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How Leaders Should Think Critically

If you want to succeed in 21st Century business you need to become a critical thinker. Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management figured this out a decade ago and as dean, has been working to transform his school’s business curriculum with greater emphasis on critical thinking skills. As Lane Wallace explained in the […]

If you want to succeed in 21st Century business you need to become a critical thinker. Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management figured this out a decade ago and as dean, has been working to transform his school’s business curriculum with greater emphasis on critical thinking skills. As Lane Wallace explained in the New York Times , what Martin and many others are seeking to do is approach learning and problem solving from a multicultural platform that borrows from academia, business, the arts and even history.

Critical thinking has always been a prized attribute of leadership, but over the years, especially as business schools have emphasized quantitative skills over qualitative ones, critical thinking dropped by the wayside. Now as the rate of complexity rises, the need for critical thinking resurfaces. David A. Garvin of the Harvard Business School told the New York Times , “I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills, whether it’s questioning assumptions, or looking at problems from multiple points of view.” With this, Garvin, who is a co-author of Re-Thinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads , neatly summarizes a foundation for how to begin to instill a critical thinking mindset.

Let me expand further what you need to do to think critically:

Question assumptions . Critical thinkers are inquisitive and look to find the what and the why behind every proposition. We saw the need for this when our financial markets melted in 2008. Crisis can bring out the best critical thinking because it forces you to question how and why you ended up in trouble.

Adopt different perspectives . Take advantage of the genders and cultures represented in today’s diverse management landscape. An Indian-trained engineer may not view a problem the way one raised in Iowa will. Both may have the same problem-solving tool kit, but their different experiences can provide valuable insights.

See potential . Assumption-busting and harnessing multiple perspectives are deductive skills. Critical thinkers should also have a creative bent that allows them to see opportunities where others see obstacles. For example, one executive may see a production snag as a problem whereas a savvy thinker must view it as an opportunity to revamp the process to produce something new.

There is one additional aspect of critical thinking that is vital to today’s leader: managing ambiguity . The speed of business, intertwined as it is with global factors and complex supply chains, dictates that you will never know all the variables. Therefore, you need to get comfortable with operating in an environment where change is constant and rapid decisions are required.

In a world of growing uncertainty one thing is certain; we will need sharp critical thinkers who can size up the situation, realize the potential where others may not, and seize opportunities through prompt decision-making.

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Critical Thinking in leadership: Is it necessary?

October 23, 2020 by Lauren Dunleavy

Critical thinking in leadership;Is it Necessary?

Is critical thinking an important component of leadership? One would think it is a useful tool to have in your thinking toolbox. So, what exactly is critical thinking? It was easy to find many similar definitions but; Critical thinking is defined as “ the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” (Merriam-Webster, 2020). Critical thinking has been around for at least 2500 years. Mr. Socrates himself supposedly established a method of questioning that was able to shut down claims of knowledge back in the BC era that was very similar to critical thinking as we know it today(Paul et al., 1997). So what is critical thinking used for? It should be used for many things, but mainly we use critical thinking when we want to analyze options in making decisions(Paul et al., 1997). 

How and why is critical thinking applied in the workplace? Critical thinking in the workplace comes in many forms. We see critical thinking being used in teams to help effectively resolve problems. We even see critical thinking being used in the workplace to help teams figure out what issues exist, and then we see teams come up with possible answers for those issues. Why is critical thinking applied to research theories? Lets evaluate this question! 

One place where critical thinking has become a necessity is in leadership. Leadership is defined as a process where a person influences a group of people to achieve a set of common goals (Northouse, 2016). Leadership in theory has dated back to over 5000 years ago, where it was found to have been written in ancient Hieroglyphics (Paul et al. 1997). In ancient times, leadership was suggested that those who appeared powerful were to be followed. The need for critical thinking in leadership has always been around. A model was developed in 1925, called the watson-glaser critical thinking model which helps organizations identify factors in people that are important for critical thinking and judgement making, which explains why critical thinking needs to be a part of leadership approaches (Cox, 2011). 

Critical thinking is applied to leadership approaches because it’s important for leaders to have critical thinking skills, be able to understand logical relationships between ideas, recognize the importance and the relationship of an argument, as well as recognize mistakes in reasoning and then be able to make the right decisions (Sanscartier, 2013). 

There are many different leadership approaches to look at in applying critical thinking. Let’s evaluate critical thinking within the transformational approach of leadership. Transformational leadership theory suggests that it is a process that changes people(PSU WC L10 P2).  It is a leadership approach that is able to get leaders to motivate followers to do more than what is expected (PSU WC L10 P2). A leadership approach that enables a leader to generate and build an empire. It is part of the “new leadership paradigm” which focuses more attention on charisma and affect in leadership (Northouse, 2016). There is a lot of evidence that Transformational leadership focus is highly successful (Northouse, 2016). One factor affects another, in that a leader must appeal to the followers by appealing to their principals and higher cause (PSU WC L10 P4). Critical thinking is a larger component of the transformational theory because, in order to go through a process and be able to transform a person would need to make real, sometimes hard decisions. 

