The One Skill Every Leader Needs

The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.

Christopher Hitchens
[4-min read]

When I started my first job as a manager, I thought I had all the answers. I’d aced my business classes and felt confident in my abilities.

But then I faced my first real leadership challenge.

One of my team members, Nate, was struggling. His work was sloppy, and he often missed deadlines.

I assumed he was just unmotivated, so I made it clear he’d better shape up. I demanded improvement without really listening to his perspective.

Morale on the team plummeted. Nate’s performance got worse, not better. I was at a loss. I didn’t have all the answers after all.

That’s when my mentor stepped in and taught me a crucial lesson about critical thinking. “You’re making assumptions,” he said. “You’re not looking at the full picture. Have you asked Nate what’s really going on?”

So I did. I sat down with Nate and listened. Turns out, he was dealing with some tough personal issues that were impacting his work. He felt unsupported and unheard.

Together, we came up with a plan. I adjusted some of his responsibilities while he sorted things out. I checked in with him regularly. Slowly but surely, his performance improved.

That experience taught me the danger of assumptions.

As leaders, we can’t afford to take things at face value. We need to dig deeper, ask questions, and think critically. Only then can we find true solutions and bring out the best in our teams.

Why Think Critically?

Research shows people who practice critical thinking make better decisions. They can understand different viewpoints and see the big picture.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that critical thinking helps leaders:

  • Explore new ideas

  • Challenge assumptions

  • Uncover the real facts and issues

This leads to better-informed decisions that benefit your team and organization. It supports a culture of trust and innovation.

Critical thinking isn’t just about solving problems. It’s about understanding them deeply and finding the best solutions. And best of all, it’s a skill you can develop with practice.

Here’s an infographic I created with 48 questions to master critical thinking. Click the image below for a high-res PDF version. (And here’s my entire vault of 50+ cheat sheets for you).

Why Should Leaders Develop This Skill?

  • Better Decisions: Critical thinkers look at all the details before deciding. This helps you make good choices, both at home and work.

  • Problem Solving: They break problems into smaller parts. This makes finding solutions easier, especially for tough issues.

  • Innovation: By questioning the usual ways of doing things, critical thinkers come up with new ideas. This can lead to better and more creative solutions.

  • Avoiding Mistakes: They check information carefully. This helps you avoid scams and bad decisions.

  • Effective Communication: Critical thinkers explain their ideas clearly. This helps you be more persuasive and work well in teams.

  • Personal Growth: They think about their own beliefs and choices. This helps you learn and get better in life and work.

Making It Work for You

Practice critical thinking every day with these tips:

  1. Ask Questions: Don’t accept things at face value. Ask who, what, where, when, why, and how. Curiosity leads to deeper understanding.

  2. Reflect: Think about your decisions and their outcomes. What went well? What didn’t? Reflection helps you learn and improve.

  3. Seek Different Views: Talk to people with different perspectives. It broadens your understanding and challenges your assumptions.

  4. Challenge Assumptions: Don’t accept things as they are. Ask if there’s another way to see the situation. This leads to innovative solutions.

  5. Read Widely: Explore different fields and topics. The more you know, the better you can connect the dots and think critically.

  6. Start small. With practice, critical thinking becomes second nature. Add these habits to your daily routine and see your decision-making skills improve.

Diving Deeper

Want to learn more about critical thinking? Check out these resources:

Connecting the Dots

Critical thinking is an essential skill, especially for leaders. It helps you make better decisions, solve problems, and understand different viewpoints.

Remember, it’s not just about thinking hard. It’s about thinking smart.

Until next week, stay brilliant, my friend.


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