Critical and Strategic Thinking Builds Agility

Leaders say they want to boost creativity, critical thinking and agility to improve performance and manage change. Research studies confirm the accuracy of those statements. Who wouldn’t want their staff to be quick on their feet, display ingenuity, offer critical insights, or make effective strategic choices? However, there is no consensus on how to boost agile thinking or increase brain capacity beyond the standard 10% utilization. The track record of using brain exercises, problem-solving techniques, brainstorm gatherings and reward programs indicate a failure to deliver.    

One hopeful option is the practice of integrating agility into everyday activities. Consider the impact of changing long-standing practices such as the standard staff meeting, which rarely engages the whole staff, or outlawing the practice of shooting ideas down before there is any chance to really explore the concept. Small changes can have big results. Conformity, habit, traditions, silos and robotic responses limit opportunities to see options and long-term implications.

Shifting our lens to form new perspectives, employing divergent thinking, asking questions, identifying patterns, connecting the dots, and attentive listening supports agile thinking. But these practices require a framework to increase confidence, employ broad analysis, and exercise nimble thinking.

The structure I use to ensure critical, strategic and agile thinking is the Success Mindsets template. It ensures a comprehensive data collection, careful scrutiny of that information and generating alternative paths. Using this framework prevents me from jumping to conclusions, relying on past solutions or remaining boxed-in by habit. It also forces me to review current conditions, assess what is possible and set my priority on what is probable.

The Success Mindsets focal points target organizational results, including (1) developing new products, (2) serving customers, (3) designing organizational systems and policies, (4) Improving quality and ROI, (5) engaging and retaining key talent, and (6) capturing new business opportunities. Having multiple focal points short circuits the stimulus-response mode to encourage full analysis before addressing complex and changing conditions.

The Success Mindsets Checklist and the Brilliant or Blunder Action Guide serve as primers to develop expertise in collecting and effectively using each Success Mindset. One exercise is to develop a solution from each of the six perspectives. Being able to shift points of view spurs agile thinking. Critical and strategic thinking is not a matter of IQ, motivation, or personal style. Instead, it is a decision to check assumptions, identify and weigh options, and deal with complex or novel issues with an open mind. To paraphrase a popular quote from Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that was used to create them.

We must shift our thinking, open our filters, confer with different points of view, generate creative solutions, reflect on alternatives, and select the best path forward. Agile thinking means a commitment to acting only after identifying what is possible, applicable, and valuable at this time.

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Top 4 Mistakes Women Make in the Workplace

The road to the C-suite is littered with well-meaning, well-qualified workers who never quite get there. So what is the difference-maker?

Executive coach and consultant Dr. Mary Lippitt has worked with hundreds of leaders, from Fortune 500 executives to top Pentagon officials, and she’s conducted research on thousands of people to study how they make choices.

Bizwomen spoke with Lippitt about some of the top mistakes women make in the workplace — and what they could be doing differently to boost their profile and career prospects. Here’s what she said:

MISTAKE #1: Making yourself indispensable in your current role.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Train your future replacements.

“Make yourself absolutely indispensable in your current position and people will move around you to keep you there,” Lippitt said. She recalled a woman she once worked with who was in charge of the budget. She held tightly to the responsibility and was the only person who knew how to do it.

“It seemed like the right thing to do — to make yourself indispensable — but it actually made her irreplaceable. So the bosses kept her in that role until she retired.”

“It was the kiss of death,” Lippitt said. “If nobody on your staff knows how to do some of your work, you’ll never get promoted. Part of your job is planning for your replacement.”

MISTAKE #2: Climbing the corporate ladder in a silo.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Look for new ventures within the company.

“Women today need to think beyond the traditional career path,” Lippitt said. She calls it “stepping out to step up.”

Lippitt once gave a speech at Harvard University’s Women and Power Conference. After giving her presentation, Lippitt asked women in the crowd how they advanced their careers. Many of them boosted their profile by pitching an idea and carving a new career path within the company.

“One woman in tech came up with a new product line and became the product manager for it,” Lippitt said.

“A banker said she identified a new service, completed an analysis and then showed the results to her bosses, asking to lead the new operation if they wanted to move forward with it. They did, and that role was the banker’s ticket to the executive ranks.”

MISTAKE #3: Using tenure to advocate for yourself

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Focus on the value you’ve added recently.

“When it comes to angling for a raise or a promotion, many women make the mistake of assuming tenure will make all the difference,” Lippitt said. It’s the ‘I’ve been here [x] years and it’s my turn’ mentality.

“But while that argument worked in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, it doesn’t resonate anymore. Today, it’s all about the value you’ve produced recently, especially in the last six months. Paint a picture of your impact lately.”

MISTAKE #4: Silently succumbing to group-think.

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Ask thoughtful follow-up questions.

“In an increasingly specialized world, groups are more prone to accept the thoughts of an expert at face value,” Lippitt said — even if they need to be challenged.

She once worked with a company run by a charismatic CEO. He’d recently rolled out an initiative he called “Empower. Free. Serve.” The phrase appeared everywhere, from company name tags to banners hanging in the cafeteria, but the chief executive told Lippitt the initiative wasn’t working.

So Lippitt talked with the company vice presidents. The problem? No one knew what the phrase meant.

“Empowered to be freed of red tape to serve our customers?” one replied, when Lippitt inquired.

So during a staff meeting, when Lippitt was supposed to be presenting her findings, she asked the CEO to outline what “Empower. Free. Serve.” meant.

“We’re going to empower the people to shop seven days a week instead of six,” he replied. “We’re going to free them from having to come to stores. And we’re going to open new distribution centers to get there faster.”

Lippitt said there’s a simple way to speak up or challenge an idea without painting yourself as a contrarian: Ask for specifics in a collaborative, supportive way.

For example, “This sounds very promising. I want to understand a little bit more. Let’s take a look: Are there any potential risks associated with it?” or “I like that idea. Can we dig deeper?”

“You don’t have to have the answer to the problem to speak up,” Lippitt said. “It shows you’re a valuable team member. And when you’re helping an organization avoid a pitfall, you’re seen as a key player.”

“Real power,” Lippitt said, “is adding value to the company.”

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Wouldn’t it be great to have enough power to move the world?

By Mary Lippitt | July 22, 2011Power Levers

Archimedes was on the right track when he said many years ago, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Selecting the right lever for the situation is something a successful leader does, if not by second nature, by learning. There are many different power levers – some too unwieldy and some too weak. Finding the right one for the situation requires analysis.

Just like a ships’ captain must continually verify the ships course, it is essential that a leader stop and review the situation to make sure the lever and associated actions they are using are the most effective. No one wants blowback from being overpowering or ineffectiveness by using too little. This is a pull-use of the power lever, where the leader pulls their employees to action instead of pushing them into action.

When specific decisions need to be made quickly, the authority lever that flows from position power or the power to command is appropriate. However, when creative thinking or a high level of commitment is needed, relationship power or systems power yields better results.

Since we learn power levers from others, many of us overlook valuable options. The goal of Leadership Power Levers, is to identify the type of power that will provide the greatest success in any given situation. Misuse of a lever can shatter reputations, sour relationships and cause trust to evaporate. Take the time to identify which lever is appropriate given your context. Then you will have the opportunity to move, if not the world, at least your organization.

Wondering which power levers you are using? Please contact us for a free Leadership Power Levers analysis and find out what your options are for enhancing your power!