Critical thinking is needed in all areas of our lives, especially in the leader’s life. My first memory of formally learning about critical thinking was when I took a class on Argumentation and Debate for my Speech Communication Degree at the University. I learned how to take an issue or a problem and argue both sides. Debate is a great teacher of critical thinking. It teaches the different types of reasons that support a position either for or against an issue. It teaches how to discern facts from untruth. It has been a good foundation for helping me to develop critical thinking skills as a leader in my profession.
As I have had the opportunity to grow my understanding about critical thinking in my profession, I came across the concept of systems thinking in The Fifth Discipline; the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge. Senge opened my eyes to the idea that short term solutions are not always the best in the long term, when a decision changes the existing system. This is critical thinking. When thinking about a decision, a leader needs to think about the short and long term affect it will have on the organization. An example of this is when I decided to cut services to residents in my Retirement Community. The decision helped me stay within my budget on the short term, but the next year cost me much more money in the long term because my resident occupancy dropped as a direct result of unhappy residents reacting to the loss of a specific service.
Growing critical thinking skills takes work! I just came across a handy Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder. This booklet is a summation of the key concepts of critical thinking. It is designed to be a reference to pull out of a pocket when discussing decisions to be made or problems to solve. It has a check list of reasoning, the universal intellectual standards and templates for evaluating reasoning, articles, problem solving, research, etc…It warns of the problems of egocentric and sociocentric thinking. These two concepts are challenging to apply to the leader’s private life.
I have found it easier to use critical thinking principles in my vocation and to be somewhat lazy in my thinking in my private life. The problem of egocentric thinking is easy to drift into; for example wanting something and rationalizing the reasons to buy it without using critical thinking to clearly understand the real issues and cost of that decision. Egocentric thinking assumes it is true because I want it to be true – it is selfish in motive.
Sociocentric thinking is the subtle believing something because the leader belongs to a group yet does not think through the ramifications of that belief. I remember a time in college when this problem was applied to my spiritual life. I grew up in a Christian home and my father’s profession was pastoring a Presbyterian Church. The critical thinking question struck me, “Did I believe in Christ because I belonged to the church and had grown up in a Christian environment or was this my own decision from weighing the truth, the pros and the cons? I soon found myself on a journey looking into other religions and other ways of life without religion. After much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that Jesus was a real, historical figure, who died on a cross and who was resurrected from the dead three days later. I also concluded that most of the disciples died martyr deaths defending the truth of their belief in Jesus. Based upon my critical thinking skills by weighing the facts, I was able to verify my faith in Jesus.
I am challenged to carry with me The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, Concepts and Tools and to pull it out of my pocket when I am faced with problems or decisions to make in both my professional or personal life.
How about you as you lead in your circles? Will you join me in becoming a better critical thinker in all aspects of your life?