Leadership – The Importance of Critical Thinking

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At MarchFifteen, we are passionate about executive assessments and leadership development. When talking about the importance of personality traits and motivating factors on leadership competencies, I often get asked “Do you also measure intelligence?” and my response is usually “Yes, but we don’t just measure intelligence, we measure critical thinking abilities.” Although intelligence might be one of the components of critical thinking, they are very different. Someone can have a great memory, be very good at resolving complex mathematical equations and know a lot of facts, but it does not mean that this person will be good at critical thinking.

According to Robert Ennis, critical thinking is “reflectivreasoning about beliefs and actions. [Critical thinking] is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.”

In other words, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally; it includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. A leader with critical thinking skills can understand the logical connections between ideas, identify the relevance and importance of arguments, detect inconsistencies or mistakes in reasoning, and make proper decisions.

I am sure you have met leaders that are clearly intelligent and good at coming up with the right answer, but make questionable decisions. I have met leaders over the years who have had great people skills, could inspire those around them and were good at implementing solutions. However, those same leaders were incapable of thinking through the implications of a potential scenario, could not properly evaluate options they were faced with, or detect a flaw in someone else’s logic, and often made wrong decisions, displaying their lack of critical thinking skills.

To be a good critical thinker, you have to be able to not only gather information but assess the relevance of these options. How critical are they to the situation and which piece of information will have the most impact on the problem at hand. How probable is one consequence over another? Which assumptions can you rely upon and what are the ones you should question? All of these are important questions that help people refine their judgment and make thoughtful decisions.

In today’s fast-changing and highly competitive business environment, the risks of poor decisions are greater than ever. Leaders have to make decisions about their organization’s strategic direction, competitive positioning and proper allocation of resources. In most cases, leaders cannot rely on what has worked in the past, as the business challenges they are facing are new and ever-changing. Therefore, they have to be able to adequately assess options, potential consequences, and promptly adjust to new information in order to ensure they consistently make the right decisions. When poor decisions are made an organization may compromise their reputation and miss critical opportunities.

At MarchFifteen, we strongly believe that critical thinking is paramount to a leader’s success, especially in an always changing and increasingly complex business environment. As Maria was saying in one of our previous blogs on Repeatability, in a world of constant change you need powerful tools for building enduring business.  Having had the experience of resolving an issue in the past, does not guarantee success in the future as too many parameters have changed. This is why our assessments, whether they serve a selection or development purpose, measure a leader’s ability to conceptualize, synthesize, and evaluate information to reach the proper conclusion. By using a combination of tools – including cognitive tests, case studies, management simulations and behavioural interview questions – we are able to assess how someone processes information, selects the most relevant elements and makes the right decision consistently, and throughout different settings. And that is a key quality that can turn a struggling leader into an exceptional one.

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