Boosting your mental agility and critical thinking

Large amounts of data and rapid change increase the need to think critically and adjust to new realities.

Will Rogers reminds us that “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” While stagnation is dangerous, finding the path forward can be challenging. Mental agility, situational awareness and sound judgment are essential to addressing probable, pervasive and problematic change.

The rapid rate of change has led CEOs to identify critical thinking, judgment and innovation as essential to their future success. In today’s complex world, no individual has all the answers, but a person can ask the right questions and evaluate responses.

Mental agility — the ability to recognize what has happened, what is currently happening and what could happen in the future — requires an open, inquisitive mind. And that openness must be combined with a critical analysis of all relevant information to discern how to leverage opportunities in the short and long term. Mental agility and critical thinking close the ubiquitous gap between what we think we know and what we need to know. They prevent missteps and blunders.

Mental agility and critical thinking do not require an elevated IQ, advanced degree, lofty position or specific personal style. They do require a dedicated willingness to:

  • Test existing assumptions that may have changed based on dynamic environments
  • Check for potential distortions or bias, including level of effort and confirmation bias
  • Solicit and respect multiple points of view

Adopting an open mind means actively seeking information, considering alternatives, and selecting a viable and valuable goal. With multiple variables affecting any decision, a comprehensive framework is indispensable in collecting pertinent information. Knowing it all prevents risking it all.

Consider the purchase of a car. Decision factors include price, warranty, miles per gallon, cost of insurance, features, size, lease or purchase, color, style, type of gas required, cost of maintenance, towing capacity and dealer location. This list may appear lengthy, but compared with the factors involved in organizational success, it is quite small.

Organizations confront greater complexity and interdependencies than purchasing a car. One individual’s ability cannot juggle every aspect. Leaders need a system to gather timely, relevant information from multiple sources. Considering six situational mindsets ensures an effective grasp of reality. The following definitions and questions serve as a guide and can be tailored into a checklist for your organization:

  1. Inventing Situational Mindset questions concern innovative products, designs and services: What new features or services can we offer? How can we apply technology in a new way?
  2. Catalyzing Situational Mindset questions assess the level of customer service, market position and competition: What new markets can we explore? What will grow sales? How can we improve customer service?
  3. Developing Situational Mindset questions evaluate system effectiveness, information flow and seamless execution: What will improve cross-functional collaboration? Are our systems effective? What policy alterations will support our goals?
  4. Performing Situational Mindset questions examine quality, cycle time, workflow and return on investment: What deviations should we address? What can we improve? What limits our productivity?
  5. Protecting Situational Mindset questions address staffing levels, retention of key talent, succession planning and engagement: What will improve collaboration? How can we retain key talent? How can our culture become more agile?
  6. Challenging Situational Mindset questions probe trends, assumptions, strategies and opportunities: What new alliances are possible? What new niches should we pursue? What will position us for the future?

These situational mindsets surface what is present, what is within reach and what is around the corner. Their use builds the mental agility and critical thinking essential for organizations to achieve their goals in the midst of change.

Published with permission from SmartBrief.com

About Author:

Mary Lippitt, an award-winning author and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd., an international firm helping leaders deliver results. A leader in the field of organizational effectiveness, she has assisted corporate and government clients in the US and abroad, including Lockheed Martin, Marriott, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership

When something is missing, it is a vacuum or space creating a void. I believe we have a missing element in our understanding of leadership. We all recognize that leaders face challenges that were unfathomable twenty years ago. However, leadership remains consumed with the relatively stable aspects of personal style and skill sets.

Given our dynamic environment, situational awareness becomes an essential component for leadership success. Leaders must recognize how the competitive landscape, regulatory forces, workforce demographics, and system ramifications impact the organization. No one should ignore their present realities.

While I would temper Peter Drucker’s statement that leadership “has little to do with “leadership quality” and even less to do with “charisma.” Its essence is performance,” I agree with his focus on results. But to date, it undervalues results in favor of steadiness, predictability, and persistence, all of which certainly play a key role. However, so does flexibility, agility, timing, and current conditions. Ignoring these increases our blind spots and risk.

Getting the leadership “formula” right reminds me of searching for the sorcerer’s stone. A magical solution, to be sure, but we must remember it is also fictitious. Search for any universal formula will not work. Precisely following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos will not guarantee success. Certainly, those leaders deserve their acclaim but that does not mean their formula will work in every organization.

Few leaders run an organization that is the equivalent of an Apple or Amazon. I have met many business leaders who assume that what worked in one environment will work in every environment or that what worked in the past will work in the present.

Leadership has changed in scope and expectations. Organizations are more integrated, customer requirements shift more rapidly, and resources have become more constrained. And to make it even more challenging, our greater complexity means that no one person can have all the answers. So instead of becoming the solution provider, leaders need to develop their ability to question and evaluate alternatives. Luckily, this is not rocket science or a matter of IQ. It requires committing to a practice of employing six situational mindsets to uncover information before jumping to a decision.

Situational awareness Consider what a leader could learn by asking questions in six different areas including:

      • What new approaches or creative options can we investigate?
      • How can we improve customer service and retention?
      • How can we become a truly seamless effective organization?
      • What can improve our quality and efficiency?
      • How can we foster collaboration, engagement, and learning?
      • What can we do now to ensure a prosperous future?

Vacuums are broken using heat to expand the container. We should use the heat created by change to expand our view of leadership. Yes, listening, planning, team building, and engagement are critical but so is collecting information on our current realities and leveraging them to achieve results.


Dr. Mary Lippitt is the author of  Brilliant or Blunder: Six Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity and Complexity

“Breaking the Vacuum Around Leadership” was originally published on 10 July 2019 at BizCatalyst360.

 

About Author:

Dr. Mary Lippitt,  an award-winning author, consultant, and speaker, founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders with critical analysis.  Her new book, Situational Mindsets:  Targeting What Matters When It Matters was published last year with a Foreword from Daivd Covey. She can be reached at mlippitt@enterprisemgt.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/marylippitt/

“Reading this brilliant book was both a pleasure and a gift. Situational Mindsets has not only helped me to analyze my own leadership tendencies and skills, but it caused me to take notice of the changes I need to make within my own organization to gain a competitive advantage in today’s world.”

David M.R. Covey, CEO of SMCOV, Coauthor of Trap Tales