What if a person is not a good critical thinker? Can they still be a good leader? Having poor critical thinking skills can lead a person to make bad decisions, errors, repeated mistakes and even make bad assumptions. Weak critical thinking skills can cause a person to be unable to evaluate and prepare for situations (Sanscartier, 2013). So it looks like being a leader may require some critical thinking skills. So, are leaders that lack critical thinking skills doomed forever? WIll they be able to lead in a productive way? Apparently, there are still ways to develop and master critical thinking skills. 

So what does this all mean? Catherine Rezak from the International Institute of Directors and Managers suggests that leaders should take control of their critical thinking processes, evaluate them and then take action on them (Rezak,2020). So critical thinking skills could be learned, it just depends on a person’s discipline and drive to follow through with the learning process as well as adaptations to understanding it. Whether or not a person has critical thinking skills, the implications of the research suggest that critical thinking skills can be learned, or they can be innate and either way, they are useful in leadership. This is significant because although not everyone may have these skills, they still have an opportunity to learn them. 

       So what’s next? Being able to attain critical thinking skills means that possibly anyone could be a leader because the skills are transferable as long as the person is able to take control and use discipline to learn.  All of this information suggests that a less than good leader, who lacks critical thinking skills may make bad decisions, misjudge an issue, and ultimately fail the leader systems in place. One example of this is when I first started working in wraparound as a family support worker. WHen i first started I had no idea what I was doing. The job was really a fly by the seat of your pants kind of job, until you can learn the skill sets. There was a lot of critical thinking involved, when I was untrained. I had to be able to understand a full situation that I had never experienced before and know when and what skillset to use with the family member. When I used the wrong skill set, the team was unable to plan with a family, in turn creating turmoil. Being able to understand, evaluate and come to the correct decision is such an important part of leading a team. The good thing is that if we don’t know what we are doing, there is always an opportunity to learn! 

In conclusion, the evidence presented today suggests that leaders who have, or attain good critical thinking skills will be able to evaluate, judge, better understand and resolve issues more efficiently. We need more critical thinkers in this world! Using critical thinking within leadership approaches is an important component and probably should not be overlooked. A leader should have good critical thinking skills. 

Paul, R., Elder,L., Bartell, T. (March 1997). Critical Thinking: Research, findings and policy recommendations. Retrieved from: 

Cox, K. (November 25, 2011). The evolution of leadership. A look at where leadership is heading. Retrieved from:

Rezak, C. (April, 2020). Developing your Critical thinking skills. Retrieved from:,reasoning%2C%20and%20make%20proper%20decisions .,Inference

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 7th Edition. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Pennsylvania State University (2020). Leadership in work. Module 7: Power and influence Retrieved from

Ideas and insights from Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning

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Strategic Thinking: Because Good Ideas Can Come From Anywhere

critical thinking leadership

As part of our update to the Harvard ManageMentor Strategic Thinking topic, we asked Mason Weintraub, Director of Digital Engagement at Oxfam America, about the importance of strategic thinking. Here’s what Mason had to say:

I often think I’m expected to have all the answers about what to do with digital strategy. But the reality is that I lead a very talented team, and one of the ideas that we have tried to engender on the team is that good ideas can come from anywhere.

“Good ideas can come from anywhere.” Most of us recognize the wisdom embedded in that statement, yet we still see strategy as the realm of our organization’s senior leaders. That may be because of our tendency to equate strategic thinking with strategic planning. Although these practices are related and equally necessary for organizational success, they are actually quite distinct.

Strategic planning vs. strategic thinking

In strategic planning, leaders gather data and decide on the path the organization will take to achieve its goals. With strategic thinking, employees at all levels and in all functions continually scan for new ways to contribute to the organization’s success. They apply those insights as they carry out organizational priorities and provide input to the overall strategy. In this way, strategic thinking is part of everyone’s job – whatever their role or level of responsibility.

Why is this ability to think strategically especially important now? Today’s organizations are more dispersed and less hierarchical than ever before. With the pace of change continuing to rise, it’s no longer feasible for people to wait for “orders from above.” All employees must keep an eye on the future, not just react to what’s happening in the present. They need to look beyond their functional areas to become aware of the bigger context in which they operate. And they have to be agile learners who identify opportunities by challenging their own and their team’s assumptions about how things work in their organization and industry.

Becoming a strategic thinker

With strategic thinking taking on even greater importance in organizations, we’ve made key updates to the Harvard ManageMentor Strategic Thinking topic. The content we’ve added is geared to helping people boost their productivity and effectiveness by making strategic thinking a habit, and includes practical ways that enable them to do so.

One practice is simply making the time to think strategically – something that’s not always easy in today’s fast-paced business settings. Another involves inviting dissent on your team. To make strategic decisions, you need people on all sides of an issue to speak their minds. By letting team members know that speaking up is an important part of their jobs, you free them to provide important input.

Other strategic thinking practices are useful for training yourself to see opportunities and threats well before they happen. For example, most of us are comfortable using convergent thinking – analysis, logic, and reasoning – to come up with the “best” option from a set of choices. We tend to be less adept at divergent thinking, which involves generating lots of ideas with the goal of finding innovative solutions. This isn’t an either-or process: When you first diverge as a team to generate ideas and then converge on a path forward, you improve your ability to design and implement strategic actions.

