“Karin, TRUST me. I would LOVE to delegate more of these decisions and loosen up the reigns, but then I go out into the field and find all this crap. I just don’t think we have the critical thinking skills we need for success.”
Have you ever said those words?
Yeah, me too.
Can you imagine the freedom in knowing that your team will use the same (or better) “common sense” as you when the going gets tough?
I love this simple definition of critical thinking.
Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.
So how do you build THAT?
5 Ways to Build Your Team’s Capacity to Think
Critical thinking is not a gene. Yes, it comes more naturally to some, but it is teachable (much of the time). Here are a few ways to get started.
1. STOP being the hero.
It’s hard. Who doesn’t love being superman? Particularly when you know EXACTLY what to do. It’s even harder if your boss is a superman too and you’re their go-to guy.
There’s a certain rush from jumping in and doing what must be done at exactly the right time. And it can’t hurt, right? The worst you’re going to get after your superman intervention is a THANK YOU and a developmental discussion six months from now, saying you need to build a bench.
But here’s what we hear offline. “She’s great. But she’s a do-er. I’d put her in my lifeboat any time. But her team is weak.”
Great leaders don’t have weak teams.
Great leaders take the time to slow down just enough even during times of crises, to bring others along and help them rise to the occasion.
Great leaders aren’t heroes, they’re hero farmers.
2. Connect What to Why (more often than you think is practical or necessary.)
Yes, you can overload your team with TMI (too much information), but the truth is I’ve NEVER heard a manager complain that their boss overexplained “why.” It’s impossible to have great critical thinking if you’re not connected to the big picture (including key challenges). If you want your team to exercise better judgment, give them a fighting chance with a bit more transparency.
3. Expose them to Messy Discussions.
It’s tempting to think we must have it all figured out before wasting our team’s time. But if you’re really working to build leadership capacity, it’s also important to sometimes bring your folks in BEFORE you have a clue. Let them see you wrestle in the muck and talk out loud. “We could do this … but there’s that and that to consider … and also the other thing.”
4. Hold “Bring a Friend” Staff Meetings.
An easy way to do #3 is through “Bring a Friend” staff meetings. Once in a while, invite your direct reports to bring one of their high-potential employees along to your staff meeting. Of course, avoid anything super sensitive, but be as transparent as possible. Every time I’ve done this, we’ve had employees leaving the meeting saying, “I had no idea how complicated this is,” and “Wow, that sure gave me a different perspective.”
5. Ask Strategic Questions (and encourage them to go research the answers.)
- Why have your results improved so substantially?
- What was different in August (or whenever you saw a change in pattern)?
- What evidence do you have that this strategy is working?
- How does this compare to your competition?
- What’s changed since implementing this program?
- How do you know it’s working?
- What are the employees saying about the change, how do you know?
- How do you know this is sustainable?
- What would a pilot teach us?
Your turn. What are your best practices for building critical thinking capacity?
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