The “new normal” is a different kind of competitive landscape, stricken by geopolitics and global instability, rampant technological change, unique financial pressures, a rising surge of data and information, and the proliferation of new corporate business models.
The mind-set that made leaders successful in the past probably won’t ensure success in the future. In fact, several recent studies have identified critical thinking as the number one requirement for successful leadership in the 21st century. Yet there is mounting evidence that many current and emerging leaders lack this quality. And it is this competency gap that is shaking up and reshaping leadership.
In general, critical thinking is the ability to deal with the contradictions and problems in a tumultuous environment in a reasoned, purposeful and productive way. Decisions are made using an approach that is fair, objective, accurate and based on information that is relevant to the situation.
Critical thinking is also reflective and focused, constantly evaluating the thinking process itself. It is thinking with a purpose. Critical thinking requires a healthy dose of skepticism balanced with an equal measure of good judgement!
For decades, companies have relied on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, a widely used assessment tool for evaluating the cognitive ability of current and future leaders. Developed in 1925, the model identifies factors that are key to critical thinking and decision making and predicts judgment, problem solving, creativity, openness to experience and other leadership behaviours.
Five sub-tests measure critical thinking as a composite of attitudes, knowledge and skills:
• Recognition of assumptions
• Evaluation of arguments
Professionals with high scores in these sub-tests are able to identify and examine the assumptions, influences and biases that might sway them. They step back from the madness and strategically assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions. They make business decisions that answer the right questions, solve the right problems, mitigate risk and improve productivity. They also lead from a position of strength, being able to motivate and move people both inspirationally and intellectually by providing solid reasons for their actions.
Whether they lead teams, departments or entire enterprises, leaders who apply the skills of critical thinking to their roles perform at a higher level and offer their organizations a distinct competitive advantage.
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