Don’t let the future surprise you

The future will undoubtedly look a lot different from today. No one can predict tomorrow, but by identifying different scenarios, you and members of your team stretch your thinking about what opportunities and threats might emerge, how they might impact your organization, and what you can do about them. You learn to enact truly meaningful change rather than make incremental improvements. And it all begins with strategic thinking.

How do you foster strategic thinking throughout your organization?

Janice Molloy is a content researcher with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning. Email her at  [email protected] . 

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What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on November 25, 2022.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

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There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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Developing Your Critical Thinking Leadership Skills

Critical thinking enables leaders at every level to understand the impact of their decisions on the business as a whole and ensures both alignment with organisational goals and accountability for results.  

The "new normal" is a different kind of competitive landscape, buffeted by geopolitics and global instability, rapid technological change, unique financial pressures, a rising tide of data and information to filter through, and the proliferation of new corporate business models.

The mind-set that made leaders successful in the past probably won't ensure success in the future. In fact, several recent studies and surveys have identified critical thinking as the number one requirement for successful leadership in the 21st century. Yet there is mounting evidence that many current and emerging leaders lack this quality. And it is this competency gap that is shaking up and reshaping leadership as we have come to know it.

Leadership in the "new normal"

In the wake of the economic crisis, we all know what a failure of leadership looks like. The companies that folded in the GFC serve as stark examples of what happens when decisions are based upon erroneous, partially false or incomplete information and when management fails to think clearly and strategically about the full implications of its actions. The resulting fall-out put an end to business as usual and created a "new normal" that looks markedly different from anything anyone has seen before.

Business organisations must be prepared to do things differently if they expect different results. In this demanding, dynamic landscape, it is only natural that they also require a different mind-set from those in charge.

The equation works like this: Thinking drives behaviour; behaviour drives results. So enterprises that want to change the results - and, indeed, change the organisation itself - can achieve the highest leverage by changing the thinking of leaders and managers throughout the organisation.

But what kind of thinking - or rather rethinking - will be required of leaders if they want to succeed in the "new normal"?

Why critical thinking is critical

Critical thinking appears to be exactly what is needed from leaders who are navigating the volatility of the "new normal". Diane Halpern, an award-winning professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College and a widely read author on the subject, offers this definition in her seminal book, Thought and Knowledge :

"Critical thinking is the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desirable outcome. It is used to describe thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed - the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions ... it's the kind of thinking that makes desirable outcomes more likely."

If ever there was a time for clear, discerning, solution-centric thinking, this is it.

Every two years since 1983, Executive Development Associates (EDA) has conducted an extensive survey on trends, growth and the evolution of executive development. The 2009/2010 EDA Trends in Executive Development: A Benchmark Report revealed trouble on the horizon for corporations seeking future business leaders.

To gauge the readiness of the next generation of leadership talent, EDA asked senior executive development professionals to share their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the incoming leadership group - the people who are most likely to fill executive-level positions in the next three to five years - and the subsequent impact on executive development.

The survey identified "hot topics" in executive development for the next two to three years. At the top of the list was leadership, followed by "business acumen, honing skills in strategy execution, leading / managing change, and talent management."

But when asked "What competencies are your leaders lacking?" their responses indicated little confidence that leaders had what it takes to execute in these critical areas successfully. Here's what they said was missing:

What critical thinking looks like

Having established the need for a mind-set shift to more critical thinking, we need to be clear on what that means in the workplace.

In general, critical thinking is the ability to deal with the contradictions and problems of a tumultuous environment in a reasoned, purposeful, productive way. Decisions are made using an approach that is fair, objective, accurate and based on information that is relevant to the situation.

Critical thinking is also reflective and focused, constantly evaluating the thinking process itself. It is thinking with a purpose. Critical thinking requires a healthy dose of skepticism and an equal measure of good judgement.

For decades, companies have relied on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal , a widely used assessment tool for evaluating the cognitive ability of current and future leaders. Developed in 1925, the model identifies factors that are key to critical thinking and decision making and predicts judgment, problem solving, creativity, openness to experience and other leadership behaviours.

Five sub-tests measure critical thinking as a composite of attitudes, knowledge and skills:

Professionals with high scores in these sub-tests are able to identify and examine the assumptions, influences and biases that might sway them. They stand back from the fray and strategically assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. They make business decisions that answer the right questions, solve the right problems, mitigate risk and improve productivity. They also lead from a position of strength, being able to motivate and move people both inspirationally and intellectually by providing solid reasons for actions.

Whether they lead teams, departments or entire enterprises, leaders who apply the skills of critical thinking to their roles perform at a higher level and offer their organisations a distinct competitive advantage.

Critical thinkers think differently about their impact on the organisation - understanding how their decisions and actions influence business both inside and outside their narrow functional silos. These leaders are able to balance department or team issues with broader company issues and embrace a larger responsibility for the success of the organisation. This keen sense of accountability is what enables them to execute for results now while fulfilling their obligations to positively impact the future.

