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Leadership and Critical Thinking

Leadership and Critical thinking Transforming Mission

As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, how do you make decisions? Upon what do you base your decision-making? In today’s world, when you are constantly bombarded by messages designed to persuade you, are you able to think for yourself, stay true to your values, and reach your own conclusions?

What is Your Decision Making Process?

Whether it be materials used by colleagues to gain your support for their proposals, leaders who want to influence your thinking, arguments to shape your beliefs, or advertisements to buy certain products, you are constantly put in the position of making decisions that affect you and the people entrusted to your care. Often, without realizing it, you are at risk of being manipulated, deceived, and mindlessly led to conclusions that others want you to have. What is your process for decision-making?

Critical Thinking

Courageous and effective leaders, in their decision-making, have developed the skill of critical thinking. They can see the big picture, draw reasonable conclusions from the appropriate data provided, and make reasonable judgments to solve problems and make decisions.

For example, theories must be backed up with truth and knowledge. For a society to function effectively, its citizens need to establish opinions about what is right and wrong and be consistent in living out those opinions. It is the process of critical thinking that assists in maintaining consistency and order.

Another example is, to have a thriving congregation, developing Jesus followers who impact the world, you need critical thinking in the church. Theology must be backed up in practice. For a church to function effectively, Jesus followers need to establish what it means to live like Jesus in the community and the world. Critical thinking is needed to help develop relationships, assess assets, and respond to needs.

The leaders who can see the big picture, use relevant information to understand the situation, and make reasonable judgments are the leaders needed to navigate the changing landscape in today’s world.

Complex Problem Solving

A survey of human resource professionals, The Future of Jobs, revealed that critical thinking is the second most important skill in the workforce. Complex problem solving is the number one skill. Courageous and effective leaders possess and develop both skills.

So, what does that mean for you as a leader? Take a moment to look over some of the characteristics of critical thinkers. Judge for yourself what characteristics shape your leadership.

Critical thinkers are:

Objective

Critical thinkers can recognize and challenge their own assumptions and look at the immediate situation from a neutral perspective. They understand that leaving their assumptions unchecked can lead to poor thinking and bad decision-making. So, they know how to test and validate their own thoughts and feelings. When critical thinkers are emotionally attached to a thought or decision, they can articulate their feelings while holding their objectivity.

Discerning

Critical thinkers can separate fact from inference. Once information is collected, it is important to understand the difference between facts and inferences. Too often leaders assume what is true based upon hearsay and treat it as a fact. This creates a shaky foundation for any future thinking and decision-making.

A fact is objectively observable by other people. An inference is something that includes an assumption or an opinion that may or may not be true. I can drive from my house to my office in 28 minutes. I do it almost on a daily basis. That is a fact. If I use my GPS to calculate the distance and average speed to get to 28 minutes, that is an inference.

The same is true about information shared regarding decisions made by congregational leaders as well as business leaders. Critical thinkers don’t infer truth, they search out the factual truth.

Collaborative

Critical thinkers can listen and receive input from multiple sources. Critical thinkers are not only willing to consider but incorporate other people’s ideas. In their collaboration, they help separate fact from fiction. They listen for what is not said as well as what is said. Because they are good collaborators, they model collaboration for the people around them.

Open-minded

Critical thinkers know they need to think through situations and draw on past experiences. But they do not let past experiences be the sole viewpoint from which decisions are made. Courageous leaders know that the past is the past for a reason. They look at data and observations from the past and discover why something worked or did not work. In other words, they are open to discovering new ways and are not stuck in nostalgia.

Curious

Critical thinkers ask questions. They know where things are working and who is bringing new ideas, and diverse experiences, as well as who has what strengths, talents, skills, and abilities. They gather information and test their ideas and decisions on the people around them. 

Strategic

Critical thinkers know the current reality of their context. They set their sights on what is to be accomplished. Then starting where they are, critical thinkers use the facts of their situation and the human resources available to navigate the barriers and obstacles to get to their goal. They are able to put together a plan, set boundaries, develop assessments, and a step-by-step approach to living into their mission.

Relational

Many people think that thinking critically causes problems in relationships. The truth is, being a critical thinker allows the leader to better understand the perspective of others and helps the leader become more open-minded toward different views.

No Shortage of Information

There is no shortage of information coming at you today. That is why you need to use your critical thinking skills to decide for yourself what you believe and upon what you are making your decisions. Critical thinking helps you sort through all the extra voices and allows you the opportunity to develop your thoughts and opinions based on the facts.

So, over the next several weeks, try one of the following to improve your critical thinking skills: 

Keep your mission in mind

When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you are trying to achieve, and then figure out how you best get there. 

Gather reliable information

Make sure that you are using trusted resources. Test your assumptions and the statements of others. Look for the facts and have the courage to follow the factual and reliable information. 

Ask questions

When something is not clear or does not make sense, ask questions. Remember, critical thinkers are curious.

Think long term as you live into the short term.

When coming up with solutions, keep in mind where you are going as you are navigating your next step. What are the consequences of not caring for the immediate? What are the consequences of forgetting your goal? Both are significant in the equation.

Explore all sides

There is not just one simple answer. It is not as easy as what is right and what is wrong. To make your decision, explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

The Truth Will Make You Free

I am convinced you are the leader needed for this time. To be effective you will need to think critically. When Jesus said, “The truth will make you free,” he was referring to the truth found in himself. 

There is a truth about medicine that sets people free from superstitious understandings of disease and makes health possible. In meteorology, there is a truth that sets people free from the fear of storms. There is a truth about doctrine and theology that sets people free to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves. Along with general truth, Jesus is talking about a personal truth embodied in him – a truth of love and relationship.

Sometimes leaders misplace the ultimate truth of love and relationship with personal, political, and institutional truth. All three have their place, but the truth that will ultimately set you free is the truth of God’s love embodied in Jesus.

The question is, upon what truth do you make your decisions? In today’s world, it is easy to get sidetracked by the messages designed to persuade you. Are you able to think for yourself and reach your own conclusions? Are you able to let the truth of God’s love guide you in your critical thinking?

At the risk of being one of those many voices trying to persuade you, I pray that the truth of God’s love guides you today and every day in your relationships and decision-making. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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