Sequestration, budget cuts, low morale – in these challenging times, government organizations must continue to meet their mission and government executives must continue to manage, motivate, and lead their teams. Sharpening their critical thinking skills can help. At a recent AMA Enterprise Government Solutions briefing for government HR and Training and Development professionals, Dr. Haywood Spangler led attendees in an interactive discussion of the importance of critical thinking skills, facilitating a role-playing exercise that provided insight into implementing critical thinking skills in a government workplace situation.
There is a clear connection between a leader’s critical thinking capability and their ability to achieve higher-level performance and realize their potential. Combined with the fact that, as we all know, business is increasingly more complex, critical thinking skills are perhaps the most pivotal leadership element for leaders, future leaders, and organizations as a whole.
The fact is, the effectiveness of any leader depends precisely on the quality of their thoughts. However, much of one’s natural thinking, when left unchecked, is distorted, biased, uninformed, partial, or prejudiced. Critical thinking is the mode of thinking in which one improves the quality of their thinking – this involves consideration of the full range of possibilities to any given problem, including emotional, intellectual, cognitive and psychological factors.
Many people ask if critical thinking is something that can be taught. The answer is yes, critical thinking absolutely can be taught, and we believe it should be a priority for government leadership development in large and small organizations. We teach critical thinking with the RED Model, introduced in Pearson’s Watson-Glaser II Critical Thinking Appraisal, the most widely-used assessment of critical thinking in business today:
- Recognize assumptions: Assumptions are statements that are implied to be true in the absence of proof. It is very easy to sit through a presentation and assume all of the information is true, even if no evidence was given to back it up. Recognizing assumptions allows you to distinguish fact from opinion and sift out the relevance of the facts you are presented with. Identifying assumptions helps to discover information gaps, as well as enrich your view of issues. Once recognized, assumptions should also be examined through the eyes of different people (perspectives).
- Evaluate arguments: Arguments are defined as assertions that are intended to persuade someone to believe or act in a certain way. The ability to evaluate arguments is a key part of critical thinking. This ability consists of analyzing assertions objectively and accurately. There are patterns to “bad” arguments, and this part of the RED Model teaches you to recognize the tendency to look for and agree with information that confirms prior beliefs (known as a confirmation-bias). A key role in the evaluation of arguments is recognizing and separating out emotion, as high emotion clouds objectivity.
- Draw conclusions: This deals with arriving at conclusions that logically follow from the evidence available to you. People who possess this skill do not inappropriately generalize beyond the evidence. Furthermore, they will change their position when the evidence warrants doing so. They are often characterized as having "good judgment" because they typically arrive at a quality decision.
In today’s environment, we are all struggling with budget reductions and increased pressure. Critical thinking helps leaders to challenge old assumptions and rethink conventional approaches in the context of today’s realities. Using these important skills helps leaders to make smarter decisions no matter how stressful the situation. Learning these skills is vital to the health of government organizations. Critical thinking skills give leaders the ability to handle changes smoothly and avoid reactive decisions, allowing them to more effectively and efficiently meet their mission, no matter the state of their budget.
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