Leaders who engage in critical thinking also understand the total organisation and how the individual parts work together. Context is key. Now more than ever, business acumen is foundational to effective leadership. It is impossible to apply critical thinking skills to the business of making money without an understanding of the business drivers that connect day-to-day decisions and actions to key financial and strategic performance goals of the organisation. It is one thing to understand one's role as a leader. It is altogether another thing to understand how to set direction and directly affect the outcomes.

Critical thinking is big-picture thinking too. As Hagemann describes it, "Leaders need to be able to comfortably climb to the 30,000-foot view and analyse a dynamic system, while simultaneously and adeptly analysing information to quickly make decisions across levels." Critical thinkers operate from a broad perspective in order to make sure the correct problems are addressed and they are taking acceptable risk. They recognise the difference between short-term gains and sustainable, long-term results and lead accordingly.

The advantages of this kind of leadership behavior are readily apparent. Critical thinking enables leaders at every level to understand the impact of their decisions on the business as a whole and ensures both alignment with organisational goals and accountability for results. It's exactly the type of leadership behaviour demanded by the "new normal" - and exactly what's missing. And this disconnect is likely to intensify over time.

Given the critical-thinking competency gap exposed by the EDA survey and other research, the obvious assumption is that the traditional development process that businesses have relied upon in the past to prepare leaders simply hasn't kept up. So, what's the solution? To accelerate development and raise leadership accountability to a whole new level of awareness and action, there needs to be a new emphasis on critical thinking in leadership development.

Learning to think like a leader

The good news is critical thinking is a skill that can be taught. According to Halpern, "There is a large body of evidence showing that people can learn to think better. Of course, education makes us all more intelligent, but critical thinking is more focused. Everyone can learn to recognise and use the skills of critical thinking, and we can always get better."

New competencies, however, may require a deeper, more analytical approach. The challenge today is not to discard what has been learned in the past, but to build upon traditional competencies with a whole new and more complex set of skills, tools and sensitivities.

Leaders in the new normal need to learn how to be discerning, how to think clearly and wisely, and how to be accountable for their impact on the business.

Discovery learning in leadership courses

Critical thinking can be impacted by the right leadership courses. However, the process can be more challenging than improving a behavioural skill, because you can't easily measure it. Success is demonstrated in results.

As with any skill, intellectual or otherwise, the key to building critical thinking - and achieving successful results - is practice. Research has demonstrated that people learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process and engaging in the behaviours they want to learn. But what's vital in developing critical thinking skills is framing the concept of practice within a relevant, job-related context.

Acquiring critical thinking skills requires participating in learning experiences that force you to consider new ways of thinking about and acting within complex situations that are directly related to the work you do. You need the opportunity to respond to issues, reflect on and reframe your experiences, develop new thinking, and, in turn, engage in new behaviours and actions that are relevant to your position and objectives.

Developing your critical thinking skills

In addition to participating in these types of leadership courses, leaders can take charge of their own critical thinking development by taking these actions:

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Critical Thinking in Leadership

Critical Thinking in Leadership

What is Critical Thinking?

Instilling change, critical thinking skills necessary in leadership, practical approach to enrich critical thinking skills, here are a few ideas how you can do that:, you may also like, divergent vs convergent thinking – what are they and how are they different, does personality matter when choosing a career, tips on how to use critical thinking in reading and writing, 5 activities that will teach children about critical thinking.

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Critical thinking in nursing clinical practice, education and research: From attitudes to virtue


Critical thinking is a complex, dynamic process formed by attitudes and strategic skills, with the aim of achieving a specific goal or objective. The attitudes, including the critical thinking attitudes, constitute an important part of the idea of good care, of the good professional. It could be said that they become a virtue of the nursing profession. In this context, the ethics of virtue is a theoretical framework that becomes essential for analyse the critical thinking concept in nursing care and nursing science. Because the ethics of virtue consider how cultivating virtues are necessary to understand and justify the decisions and guide the actions. Based on selective analysis of the descriptive and empirical literature that addresses conceptual review of critical thinking, we conducted an analysis of this topic in the settings of clinical practice, training and research from the virtue ethical framework. Following JBI critical appraisal checklist for text and opinion papers, we argue the need for critical thinking as an essential element for true excellence in care and that it should be encouraged among professionals. The importance of developing critical thinking skills in education is well substantiated; however, greater efforts are required to implement educational strategies directed at developing critical thinking in students and professionals undergoing training, along with measures that demonstrate their success. Lastly, we show that critical thinking constitutes a fundamental component in the research process, and can improve research competencies in nursing. We conclude that future research and actions must go further in the search for new evidence and open new horizons, to ensure a positive effect on clinical practice, patient health, student education and the growth of nursing science.

Keywords: critical thinking; critical thinking attitudes; nurse education; nursing care; nursing research.

© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Critical thinking is a skill that must be developed in leaders, particularly for leaders who might be lacking in this area. Critical thinking allows leaders at every level to evaluate their decision-making and how these decisions ultimately impact results.

