Many leaders exhibit a tendency to jump intoaction. When a problem is identified there must be an immediate response. There appears to be an ingrained “just do it” mentality on the assumption it will produce results as well as admiration. What is overlooked is the option for a pause between learning about a situation and responding to it. The pause enables information gathering and analysis. It also acknowledges recognizes that no one, no matter how talented, can master the complex issues facing us today.
The practice of gaining input can be called brainstorming, consulting, buzz groups, task teams, or crowdsourcing. But these work only when they are employed, when everyone believes they can contribute, and when everyone feels that it is safe to offer an opinion.
The lack of critical thinking cited in many CEO surveys encouraged me to poll 100 people about the barriers they experience in practicing critical thinking. The results are:
- 42% Identified time pressure or the lack of time to consider options
- 20% Expressed fear of rejection, ridicule or retribution
- 20% Replied nothing will happen as a result; They were resigned to accept that status quo
- 9% Doubted their ability to add anything important
- 5% Feared that it will mean just mean more work for them
- 4% Stated that no one required them to think critically
Organizations are wasting valuable human resources if insights and concerns never surface. And reversing the top concerns require only minor adjustments. Consider implementing one or more the following:
- Concerns over time constraints can be overcomeby setting aside 5 to 10 minutes of a staff meeting to explore an idea or ask for an issue that needs attention. It can also be encouraged by reminding staff that preventing problems saves time and effort rather than having to resolve setbacks later.And, the cost of blind spots continues to grow.
- Creating a “safe” environment by encouraging and respecting different points of view. Why not start your next staff meeting by asking “what have we learned since our last meeting?” Another option would be to appoint a rotating “devil’s advocate” who will critically examine proposals and raise issues. This is particularly important whenpotential benefits crowd out a comprehensive examination. The devil advocate can spotlight the need for deeper dive. In business and physics for every action there is a reaction, and it is important to recognize ramifications before leaping into action.
- Every suggestion or proposal deserves a response. Clarification on what was done or why no action was taken must be shared. It showsrespects for the person who offered the suggestion and ensures further engagement. Additionally, the contributor can learn about factors that can turn an apparent slam dunk into a pitfall.
- Build critical thinking confidence through coaching, usingan established checklist, and providingtime to reflect and confer with others. Recognize that not all critical thinking happens instantaneously. It can require “soak time,” whether it is in the shower or in the car. Confidence is also boosted when critical thinking is recognized, whether it was implemented or not. Whatever the outcome, the practice deserves encouragement
Leaders and decision makers must recognize those that think out of the box as well as those that think inside it, and under it. To paraphrase,Einstein, today’s problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that was used to create them. We must expand our thinking practices.
Dr. Mary Lippitt is the author of “Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When it Matters”. She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. to help leaders successfully navigate today’s challenges, boost critical thinking, foster engagement, and deliver stellar results. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org