…but I can’t comprehend it for you.”
As we continue to explore the value of soft skills critical to being effective 21st Century Leaders, our discussion turns to one of the most sought after, yet least available soft skills: Critical Thinking. While many definitions exist for critical thinking, they all rally around the concept of objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. In this world of short attention spans and social media driven opinions and assumptions, a leader’s ability to objectively analyze and evaluate the myriad of situations and decisions they face daily makes the title quote by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch all the more relevant!
When we dig deeper into the construct of critical thinking, we find several key attitudes and skills necessary for 21st Century Leaders to make the right decisions for the sustainable success of their organizations. From my own experience in a variety of industries and organizations, the three questions to ask to ensure as much objectivity as possible are:
- What is the REAL issue? ~ Going back to the attention-span-challenged and technology enabled world we live and work in, it is easy to get wrapped around the topical symptoms, opinions, assumptions and inuendos representing much of the online content digested every day. The challenge is that it takes both time and self-awareness to understand the real issue at hand. Time in the sense that the real issue usually doesn’t reveal itself without further questioning and validation. This process takes additional time and effort to ensure the real issues are at the center of the decision-making process. Self-awareness in the sense that personal biases can, and likely will, cloud the leader’s ability to accurately identify the issue by asking the RIGHT open-ended questions to identify what matters!
- Based on what? ~ The key to answering this question is based on how well you really know your business. If you’ve ever read or watched Sherlock Holmes, the detective character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned stories, you know how often Sherlock Holmes comes to a conclusion that another character in the story like Dr. Watson asks, “How did you know?”. It is at that point Sherlock Holmes goes through his conclusions based on how well read he is. Fast forward to the 21st Century and leaders must continually ask themselves, “How do I know this to be truth in fact?” As the author quoted in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” published in 1892, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Are leaders doing more of the former or the latter based on what they do or do not know?
- So what? ~ It is no secret we live in a content-rich, context-poor world. For this reason, answering the question of relevance of both the core issue and the conclusions makes the entire process as efficient as possible. Investing time in learning about an issue and creating context for your organization when it really doesn’t matter much turns into a complete waste of time. If leaders suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) then they are likely to waste time on solving issues of little consequence to the organization. The best way to avoid this trap is to ensure the organization has a well understood Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy so the question of relevance has a lens through which it can be answered!
Effective leadership counts on the leader’s ability to repeatedly make the best decisions for the organizations they lead. The ability to think critically is the foundation for those decisions being effective or not. There are plenty of people in business willing to tell you what to do in any given situation. What they can’t tell you is how to do it well because your situation is unique to the variables surrounding it. Therefore, followers count on their leader to be well-read, logical and discerning with the decisions that support the organization’s sustainable success!
How are you objectively addressing your next key business decision?