What made a leader successful in the past is often not what will make them successful in the future. At each level, a leader must think like a leader at the next level above them to better understand the impact on the systems and people involved in their decisions. As leaders grow within the organization, they become more acutely aware of their priorities, available resources, and how they need to be accountable for their decisions. High performing leaders tend to be tactical in their approach.

Be open-minded and stay curious.  

High-performing leaders know they need to critically think through situations and draw on past experiences. However, do not let past experiences be the sole viewpoint from which you make decisions. Seasoned leaders know that the past is the past for a reason. You can pull valuable data and observations from what worked and what did not work in the past. 

Leaders ask questions. They know there has been progress in their company — new employees who bring their own diverse experiences, talent, skills and abilities into the workplace. New technology can also be incorporated to better manage processes and create new solutions. Success leaves clues. What information do you need to gather to be informed? What are you not seeing?

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Be an observer and listen carefully.  

Whenever possible, a leader should walk amongst their people and see them in action. Connect with individual team members regularly as well as together. Observe their interactions and listen to their questions, concerns and challenges. Challenges provide valuable information about what can be improved. A deeper exploration of the situations employees bring to your attention can result in a big win for your company.

Reflect on learning.  

Exceptional leaders reflect on their experiences and interactions with others. With every new experience, take time to reflect and journal out what was successful, what needs to be improved and what was learned. You can accept feedback that serves you and see how best to integrate it into your practice. Do not be afraid to ask your peers, colleagues or clients for feedback.

As an emerging leader, you may feel pressured to keep implementing without reflecting on your results. With every action made, the two questions that should be asked are: Is the step I am taking aligned with getting the results I want? And did the action I took get the results expected? If not, why? The next step is revealed by answering these questions.

Assimilate new knowledge and experiences.  

As you are exposed to new knowledge and experiences, you need to analyze, evaluate and reason with how this new information can be applied and integrated into what you already know. Dig deeper in your research by collecting facts, figures and statistics to inform your decisions and actions. Every advanced level a leader steps into comes with its own challenges. You may find you now need to adapt or flex to a new situation. What got you here does not always get you there!

Start conversations with others to gain a different perspective.  

For a new leader, it can be affirming and validating to have people agree with their ideas and actions. It can also be limiting to their growth as a leader. Although the old adage suggests you surround yourself with like-minded people, you may want to consider surrounding yourself with people who think and act differently than you. 

When you share stories and engage in conversations with others who have different perspectives, you may discover ways to collaborate, create, or innovate. How do you know you are "right?" You can almost always find the rationale to support your viewpoint. However, your viewpoint may not offer the whole picture of a situation.  

Brainstorm solution-focused ideas.  

You may want to interview or ask others for input on their experience with a similar situation. Share a case study or a scenario. Allow others to contribute to breaking down complex concepts into more manageable pieces. Team members can share the approaches and open the discussion to discovering new ideas otherwise not thought of before. 

The question is not, "How can we approach this?” The questions that will ignite discussion are, "What can we do?" and "What is possible?"

Evaluate the opinions, judgments and decisions of others.  

Many people like to offer their opinions and judgments about what your decision should be in any given situation. When you hear them, you will discover people’s beliefs and fears. It is important to discern what is relevant and what is not. 

What is informing or influencing you? Be careful not to be swayed into pleasing others. No matter the decision, you will find people who support it and others who do not. It is valuable to gain insight and other perspectives. At the end of the day, you or your team will have to make an informed decision — one you all feel confident with.

A high-performing leader demonstrates strong critical-thinking skills and is decisive. They know when they need to be tactical in their approach, and do so with informed decision-making and accountability for results. In what ways can you develop your critical thinking and become more tactical to achieve the results you want?

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Debra Kasowski


Leadership Lessons: Critical Thinking Skills

Even though a few classic leadership skills and strategies continue to be effective, today’s volatile environment requires a different leadership skill set. By utilising critical thinking ability at every level, leaders can comprehend the impact of their decisions on the overall business of an organisation. It also helps to stay aligned with the organisational goals and be accountable for the outcome.

The mindset or thinking process that helped leaders to be successful in the past won’t necessarily ensure success in the in the future. Recent surveys have identified critical thinking is one of the primary requirements for a successful leader in the 21st century. There is also considerable evidence around emerging and current leaders lacking the ability to think critically.

Leadership in the times of the “New Normal”

In the times of economic disruption, turmoil and crisis we are aware of what a failed leadership looks like. For instance, organisations that folded in the GFC are classic examples of what’s the outcome when decisions are based on partially false, erroneous, or incomplete information when the prevailing management fails to think strategically and clearly regarding the implications of its actions. As an outcome of the fall-out, it ended the way business was done as usual and led to the creation of what came to be known as the ‘new normal’ which was quite different and people had never seen this kind of strategy before.

If organisations expect a different outcome, then they also need to be prepared to do things differently. Hence, in this dynamic business environment, it is a given that a different mindset is required from the leadership. The equations work something like this: It’s thinking that helps to drive behaviour, and it is behaviour that drives results. Hence, organisations that aspire to change their results and thereby change the organisation in itself, can achieve this feat by changing the way their leaders and managers think across the organisation.

