It's widely (and rightly) accepted that critical thinking is a vital leadership skill that results in your making better decisions. The good news is that critical thinking is a skill that can be developed over time.
Why is critical thinking important for managers and leaders?
Those in leadership roles need to make a multitude of decisions quickly in order to drive business goals. As a leader, you might find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You can have all kinds of people waiting on you to decide what should be done. If you don't make those decisions, the whole operation could grind to a halt.
When you face stiff time and resource constraints, you might end up:
- Making quick decisions to get the ball rolling - just because you're struggling to find the space to evaluate a decision from all angles.
- Agreeing to the first solution or proposal that comes along - just because it sounds actionable
- Taking the safe route - just because it's been done before
On the upside, when you improve your critical thinking you are more likely to make more effective, informed, objectively better decisions that will bring true benefit to the organisation.
Improve your critical thinking with these 3 golden tips:
1. Challenge your assumptions (and those of your team)
This critical thinking tip is particularly useful when you have a lot riding on a decision. You need context, and it needs to be objectively accurate!
Question the assumptions that are so big that it's easy to forget they're there. If a business goal is proposed, ask why it's a key business goal - does it have real benefit or is it simply addressing the superficial symptoms of another, deeper issue or goal? Ask why the proposed solution is the best route to take. Ask what research there is to back up an opinion or proposal. Ask what is really known about the consumer habits of the target audience, and how it is known. Challenging assumptions is a critical thinking technique that leads to more informed decisions.
As a manager or leader, you can't be expected to know everything. But you can - and should - train yourself to start asking more questions.
2. Base your decisions on logic
Problem solving and analytical thinking often go hand in hand. If you're presented with a problem to solve - like new hires dropping off rather than staying in the company - then tackle the issue with logic. Unpick the situation to make sure there's a real rather than a perceived correlation between cause (to be determined) and effect (in this case, new hires seeking pastures new after having just joined the company).
Assume nothing. Keep an open mind. Aim to be as objective as possible when examining facts, context and opinions or proposals from within the company.
3. Maintain a fresh perspective
Keeping an open mind is easier said than done when you've got tight time frames for delivery and pressure to make decisions quickly! However, it pays off.
When it comes to improving your critical thinking, some useful ways to ensure you have an open mind include:
- Encouraging diversity of thought from team members and stakeholders
- Collaborating with people who have different skillsets and backgrounds on the task at hand
- Allowing information to soak in before agreeing or disagreeing too quickly
Critical thinking demands you have more of a holistic overview, so that you're making informed decisions based on reason rather than assumptions. We all have a tendence to get into cliques and live in our bubbles, only hearing what we want to hear. To improve your leadership and critical thinking skills, step outside your routine thought patterns by talking and listening to others. You will gain new insights and perspectives.
When you pin down the golden tips of critical thinking, it sounds easy. The problem is that the business world is so time-poor that leaders often feel they don't have enough time to really get to the bottom of things.
Don't try do make big decisions alone. Involve others. Ask questions and gain richer insight into a decision's context. Encourage discourse and open thinking in order to explore the most effective actions.
The bigger the decision, the more important it is to use your critical thinking skills. Even if time is an issue, make the time. Any business will achieve more success through critical thinking than decisions made on the fly.