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The First Outer-Core Competency: Critical Thinking
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle.
We Think; Therefore We Are
Thinking defines us as human beings or creatures capable of mastering reason. Yet, it is surprising how little of the thinking we do is what science might define as “quality thinking.” As our minds ramble on, we process information through a filter of bias rooted in our personal beliefs, prejudices, and aspirations. To think quality thoughts, we need to train ourselves to think critically.
Critical thinking is one of the top outer-core leadership competencies.
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a self-aware method of forcing a structure upon our thoughts and imposing an intellectual standard on them. In the context of intelligent leadership, critical thinking is an outer-core leadership competency that allows leaders to make good independent decisions while considering the full range of solutions to problems.
Intelligent leaders are not living binders overflowing with information. They are problem-solvers and independent decision-makers. And the skill at the root of those abilities is critical thinking.
According to science, these three cognition-based pillars are the underpinnings of critical thinking:
Information-processing starts with comprehension. When we receive information, we can either accept it as it is or hold it to intellectual standards and assess its validity as objectively as we can. Instinctually, we all try to make heads and tails of what we hear and see. The ability to spot logical inconsistencies, admit that information is missing, assess evidence, and recognize assumptions is far less common than it perhaps should be.
Intelligent leaders recognize assumptions in ideas, plans, and strategies, and they know how to evaluate the validity of these assumptions.
When we assume something, we take an idea or a stated or implied fact for granted. Often, however, what we tend to take for granted is erroneous or nonexistent.
Arguments are the tools of choice for those trying to convince us of something. These assertions are often emotionally charged and take advantage of our judgment. To objectively evaluate the validity of arguments, we need to suspend judgment and ignore emotions that cloud objectivity.
Not all arguments weigh the same.
We all have preferred perspectives, and such perspectives induce confirmation bias. The intelligent leader is highly skilled at eliminating emotion- and judgment-based distractions from the process of evaluation. For an argument to stand up to scrutiny, it needs to be important and directly related to the question it aims to answer.
The ability to gather information from diverse sources, assess it objectively, and then draw a logical conclusion — an inference, interpretation, or deduction — based on solid evidence allows leaders to make good independent decisions. The right conclusion is conducive to a good decision.
Those who have mastered critical thinking do not get emotionally attached to their own logical conclusions. They do not seek validation; they seek the truth. Therefore, they are capable and willing to adjust those conclusions as more information and new evidence come to light.
In my books, I have described critical thinking as a way to facilitate quality decision-making through objectivity, impartial conclusions, and plentiful information. Critical thinking is an outer-core leadership competency that lends itself well to development and improvement through practice.
If you are looking to improve your inner- and outer-core leadership competencies or give your organization’s culture a renewed direction, you should check out my leadership coaching services.