The million dollar question that emerges here is that what kind of thinking or re-thinking is required from the leaders if they wish to be successful in the so-called ‘new normal’? Let’s take a look.

The importance of Critical Thinking in Leadership

According to Diane Halpern, when you utilize your cognitive skills or strategies that are likely to increase the probability of the desired outcome, it is considered as critical thinking. In other words, critical thinking is reasoned, goal-oriented, purposeful, and the kind thinking required during problem-solving, drawing inferences, calculating possibilities, and making decisions.

To gauge how prepared or ready the next generation of leadership talent is, Executive Development Associates (EDA) conducted an extensive survey on the trends, growth, and the evolution of executive development. During the investigation, EDA asked the senior executive development professionals to share their views on the strengths and weaknesses of those individuals in the organisation who are quite likely to fill in the executive level positions in the next three to five years. The survey identified a couple of hot topics in the realm of executive development for the coming two to three years. Amongst these hot topics, leadership topped the list, and it was then followed by strategic execution, talent management, business acumen, and leading or managing change.

When these senior executive development professionals were asked about the competencies that their leaders lacked, they came up with the following pointers:

What does Critical Thinking Entail

Now that it has been established that there is a need for a paradigm shift towards critical thinking, it is important to understand what it means from a workplace perspective. Generally speaking, critical thinking is the ability to deal with problems and contradictions in a chaotic environment in a reasonable, productive, and purposeful manner. Through critical thinking,  decisions are taken by adopting an approach that is objective, fair, accurate and based on facts that are relevant to the situation in hand. Critical thinking is focused, and reflective and it continually evaluates the process of thinking itself. Critical thinking requires you to be sceptical along with good judgmental skills.

Organisations have been relying since decades on a widely used assessment tool that evaluates the cognitive ability of present and future leaders. It is known as Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal. This tool identifies factors that are significant for decision making, critical thinking, problem-solving, predicting judgment and a couple of other leadership behaviours.

The tool comprises of the following five sub-tests that measure critical thinking as an amalgamation of knowledge, skills, and attitudes:

Professionals who score high in these sub-tests can figure out and examine the influences, assumptions, as well as biases that may influence them. They take a step back from the conflict and strategically assess the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions, alternative solutions or approaches to problems. They take decisions that help to answer the apt questions, resolve the right kind of the issues, improve productivity, and mitigate risk. They are also able to motivate and inspire people and intellectually provide solid reasons for their actions. Irrespective of the fact whether these leaders lead departments, teams, or the organisation, they apply their critical thinking skills to their respective roles and thereby offer their organisations a competitive edge.

These leaders can understand how their actions and decisions influence the overall business of the organisation both internally and externally outside the realm of their narrow functional silos. They are also able to strike a balance between department or team issues with larger organisational issues and thereby embrace a larger scale of responsibility for the success of their organisation.

Critically thinking leaders are able to comprehend the overall functioning of the organisation as well as how the individual parts work together contextually. It is entirely different to understand one’s role as a leader and at the same time to be able to understand how to move in a certain direction and directly impact the larger outcome. Critically thinking leaders operate from a broader perspective so that they ensure the right kind of problems are addressed, and they take risks that are acceptable. They are also able to distinguish between short-term gains and sustainable long-term outcome and lead accordingly.

When an organisation has leaders that think critically, it is of great advantage as these leaders understand the impact of their decisions on the overall business. They thus ensure that the decisions they make are aligned with the organisational goals, and they are also accountable for the outcome. This kind of leadership behaviour is what is expected by the ‘new normal’. Hence it is important to emphasise on critical thinking for leadership development.

Critical Thinking Can be Taught and Learnt

The good news is that critical thinking is a skill that can be taught and learnt. Anyone can learn how to recognise and utilise critical thinking skills and how they can always get better than what they are. The challenge, however, lies in not to unlearn or discard what has been learnt in the past, but to build upon the existing traditional competencies with a new and more complex set of skills, sensitivities, and tools. Leaders in this ‘new normal’ need to learn how to think clearly, how to be discerning, how to think wisely, and how they can be accountable for their impact on the business of the organisation.

Discovering the Right Leadership Courses

Taking up the right leadership courses can significantly impact critical thinking. But the process is a tad more challenging than merely improving a behavioural skill, as it is not easy to measure critical thinking skills. Like any other skill sets, the key to build critical thinking is to practice, practice, and practice. The catch here is to frame the concept of practice within a relevant context. To acquire critical thinking skills, you need to actively participate in learning experiences that compel you to consider new ways of thinking and acting in a manner that is directly related to the contextual scenario that you are in.

Developing Your Critical Thinking Skills

Besides enrolling in the right kind of leadership courses, leaders need to be in charge of their critical thinking development by taking the following actions:

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Business Development at EmployeeConnect

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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide


Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

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6. the basis of science & democracy.

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions.

In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

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What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

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Critical Thinking Cornell Certificate Program

Overview and courses.

Have you ever known a very intelligent person who made a very bad decision?

Critical problem solving is both a discipline and a skill; one that even very smart people can benefit from learning. Careful thought around decisions can help your teams and organizations thrive. And in today’s age of automation, it’s never been a more essential mindset to develop at every level of a company.

