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4 strategies to help leaders develop critical thinking skills

Feb. 2, 2016 | by Paul Greasley

Are you a critical thinker? Think about it. Leaders need to cultivate and practice critical thinking skills.

I was in a meeting and heard the chairman say, “I wish we had thought about that before committing to this project.” Ouch! Something unforeseen had happened and it was a surprise to everyone present. The chairman had identified a missed opportunity for critical thinking in the decision making process.

Leaders need to think thoughts that others don’t think

Leaders are like guides who direct group effort from an uncertain present into an unknown future. Surely it takes some high quality thinking processes for a leader to envision a better tomorrow and then create that future with the help of others.

Critical thinking is all about looking at a situation and connecting the dots in new and different ways. We recognize critical thinking when we see it during crime scene analysis or investigative reporting. Sometimes we call it thinking outside the box or reflective thinking.

Christian leaders are called to lead in a world that is often hostile to their beliefs and values. But the Apostle Paul challenged us to “not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking.” (Rom 12:2, NCV). Paul was a critical thinker and he understood that critical thinking starts first inside the leader.

Strategies to develop critical thinking

It is possible to enhance the quality of your thinking processes. I practice critical thinking to discover hidden assumptions that shape my beliefs, values, and behaviors. When I think critically I often find alternative answers to challenging problems.

Here are 4 strategies you can use to develop your critical thinking skills:

1- Work on a different problem every day

Maybe you are trying to solve a problem that you need to initially define for yourself. Perhaps you are trying to solve a problem over which you have limited control. In either case you are wrestling with a situation that requires more information than you have at the moment. Create a step by step plan and work on it systematically.

2- Use unproductive time

Our overly busy lives are full of time wasting activities. We retreat to checking for the latest social media feeds simply because its habitually easy. Create valuable new thinking time by adding structure to your day. When do you feel the most imaginative? Fill that time with purposeful thinking activity. Worry and other negative thoughts are sterile times with no productive results.

3- Understand your emotions

Critical thinking involves the emotions. Stop and explore the emotion that you are experiencing at the moment. Is it a positive or a negative feeling? Will it lead you to a positive or negative outcome? Now analyze the thinking that brought you to this point. Critically evaluate your thinking patterns.

4- Enlist the help of others

We are designed by God for relationship with him and with others. Life is not a DIY project. We cannot see into our blind spots. Asking for and receiving help from others is necessary to sharpen our critical thinking skills. There is much to learn in community with others.

Perhaps there are layers of meaning in John 14:16 (NIV) when Jesus says "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate [or helper] to help you and be with you forever." We need external helps from others and internal helps from the Spirit of God to become better critical thinkers.

Be bold in your thinking

We don’t expect children to have highly developed thought processes. But we should expect ourselves to be ever enhancing the quality of our thinking. “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (I Cor 13:11, NASB).

I’ve got some work to do.


Paul Greasley

Paul E. Greasley holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and is an experienced servant leader, a retired aerospace engineering manager, a big rig driver, an active community volunteer, an adjunct professor and an entrepreneurial business owner.



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