“Too often we . . . enjoy the comfort of opinion, without the discomfort of thought” — John F. Kennedy

In his Come Unto These Yellow Sands, Josh Lanyon expresses the idea that critical thinking is an essential skill that every person on the planet should possess.

What is critical thinking? How do we define it, and how does it fit into the context of intelligent leadership?

“Doubt everything. Find your own light.” — Buddha.

What is Critical Thinking? 

As wonderful a reasoning device as it is, the human mind has a proclivity for wandering off and distorting information through the lens of bias, self-interest, and prejudice; it can sabotage itself in an impressive number of ways. Critical thinking allows the mind to correct some of its erroneous conclusions.

As defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, critical thinking is a self-aware process, through which the mind analyzes, synthesizes, and evaluates information resulting from communication, observation, experience, and reflection.

Some of the universally accepted values guiding this process are accuracy, relevance, fairness, and depth. For well-cultivated critical thinkers, monitoring, correcting, directing, and disciplining their thoughts often becomes second nature.

Critical thinking requires two ingredients:

  • information processing skills, and
  • the intellectual will use these skills habitually toward the constructive molding of one’s own behavior.

The Role of Critical Thinking in Intelligent Leadership

“Critical thinking is the key to creative problem-solving in business.” — Richard Branson.

Current and future leaders who practice critical thinking can contribute to the success of their organization in many ways.

  • A critical thinker asks questions, explores issues from different perspectives, and addresses problems concisely.
  • Such a leader adopts alternative thought systems and is aware of the assumptions, advantages, and limitations that they entail.
  • Critical thinkers are good communicators. They are also good at cooperating to solve complex problems.
  • Intelligent leaders who practice critical thinking are skilled at gathering and interpreting information. They reach warranted conclusions based on a set of relevant standards and logic-rooted criteria.

The ability to objectively analyze complex situations and problems is an essential requirement of leadership. There is no intelligent leadership without critical thinking. Therefore, to harness the power of critical thinking is to lead effectively, and to excel in every area a truly intelligent leader needs to master.

Developing Critical Thinking is a Lifelong Process

No one is a perfect ten when it comes to critical thinking. Developing, nurturing, and practicing critical thinking is a lifelong undertaking. There is always room for improvement, and there will always be mistakes and slip-ups to address.

Critical thinking requires lifelong learning.

Becoming better at critical thinking is a noble goal. The best way to kick-start the process of improvement is to focus on some of the essential critical thinking skills

  • Inference is the ability to draw conclusions from information that is incomplete and/or less-than-concise. It requires analytic skills to assess various scenarios and to explore potential outcomes. Those who master inference are less likely to jump to conclusions before they dig up all the available clues.
  • Identifying biases and assumptions allows the critical thinker to account for them when drawing conclusions. Biases distort information. It is, therefore, essential to gather reliable evidence and to explore information sources in-depth. Questions such as “Whom does this benefit?” and “Is this information-provider truly impartial?” can help.
  • Establishing relevance is necessary to find the bits of information that carry the biggest weight. Some data may seem relevant, but it may be nothing more than an agenda-heavy diversion.
  • The evaluation of arguments should always be research-based. Arguments aim to convince and are, therefore, inherently biased. Seeking out independent sources of information will counter the sneaky nature of arguments.

Those looking to improve their critical thinking abilities should also allow themselves more time to think things through, seek out alternative opinions and viewpoints, look for impartial feedback, and make an extra effort to understand the business of their organization.


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