Critical Thinking in leadership

Introduction to critical thinking for managers

In an interview with the author, Bernard Lawton advocates greater use of critical thinking in management. He argues that most managers need no training in using their own intellects but do need a more direct approach to applying objective evidence.

This is why he advocates critical thinking skills, which can help leaders and managers to understand the actual implications of decisions that were made.

By using critical thinking, leaders and managers can make better decisions as they move organizations forward.

Critical thinking can be used to help people understand the details of a problem, rather than just seeing it based on their own ideas or assumptions .

Through this process, leadership becomes more effective. Critical thinking allows for greater clarity in decision making.

A key component in critical thinking is understanding how evidence and information can be seen from different perspectives.

It also teaches us to think beyond what we have been taught or told, but instead see things in a new way that may lead to solutions for problems.

Logical reasoning and systems thinking are two other components of critical thinking that can be applied to the leadership process.

These help leaders and managers look at what has happened in a situation to solve complex problems .

This would include looking at the problem or issue from multiple perspectives, instead of just one.

The process of critical thinking works by first establishing what is relevant (known as framing). Then it requires that people look at possibilities and alternatives (what are some possible solutions?). Then it requires that they gather information from available resources.

Through critical thinking, leaders and managers will be able to see more options and make better decisions .





The Thinking Manager

The Thinking Manager is a prize-winning book by Paul Brignall, published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing. It focuses on the development of critical thinking skills and its application to management.

It uses an interesting analogy – that managers are like magicians in their dealing with employees .

The book delves deeply into social psychology, cognitive biases, and other factors that affect the way people make decisions.

It is highly recommended for leaders and managers alike. It will enhance their critical thinking skills immensely, allowing them to easily apply those skills to any organizational problem .


The Sociology of Critical Thinking

One of the greatest thinkers in critical thinking, Richard Paul, has written extensively on the concept and its application to a wide range of topics.

His book “The Sociology of Critical Thinking” is an excellent reference for anyone interested in moving from critical thinking skills to detailed methods of applying them.

This includes consideration of such issues as:

  • The nature of critical thinking
  • Critical thinking as social process
  • Critical thinking and leadership


 How to use critical thinking in a crisis situation

  1. Gather information on the problem or problem area, from multiple sources . Scan social media , news sites, emails, blogs; as well as any existing data that you may have .
  2. Identify the various perspectives on the problem, by considering what is relevant to it . What are all the different ways in which this issue could be understood?
  3. Consider potential solutions and alternatives that may exist . In less critical situations, you can simply brainstorm a list of possible options .
  4. Choose an alternative that represents a new way of thinking about the problem . This may be something that you have never considered before, or it may be an existing solution that is not being applied in this situation.

** Note **: at any point during these steps, you can ask others for their opinions on the issue; however, make sure to keep track of where their ideas came from .


Some methods for critical thinking

Use these methods to help you think more critically about any problem or topic that you are trying to solve .

  1. Look at the problem from multiple perspectives (the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, and why) . This may include asking others for their opinions and ideas on the issue . Your goal is to identify relevant information, from as many sources as possible.
  2. Consider what is missing . This is the idea that we sometimes overlook crucial information because it is not present in our thinking . For example, when analyzing a business plan , you may consider all of the possible tangible costs and revenues – but what about intangible costs such as customer satisfaction?
  3. Consider possibilities (what is not currently considered) . This step is often combined with the previous one, as we have already identified missing information; now we must think about what possible courses of action can be taken in response to that information.
  4. Consider alternatives (different options and strategies for solving problems or making decisions) . For example, when analyzing a business plan , you may consider all of the possible tangible costs and revenues – but what about intangible costs such as customer satisfaction?
  5. Consider consequences (the different outcomes that result from each alternative) . This is often considered to be the most critical step in critical thinking . What exactly does each outcome look like? How can you be sure that this is in fact the result of the decision or action that you have taken?
  6. Think about what happens next , and how your solution will affect it . This may include outlining possible future scenarios that could stem from a certain course of action . For example, when analyzing a business plan , you may consider all of the possible tangible costs and revenues – but what about intangible costs such as customer satisfaction?
  7. Construct an argument for or against a particular solution, based on objective criteria . For example, you may decide that your new course of action is the best one, because it has yielded the lowest cost per unit in other similar situations; however, when considering the possible future scenarios, you may also argue that it will cause your company to go bankrupt because of the high cost of production.

The Thinking Manager

 A Toolkit for thinking managers

Below are some tools that can help you to think about the ways in which managers may use critical thinking and decision-making skills on a daily basis .

  1. Use intuition when an objective approach will not yield efficient results (although, be careful in areas such as safety) . For example, if it is a habit of yours to always wear an extra layer in winter, you are employing intuition .
  2. Apply heuristics when a computer-aided approach is not as reliable and efficient . Heuristics are the rules of thumb that we follow that often allow us to make quick decisions . For example, if it is raining outside and your umbrella is at home, you may decide to take a raincoat instead of returning to your apartment; this is an example of applying the heuristics “if it’s raining, take an umbrella.”
  3. Apply logic when you are trying to decide between different courses of action . For example, if you need to choose somebody for a critical position and only have time to interview 5 candidates, you will need to apply logic in order to determine which of the five would be best for the job .
  4. Apply critical thinking when attempting complex or abstract problems that do not initially seem solvable . For example, if you are trying to convince your audience that public transit is a viable solution for urban transportation , you can use critical thinking.
  5. Use logic when you do not know what to think – think about the best (or worst) case scenario . For example, if you have very little experience in sales , and an opportunity arises for you to sell a product that is unknown to the market, it will be wise of you to consider both positive and negative aspects of the situation – what if you don’t sell anything at all? What if your product is successful beyond your wildest dreams ?
  6. Practice critical thinking on a regular basis . This will increase the efficiency of using these skills in any management position that you happen to find yourself in – whether or not it is related to work.

