...cannot change anything."
This quote from Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw leads us into this month’s discussion and part two of our discussion around critical thinking skills. Last month, we introduced the first four of eight critical thinking skills. This month, we discuss the last four critical thinking skills identified by Zety writer Michael Tomaszewski earlier this year.
Last month, we focused on the skills that support the leader’s ability to make the best decision under their present conditions and assumptions. In our current discussion, we focus on the skills that support the leader’s execution of their decision and their ability to flex their decision when the conditions and assumptions change! Before we dig into these four skills, as a reminder we define critical thinking as, “A process where leaders question their own assumptions, as well as those of others, using a mix of research, analysis, questioning and exploring new ideas to inform in a way not restricted by the subjective perspectives of peers and/or the status quo”. With that in mind, the next four critical thinking skills are:
- Explanation: A leader’s ability to effectively communicate their decision is crucial to the overall success of the decision itself. Effective communications is defined as the sender and the receiver understanding the message in the same context. Invariably there will be those who question the decision, either out of a need for clarity or out of outright fear. The ability of the leader to effectively communicate their findings and reasoning clearly and succinctly will help answer those questions consistently and objectively. This is also why the first four skills are crucial in that they help formulate the narrative that supports the leader’s decision!
- Self-Regulation: The ability of the leader to self-regulate means they are constantly monitoring and correcting their thinking based on the changing conditions and assumptions. The implication is that leaders are continuously challenging their sources and assumptions in the context of what is currently in front of them. Military combat leaders are trained extensively to self-regulate their thinking as the conditions on the battlefield shift dynamically and in very dramatic ways. One could argue the business battlefield that we’ve previously defined as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) is need enough for leaders to develop this crucial critical thinking skill!
- Open-Mindedness: Closely related to self-regulation is the ability of the leader to be open-minded to changes in their original thinking. A leader who effectively monitors their own thinking may still feel they, and they alone, must have the answer to what the new thinking suggests. Open-mindedness means the leader is comfortable accounting for other possibilities and points of view from their team. The clear implication here is that effective listening is imperative to developing this skill. It means they are not only challenging current thinking of others, but are also open to their own thinking being challenged by others!
- Problem-Solving: The final critical thinking skill is the leader’s ability to problem-solve around unexpected problems as well as the conflict resolution that comes with the unexpected. It is that rare occasion that the original decision plays out perfectly from the moment it is made! Therefore, leaders must have the comfort level with flexing in the moment and yet never lose sight of the reason the decision was made in the first place. This skill reminds me of a key lesson learned when I was learning to fly airplanes. No matter what is going on in the cockpit, never forget that job #1 is to fly the plane!
These four critical thinking skills focus on the leader’s ability to execute and flex in their decision-making process to determine the best way forward. They outline key activities that inform the decisions leaders make each and every day in a VUCA business environment. And while there is still a role to play for AI-informed technologies, the leader leverages these technologies to support their critical thinking before, during, and after they make their decisions!
How are you leveraging critical thinking to execute your business decisions? If you’re not sure, we can help.