Business Bites: Critical thinking skills

ABDO head of corporate development

As part of his paper in the Journal of Leadership Studies, R. Steve McVey states: “Speculative abstract theory makes a case that the ability to think critically is an essential quality of all effective leaders. Thinking is a process of information reprocessing within the human brain, a matter of learning various task-specific thought processes. Critical thinking is the development of common sense – knowing what to do next”.

We must consider thinking skills to be essential management and leadership traits as they will be valued by team members and form a significant portion of their trust in leadership.

Critical thinking is vital for any business. The World Economic Forum (WEF) states that: “In 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after skills. Employers see critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving as growing in importance in the coming years”.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to solve problems and make key decisions by applying logic and evidence within analysis and evaluation of the issue at hand.

So how does critical thinking happen?

There are some specific activities that make up the act of thinking critically and they are:

Evaluate the evidence available to you. Check the source, accuracy, consistency, and context, of the evidence, be it data, facts, or arguments that either support or refute a viewpoint. Compare and contrast different sources and perspectives. Look for gaps and contradictions.
Ask the right questions. Be respectful to others’ views and most of all, be clear about the purpose of the questions. This will help you engage stakeholders such as your team and your customers in constructive discussions which encourage inquisitivness and learning. Make sure that you don’t ask closed questions and biased questions that may limit the scope of discussions.
Use logic. This will give you a method of getting conclusions from your evidence. It will help to test your arguments and assumptions whilst considering the consequences of actions.
Use creative processes in thinking. These may be your own or those of the stakeholders mentioned above. Creativity may generate new ways of thinking and working that are helpful and original. This may present the opportunity to try new ideas, and this should be done in an open and no-blame environment.
Learning. Through reflection you can evaluate outcomes and alternative options. This reflection leads to gaining new knowledge and helps improve your critical thinking skills in the future.

Tatiana Melnichuk gives a good summary of why critical thinking is so important today in her Forbes article, ‘Critical thinking: what is it and how can you develop this skill?

She says: “Today, we’re inundated with huge amounts of information every day, and in order to be able to analyse this information and determine our position based on balanced facts, it is important to look at situations critically.”

She goes on to describe four skills that she feels are important in critical thinking which are:
1. Practice analysing
2. Be aware of self-criticism
3. Build productive communication
4. Build your forecasting skills

So, what about your wider team? Do they benefit from critical thinking skills?

In his Forbes article, ‘Why your business needs critical thinking’, Bryce Hoffman explains: “Critical thinking enables employees to consider multiple perspectives and potential outcomes of different decisions, leading to better choices that are more likely to succeed. Employees who lack basic critical thinking skills may be prone to making decisions based on assumptions, biases, or incomplete information. That often leads to poor decisions.

“On the other hand, employees who possess critical thinking skills are better equipped to weigh options of each decision and make decisions based on factual and reliable information. Such decisions can lead to better outcomes for the organisation, resulting in improved productivity, increased revenue, and better customer satisfaction. The cultivation of critical thinking skills in the workplace requires investment in training and development programs that equip employees with the necessary tools and techniques to analyse and evaluate information effectively.”

Practising critical thinking skills will make you a better leader and by developing your team to practice the same skills you will together build a better business with decisions made on a sound platform and new ideas and ways of working encouraged and celebrated.