 Critical Thinking for Managers: 10 Tips to guide your decision making process.

  1. Be proactive – Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter .
  2. Establish your objectives – Be aware of your goals and priorities .
  3. Eliminate ambiguity – Know what you know , and be clear about what you don’t .
  4. Incorporate multiple sources of information – Do background research on the issues, people, and organizations that are involved in the decision or problem .
  5. Form a hypothesis – Devise alternative solutions to the issue at hand .
  6. Examine your assumptions – Establish what you believe to be true .
  7. Test your hypotheses – Listen carefully to opposing arguments and try out various solutions .
  8. Evaluate results against objectives (or performance criteria) – Determine whether or not your solution was appropriate .
  9. Revise and implement – Take steps to ensure a more successful outcome in the future .
  10. Admit when you are wrong – As we all know, failure is not an option! However, it is important to learn from our mistakes so that we can improve as managers and leaders .


Why is critical thinking important in leadership?

Critical thinking is an important skill for leaders . It encourages creativity , flexibility, and empathy – all of these are useful in management positions. Furthermore, critical thinking helps you to think about future scenarios that don’t yet exist . This could be called “thinking outside the box” ; it allows you to imagine what the consequences will be if you act in a certain way .

When to use critical thinking in leadership

Critical thinking can be used at any time during a managerial or leadership position. It is important to note that critical thinking skills are often more valuable than communication skills, because it allows one to think about both what should be communicated, and how to get that message across in the most effective manner. Critical thinking in leadership can be applied to any area of management including planning , training, organizing, staffing, motivating, inspiring and delegating .

 What are critical leadership skills?

Critical leadership skills are a set of tools that help you to ensure your success as a leader. Most important in critical thinking skills is the ability to choose between alternatives and make sound decisions . Another critical leadership skill is to be able to use logic and reasoning effectively during decision making processes . Critical leadership skills also encompass good organization, problem solving , analysis, pattern recognition and creativity.

 What types of critical thinking are most appropriate for managers and leaders ?

In order to answer this question we must consider what type of manager you want to be . If your main priority is to maximize efficiency , then it will be prudent for you to use critical thinking that focuses on logic ; if, however, the goal of your position is to match resources with human needs , then it would be good for you to use critical thinking skills such as logic and intuition .

 When critical thinking in leadership may not be applicable:

There are situations when critical thinking skills should not be used in leadership. These include times when time is of the essence , or if one has limited resources to accomplish a goal . In general, it will be easier for you to succeed as a leader if you use heuristics and intuition – however, it may not always be necessary to make the optimal decision , and there are times when critical thinking is indeed the best approach .

 When critical thinking may not be to your advantage:

If you have a limited amount of time or knowledge, then it would be inadvisable for you to use critical thinking skills. This can apply to any managerial task that requires one to think critically about an extensive amount of information or data. It is important to know what kind of information you need to make a decision, and then it is time for critical thinking.

A Toolkit for thinking managers

 How does critical thinking apply to leaders and managers in organizations?

Critical thinking is a useful skill for any manager to have. Being able to think critically guides our decision making process, allowing us to make the right choices when we need to . Critical thinking can be used as an instrument for both improving your organization , or optimizing management decisions from within . As a manager you have the responsibility to monitor the work of your employees , and be able to make constructive criticisms when it is necessary. Critical thinking allows one to not only evaluate ideas, but also determine why a certain idea may or may not be appropriate for different situations .

 Critical thinking and leadership skills

In order to possess critical thinking skills as a manager, you must be able to think of multiple possible solutions , analyze problems and offer creative ideas at the same time . A good leader is also open to criticism and suggestions from his/her employees , but he or she will use critical thinking in order to distinguish between constructive criticism and negativity.

Critical thinking skills for leadership development

Critical thinking is a skill that can be applied to any type of manager. When applying critical thinking to the development of leadership skills, managers should learn how to think independently . A good leader must have the ability to analyze and assess situations on his/her own without being dependent on others for information .

 Critical thinking exercises for management and leadership development

Critical thinking exercises can be an effective way to develop your leadership and management skills. By testing out different scenarios , you will become adept at making fast, logical decisions . When working with a group of people , try being the critical thinker in order to evaluate other members’ opinions.


Critical thinking enhances the ability to make sound decisions based on a thorough analysis of available information. You can improve critical thinking skills by becoming aware of your own assumptions , by being curious, and by encouraging logical reasoning in others. Practice is also important – so be sure to take the time to think about old situations in new ways .

Critical thinking is a useful skill for any manager to have. Whether you are using critical thinking to optimize your management decisions, or to develop new ideas , it is important that you use this skill effectively . Apply critical thinking when dealing with employees and colleagues in order to analyze situations and recognize problems . In conclusion, if you want to be successful as a manager, then make sure you possess the skills of critical thinking and leadership.


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