In this certificate program, you will practice a disciplined, systematic approach to problem solving. You will learn how to deeply analyze a problem, assess possible solutions and associated risks, and hone your strategic decision-making skills by following a methodology based on tested actions and sound approaches. Whether you’re interested in preparing for a management role or already lead an execution function, you’ll come away better equipped to confidently tackle any decision large or small, make a compelling business case, and apply influence in your organization in a way that creates the optimal conditions for success.

The courses in this certificate program are required to be completed in the order that they appear.

This program includes a year of free access to Symposium! These events feature several days of live, highly participatory virtual Zoom sessions with Cornell faculty and experts to explore the most pressing leadership topics. Symposium events are held several times throughout the year. Once enrolled in your program, you will receive information about upcoming events.

Throughout the year, you may participate in as many sessions as you wish. Attending Symposium sessions is not required to successfully complete the certificate program.

Problem-Solving Using Evidence and Critical Thinking

Have you ever known a very intelligent person who made a very bad decision? If so, you know that having a high IQ does not guarantee that you automatically make critically thoughtful decisions. Critically thoughtful problem-solving is a discipline and a skill—one that allows you to make decisions that are the product of careful thought, and the results of those decisions help your team and organization thrive.

In this course you will practice a disciplined, systematic approach to problem solving that helps ensure that your analysis of a problem is comprehensive, is based on quality, credible evidence, and takes full and fair account of the most probable counterarguments and risks. The result of this technique is a thoroughly defensible assessment of what the problem is, what is causing it, and the most effective plan of action to address it. Finally, you will identify and frame a problem by assessing its context and develop a well-reasoned and implementable solution that addresses the underlying causes.

Making a Convincing Case for Your Solution

When trying to persuade someone, the tendency is to begin in advocacy mode—for example: “Here's something I want you to agree to.” Most people do not react positively to the feeling of being sold something. The usual reaction is to literally or figuratively start backing up. To make a convincing case, it is more effective to engage with the decision maker as a partner in problem-solving. This makes your counterpart feel less like someone is trying to get them to buy something and more like you are working together to bring about an outcome that is desirable to both parties. Begin by asking yourself: “What is the problem you and the decision maker are solving together?”

By the end of this course, you will have learned how to deeply analyze a problem, possible solutions, and the associated risks as well as the most persuasive and efficient ways of presenting your proposal.

You are required to have completed the following course or have equivalent experience before taking this course:

Strategic Decision Making

The ability to make effective and timely decisions is an essential skill for successful executives. Mastery of this skill influences all aspects of day-to-day operations as well as strategic planning. In this course, developed by Professor Robert Bloomfield, Ph.D. of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, you will hone your decision-making skills by following a methodology based on tested actions and sound organizational approaches. You will leave this course better equipped to confidently tackle any decision large or small, and you'll do so in a way that creates the optimal conditions for success.

Navigating Power Relationships

Leaders at every level need to be able to execute on their ideas. In virtually every case, this means that leaders need to be able to persuade others to join in this execution. In order to do so, understanding how to create and utilize power in an organization is critical.

In this course, developed by Professor Glen Dowell, Ph.D., of Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, students will focus on their personal relationship with power as well as how power works in their organization and social network.

Project Management Institute (PMI ® ) Continuing Certification : Participants who successfully complete this course will receive 6 Professional Development Units (PDUs) from PMI ® . Please contact PMI ® for details about professional project management certification or recertification.

Interpreting the Behavior of Others

Applying strategic influence.

Being able to influence others is the most fundamental characteristic of an effective leader, but many people in positions of power don't know specifically how they are influencing others' behavior in positive directions. They let it happen by chance or use their formal authority—getting people to do things because “the boss said so.” But as leaders gets promoted within their organization, using formal authority becomes less effective as they not only need to influence subordinates, but also peers, external stakeholders, and superiors.  In this course, Professor Filipowicz explores the three complementary levels of influence. First, you will explore heuristics, or rules of thumb, that people use in order to make decisions. Next, you will learn how to influence through reciprocity by uncovering what the person you want to influence wants and needs. Lastly, you will learn how to alter the social and physical environment in order to get the change in behavior you want. By the end of this course, you'll have the skills to consistently draw out the desired behaviors from your team and from those around you. 

Leadership Symposium   LIVE

Symposium sessions feature three days of live, highly interactive virtual Zoom sessions that will explore today’s most pressing topics. The Leadership Symposium offers you a unique opportunity to engage in real-time conversations with peers and experts from the Cornell community and beyond. Using the context of your own experiences, you will take part in reflections and small-group discussions to build on the skills and knowledge you have gained from your courses.

Join us for the next Symposium in which we’ll discuss the ways that leaders across industries have continued engaging their teams over the past two years while pivoting in strategic ways. You will support your coursework by applying your knowledge and experiences to relevant topics for leaders. Throughout this Symposium, you will examine different areas of leadership, including innovation, strategy, and engagement. By participating in relevant and engaging discussions, you will discover a variety of perspectives and build connections with your fellow participants from various industries.

