Your effectiveness as a leader depends on the quality of your thoughts. Critical thinking is that mode of thinking, about any given subject, in which you, the thinker, improve the quality of your thinking by skillfully taking charge of its very structures and imposing intellectual standards upon them. Effective critical thinking, however, involves consideration of the full range of possibilities to a problem, including emotional, cognitive, intellectual, and psychological factors.
Shallow thinking is costly, in terms of both money and quality of life. Successful leaders are able to apply what they know to the challenges of their work. All organizations today are not interested in hiring and retaining walking encyclopedias; rather, they require leaders who are independent decision makers and problem solvers and who can model this behavior to their people and teams.
Based on the pioneering work of Pearson Education, a strong critical thinker practices RED, that is, they:
- Recognize assumptions.
- Evaluate arguments.
- Draw relevant conclusions.
Two recent studies identified critical thinking as a skill of increasing importance for current and emerging leaders who are involved in businesses today. One study in particular, The Trends in Executive Development Research Study (Pearson, 2013), which I conducted with my colleagues Bonnie Hagemann of EDA and John Maketa of Pearson, was most compelling: We personally interviewed and surveyed 150 human resources executives; they estimated only from 1 to 28 percent of the current leaders in their own organization demonstrated “excellent” critical thinking skills.
Authoritative research clearly connects leaders’ and emerging leaders’ critical thinking capability with their achieving higher level performance and realizing their potential, combined with the realization that business will be more complex tomorrow than it is today. This finding makes this element perhaps the most pivotal leadership element for leaders, future leaders, and organizations as they strive to become the best they can be. Simply put, your ability to make sound decisions, problem-solve, plan, and implement, as well as to execute sound strategic thinking, is entirely based on possessing superior critical thinking (i.e., RED).
- Recognizing Assumptions: Assumptions are statements that are implied to be true in the absence of proof. Identifying assumptions helps in the discovery of information gaps and enriches views of issues. Assumptions can be unstated or directly stated. The ability to recognize assumptions in presentations, strategies, plans, and ideas is a key element in critical thinking.
- Evaluating Arguments: Arguments are assertions that are intended to persuade someone to believe or act in a certain way. Evaluating arguments is the ability to analyze such assertions objectively and accurately. Analyzing arguments helps in determining a confirmation bias, that is, the tendency to look for and agree with information that confirms prior beliefs. Emotion plays a key role in evaluating arguments because high emotion clouds objectivity.
- Draw Conclusions: This involves arriving at conclusions that logically follow from the available evidence. It involves evaluating all relevant information before drawing a conclusion, judging the plausibility of different conclusions, selecting the most appropriate conclusion, and avoiding overgeneralizing beyond the evidence.