Critical thinking is an often unrecognized but crucial leadership skill. The term “critical” can be misunderstood in the context of critical thinking. There is nothing judgmental or unfavorable about critical thinking. Rather the word “critical” is defined in the sense of a critique or an evaluation.
Leaders are men and women of action. Their thoughts precede their actions. Successful actions are dependent on the quality of the thought processes that preceded them. Therefore, it is logical that improving the thinking quality of a leader will result in better leadership actions and behaviors. Critical thinking skills can be taught and enhanced with proper training. This is good news for a leader.
Definition of a Leader A three-part definition of a leader reveals the need for robust critical thinking skills. A leader is person who sees a vision, takes action toward the vision, and mobilizes others to become partners in pursuing beneficial change.
First, a leader needs to apply skillful critical thinking processes to perceive a preferred future state that creates a strong desire to get there in time. It is a private and personal vision that makes the present seem somehow inadequate.
Second, a leader needs to think critically about the action steps required to move toward the vision. This is an important part of achieving clarity and acquire the ability to verbalize their vision of a better tomorrow.
Finally, and most importantly, the leader needs to critically influence others to join them in efforts toward achieving the vision. A leader’s vision is only an unfulfilled dream unless critical thinking is used to convince others to join them in pursuing beneficial change.
Critical Thinking Defined in 5 Steps Critical thinking is sometimes referred to as thinking outside the box, divergent thinking, or thinking-about-thinking. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking suggests there are 5 parts in the critical thinking process as follows:
Conceptualize – Create a mental image that defines the situation
Apply-Gather known and obtain unknown information to frame the situation
Analyze – Examine closely all facets using quantitative and qualitative means
Synthesize-Reconstruct the situation in a well-organized and rational manner
Evaluate- Make confirming or different decisions about the situation
These steps can be interactively worked through several times until the leader has maximized the value of the process.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills Critical thinking skills can be developed with proper training and repetitive practice. There are simple but powerful techniques a leader can use to develop critical thinking skills. Here are 4 that are most helpful.
Work on a different problem every day-A problem cannot be solved until it is clearly defined by the leader.A leader should systematically wrestle with a situation until they understand their decision making boundaries and all information is available.
Use unproductive time-Most leaders have overly busy schedules. Valuable new thinking time can be created by adding structure to the day. Leaders should work on problems when they are the most imaginative.
Understand emotions – Critical thinking involves the emotions. Leaders should stop and explore their emotions to critically evaluate their thinking patterns.
Enlist the help of others-Leaders need others to see into their blind spots. Asking for and receiving help from others is necessary to sharpen critical thinking skills. There is much to gain in community with others.
Think with Boldness Leaders should not expect everyone to have highly developed thought processes. But leaders should expect themselves to be ever enhancing the quality of their critical thinking skills in order to achieve both personal and organizational success.