In my leadership class this week we will be looking at the importance of critical thinking. We hear about it all the time, but fail to realize it truly is one of the most important elements to consider at this time. I began digging by looking at Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking,and it has certainly created a deeper desire to more analytically consider my own ability to think critically. A word I learned during my Post Grad studies was metacognition. It’s a great word that is packed with so much substance.
“…thinking about one’s thinking. It refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning; and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.” Nancy Chick
When we put these two things together, critical thinking and metacognition, something really important begins to emerge. Consider these questions as you continue reading:
- Do I engage critical thinking during these times?
- What assumptions influence my decisions?
- Am I clear on my values?
- Who am I focusing on?
So let’s put this in context of what leaders are facing in our current leadership ethos. Not only do they face the challenge of guiding their teams through uncharted waters, but in the process they are expected to learn new tools, new terminology, new ways to motivate and measure performance…I could go on! However; perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leadership today looks at preserving culture within an organization. Or possibly the question is more about whether there is a culture worth preserving? Or maybe the realization hits that it’s time to consider the health of the culture, or to examine if what was believed (stated) as being the organizational culture is in fact what teams and customers are experiencing?
My intent is certainly not to address organizational culture in this blog (perhaps at another time), but to look at what critical thinking skills a leader needs to employ when examining such matters.
In his writings, Brookfield suggests the purpose of thinking critically is “…so we can take informed actions…not just to survive, but also to live and love well”. Beautiful. In order to do this he states that individuals need to discover what assumptions influence the way they think and act. He then encourages the checking of those assumptions as to whether or not they are valid and reliable. Finally, Brookfield urges that time is taken to envision our assumptions from others perspectives and points of view. All this before any informed action is taken.
But (and there so often is a ‘but’), the ribbon that must run through all of this is: values. What values actually inform our critical thinking As leaders, do our values encourage critical thinking that leads to decisions and actions that truly are in the best interest of those we are entrusted to serve?
Back to leadership ethos. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethos as “The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.
Moving that into the realm of leadership ethos, we learn that:
Leadership ethos is associated with actions which add value, honour commitments to stakeholders and society…leaders…choose service over self-interest.” Dr. Ken Kalala Ndalamba
Getting back to those guiding questions, let me once again ask, as leaders do we:
- Take time to think about how we are thinking critically when navigating and guiding our teams through uncharted waters?
- Do we stop to consider what assumptions are influencing our decisions?
- Are we clear about, and committed to, the values that guide our actions?
- Does the leadership ethos we create result in putting those we serve over self-interest?
Chick, Nancy. (nd). Metacognition: thinking about one’s thinking. Center for Teaching, Vanderbult University. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/
Brookfield, Stephen D. (2012). Teaching for Critical Thinking : Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions: Vol. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass.
Ndalamba, Ken. (2017). Leadership Ethos and Culturally Oriented Strategic Management: A Conceptual Framework and Research Propositions. Journal of Values-Based Leadership. 11. 10.22543/0733.62.1216.