Essay # 3 - Critical Thinking and Leadership

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Do you think critical thinking is important in developing a leader?


"Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically - without learning how, or without practicing."


Alfred Mander, Author

Logic for the Millions, 1947


Critical Thinking and Leadership


            Thinking is an inherited ability of human nature. Almost every human being is born with the capabilities and conditions necessary to process information and react. However, it is essential for people to realize that there is a significant difference of what it is considered to "think" from what it is considered to "think critically". This difference is what creates the distinction between people that are meant to be leaders from those who are not.


            First let's get started by defining Critical Thinking. As defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (1987), Critical Thinking is:


"The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action".


            From this definition then it is reasonable to assume that Critical Thinking refers to our ability, as human beings, to not take assumptions at face value, but rather to confirm our thoughts with verifiable information and facts. Critical Thinking has a purpose; basically it is meant to develop positive outcomes from people's actions. These purposes can be summarized in:


1.     Identifying Challenging Assumptions

2.     Creating Awareness

3.     Identifying Alternative Solutions

4.     Developing Skepticism


These four basic purposes were defined by Dr. Stephen Brooksfield in his book Developing Creative Thinkers, and constitute an excellent example of why leaders should develop critical thinking abilities in order to succeed in life.


Critical Thinking abilities come together with personality, however, it is also important to understand that these abilities can be build throughout the years, and that the more time and practice dedicated to the process, the more critical a person would be likely to think.


Preconceived notions are inherited in every person's mind. These notions come ingrained to our subconscious and are what make us react to specific situations in different ways. However, many times these subconscious acts are prone to trick us by making us react to situations in an undesirable fashion. By developing Critical Thinking abilities and ideas, undesirable reactions can be avoided. Because of this, it is crucial for people to know how important it is to sharpen the skills of Critical Thinking and to apply these skills in every thing- even the least significant things in life. If people are able to sharpen and master these techniques, then the likelihood of doing accurate and quick decisions will increase.


Mastering Critical Thinking techniques is what make people able to react accurately and effectively; is the ability that would lead to every person ultimate success. Ultimate success is what every leader wants to achieve. Abilities ingrained in Critical Thinking are necessary traits to become a successful leader in this world. Being able to evaluate critically every piece of information before giving a response is critical and indispensable for achievement and success.


But, why is Critical Thinking so important in shaping a Leader?


Remember that every decision based upon false or incomplete information leads to unwanted outcomes, to failure and disappointment. For this it is crucial to understand every variable and aspect that affect and control our decisions and outcomes. With a complete understanding of events the probability of success becomes much higher, leading to positive outcomes. Critical Thinking abilities, and its correct process and appliance, becomes essential to understand and analyze those variables affecting every day's events. When a person has being able to master and dominate these abilities, is then reasonable to believe him or her as a truly leader.


A leader has essential traits that are correlated with the abilities involved in Critical Thinking. Some of these personality traits and practices can be summarized in:


·      Effective Communicator: A critical thinker, a leader, knows how to effectively communicate with others in order to get the best results for difficult circumstances.

·      Open-minded Thinker: Knows how to be skeptical and thinks on alternatives solutions for specific problems. It is crucial for a critical thinker to recognize all the circumstances and possible outcomes in order to get to the right approach for specific scenarios.

·      Questioner: An effective leader with Critical Thinking abilities is ready to raise clear and precise questions. This is important in order to get a broader understanding and thus a more effective outcome.

·      Information Gatherer: It is essential for leaders to be in the search of new information to expand knowledge and thus base decisions in a more solid background.


From these traits many other common characteristics are developed to shape a leader's personality, and it is the extension into each of these traits are developed what determine the probability of success.


Leaders are defined by being persons with the necessary skills and traits to take control over others. Just think... if Critical Thinking was not important in defining a leader, then where would be standing right now? Great leaders throughout history have applied critical thinking techniques and methods to overcome situations. Wars, epidemics, economic crisis, and environmental shocks have all been overcome by leaders taking care and control of the situation. These leaders have learned how to impose intellectual standards into their "normal" way of thinking in order to be able to analyze things in a deeper way.


As I mentioned before every person in the world thinks; however many times this process is completed in an unsatisfactory fashion. Usually thoughts are prone to become biased or distorted, which make a positive outcome unfeasible to achieve. In order to avoid these situations, thinking should be improved by imposing critical thinking techniques in our daily live. As the quote stated in the beginning of my essay states, it is impossible to develop a rational way of thinking without learning and practicing the required techniques.


I remember my first class with the PLA, I was thinking how was it possible for a class to be about shaping and constructing the way students think. I thought I already knew how to think and how to react to given situations. However today, a bit more than two years later, I am convinced that this class is one of the best ones I had during my years in College. Today, I know how important is Critical Thinking techniques at the time of handling with specific situations, and how important is it for people to learn these techniques from an actual leader. Now, I consider myself able to handle with any difficulty that might appear along my live.... Why? Because I know what the procedures are in order to think everything critically. Mastering my techniques will take me some time, but I am positive that these Critical Thinking abilities will help me become the person I want to be in the future: a Successful Leader!

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