these broken women. Most had been battered by life, caught in cycles of addiction and abusive relationships, with a few ending up on the streets. I was invited to lead them in a simple Bible study.

The women were hungry for truth, yet fearful of walking into church and the judgement they might face. My gut told me I needed to be real as a leader. I sensed I needed to be honest and tell them of my own recent brokenness, the pain in my marriage and how Jesus met me in recovery.

Trusting my gut led me to a place of shared storytelling with these amazing women. Behind their scars I saw women just like me who wanted to live life with purpose and beauty. I am so thankful God’s Spirit moved me to listen to my gut and lead intuitively. We had an incredible six weeks together.


We don’t have to go very far to practice intuitive leadership. There are endless opportunities that are ready for you and I to act upon. As you walk through the next few days, what can you see? What is your intuitive insight revealing to you about your own leadership and your ability to influence? I dare you, as I dare myself, to trust our God-given intuition and be the kind of leaders who will change our world.



  • Have you ever been inspired by an intuitive leader? How?
  • How is your gut telling you to lead today?

About Cynthia:
My passion is to lead others in experiencing the power of God’s Word so they may live intentionally with freedom and purpose. As founder and director of Women Emerge, my desire is for women to have a global influence and be equipped as leaders to fulfill their God-given mission. I currently work for NightShift Street Ministries as Leadership Development Director. My husband Kevin and I have three wonderful sons, three amazing daughters-in-love and my joy–two adorable grandsons.