Critical decision making is vitally important to accurate assessments and successful strategy. Both current leaders and students have a hard time thinking critically about the nature of events in order to more accurately achieve desired outcomes. Jenkins and Cutchens (2011) have studied the lack of understanding among undergraduate students as well as their ability to apply such concepts to leadership. Such students will eventually become tomorrow’s leaders and will need new skills to compete effectively.
An underlying assumption of all leadership is that people should use interpersonal skills in the environment to increase self-awareness, understand others, and learn from life experiences (Burbach, et. al, 2004). Leaders constantly learn about life in order to become more aware of how their behavior impacts others and how life’s lessons can enhance their decision-making abilities. When their skills consolidate to create higher levels of influential performance they have self-actualized.
Self-reflection helps to create stronger leadership. Leadership is the ability to reflect to determine what to believe and what to do in situations (Ennis, 1993). Without the ability to think about concepts and challenge premises it is difficult for people to come to new insight and solutions. Leadership is all about thinking and then acting in ways that benefit the most people.
Critical thinking affords the opportunity for leaders to use critical reflection, integrate personal experience, and use learning to engage and understand new ideas that challenge conventional thinking (Reynolds, 1999). It is nearly impossible to break from limited molds unless leaders are willing to challenge and grow the ability of people to achieve new heights. A lack of reflection limits the ability of leaders to make accurate decisions.
Such reflection comes with a price. It can often create considerable discomfort and dissonance (Brookfield, 1994). To think anew means one must give up the old. This requires a level of energy and analysis in order to integrate new concepts within one’s life. It takes even more courage to integrate these concepts into the environment.
Actions required to Lead Critically:
-Be aware of the context of your situation and evaluate the implications
of your decisions.
- Ask questions and listen appropriately.
- Take the time to understand the diversity of others’ decisions, values,
-Be flexible and open-minded in your decision-making.
- Accept, internalize, and apply constructive criticism.
-Evaluate assumptions before you try to challenge them.
-Understand processes before you try to change them.
-Know the strengths and weaknesses of your followers and direct or
- Be purposeful and take into account your organization’s mission and
values when making decisions.
- Engage others where they are, not where you want them to be.
- Encourage critical followership.
- Take informed action.
The study by Jenkins and Cutchens utilized 80 advanced leadership students to analyze and understand the concept of “leading critically”. It is important to teach students and executives that thinking critically helps one to apply such skills in different situations to enhance leadership. To lead critically requires one to not only think critically but to act critically. Through the understanding of critical thinking in leadership higher order leadership skill can be developed.
The study brings to our awareness that effective leadership has at least two parts. One must not only think critically but also act critically to be effective. It is hard enough for people to think for themselves but to then act against the grain of group think can be extremely difficult. Such actions are often thwarted by social adherence pressures, dissent, and loss of support. To lead means to chart one’s own course and give a path to others.
Brookfield, S. D. (1994). Understanding and facilitating adult learning: A comprehensive analysis of principles and effective practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass and England: Open University Press.
Burbach, M. E., Matkin, G. S., & Fritz, S. M. (2004). Teaching critical thinking in an introductory leadership course utilizing active learning strategies: A confirmatory study. College Student Journal, 38(3), 482-493.
Ennis, R. H. (1993). Critical thinking assessment. Theory into Practice, 32(3),
Jenkins, D. & Cutchens, A. (2011). Leading critically: a grounded theory of applied critical thinking in leadership studies. Journal of Leadership Education, 10 (2).
Reynolds, M. (1999). Critical reflection and management education: Rehabilitating less hierarchical approaches. Journal of Management Education, 23(5), 537-53.