Upcoming Symposium: June 27-29, 2023 from 11AM – 1PM ET

All sessions are held on Zoom.

Future dates are subject to change. You may participate in as many sessions as you wish. Attending Symposium sessions is not required to successfully complete any certificate program. Once enrolled in your courses, you will receive information about upcoming events. Accessibility accommodations will be available upon request.

How It Works

Course length, program duration, faculty authors.

Risa Mish

Risa Mish is professor of practice of management at the Johnson Graduate School of Management. She designed and teaches the MBA Core course in Critical and Strategic Thinking, in addition to teaching courses in leadership and serving as faculty co-director of the Johnson Leadership Fellows program.

She has been the recipient of the MBA Core Faculty Teaching Award, selected by the residential program MBA class to honor the teacher who “best fosters learning through lecture, discussion and course work in the required core curriculum”; the Apple Award for Teaching Excellence, selected by the MBA graduating classes to honor a faculty member who “exemplifies outstanding leadership and enduring educational influence”; the “Best Teacher Award”, selected by the graduating class of the Cornell-Tsinghua dual degree MBA/FMBA program offered by Johnson at Cornell and the PBC School of Finance at Tsinghua University; the Stephen Russell Distinguished Teaching Award, selected by the five-year MBA reunion class to honor a faculty member whose “teaching and example have continued to influence graduates five years into their post-MBA careers”; and the Globe Award for Teaching Excellence, selected by the Executive MBA graduating class to honor a faculty member who “demonstrates a command of subject matter and also possesses the creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm essential to meet the unique challenges of an EMBA education.”

Mish serves as a keynote speaker and workshop leader at global, national, and regional conferences for corporations and trade associations in the consumer products, financial services, health care, high tech, media, and manufacturing industries, on a variety of topics, including critical thinking and problem solving, persuasion and influence, and motivating optimal employee performance. Before returning to Cornell, Mish was a partner in the New York City law firm of Collazo Carling & Mish LLP (now Collazo Florentino & Keil LLP), where she represented management clients on a wide range of labor and employment law matters, including defense of employment discrimination claims in federal and state courts and administrative agencies, and in labor arbitrations and negotiations under collective bargaining agreements. Prior to CC&M, Mish was a labor and employment law associate with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City, where she represented Fortune 500 clients in the financial services, consumer products, and manufacturing industries. She is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and state and federal courts in New York and Massachusetts.

Mish is a member of the board of directors of SmithBucklin Corporation, the world’s largest trade association management company, headquartered in Chicago and TheraCare Corporation, headquartered in New York City. She formerly served as a Trustee of the Tompkins County Public Library, Vice Chair of the board of directors of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, and member of the board of directors of the United Way of Tompkins County.

Critical Thinking

Glen W.S. Dowell

Glen Dowell is an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University. He researches in the area of corporate sustainability, with a focus on firm environmental performance. Recent projects have investigated the effect of local demographic factors on changes in pollution levels, the role of corporate merger and acquisition in facilitating changes in facility environmental performance, and the relative influence of financial return and disruption on the commercial adoption of energy savings initiatives.

Professor Dowell’s research has been published in Management Science, Organization Studies, Advances in Strategic Management, Strategic Management Journal, Organization Science, Journal of Management, Industrial and Corporate Change, Journal of Business Ethics, and Administrative Science Quarterly. He is senior editor at Organization Science and co-editor of Strategic Organization, is on the editorial boards of Strategic Management Journal and Administrative Science Quarterly, and represents Cornell on the board of the Alliance for Research in Corporate Sustainability (ARCS). He is also the Division Chair for the Organizations and Natural Environment Division of the Academy of Management.

Professor Dowell teaches Sustainable Global Enterprise and Critical and Strategic Thinking. He is a faculty affiliate for the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and a faculty fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Robert Bloomfield

Since coming to the Johnson Graduate School of Management in 1991, Prof. Robert Bloomfield has used laboratory experiments to study financial markets and investor behavior, and has also published in all major business disciplines, including finance, accounting, marketing, organization behavior, and operations research. Prof. Bloomfield served as director of the Financial Accounting Standards Research Initiative (FASRI), an activity of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, and is currently an editor of an a special issue of Journal of Accounting Research dedicated to Registered Reports of Empirical Research. Prof. Bloomfield has recently taken on editorship of Journal of Financial Reporting, which is pioneering an innovative editorial processes intended to broaden the range of research methods used in Accounting, improving the quality of research execution, and encouraging honest reporting of findings.

As the Johnson School’s Faculty Director of eLearning, Prof. Bloomfield oversees the development of online courses and helps faculty make best use of technology in traditional courses. He is the author of the award-winning eBook, What Counts and What Gets Counted, which can be downloaded for free online, and has used the book as the basis for online courses offered through eCornell, as well as award-winning teaching in Johnson’s Executive MBA programs.

Allan Filipowicz

Allan Filipowicz is clinical professor of management and organizations at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Professor Filipowicz’s research focuses on how emotions drive or impede leadership effectiveness, at both the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels. Within this domain, he studies the relationship between emotions and risky decision making; the influence of humor on both leadership and negotiation effectiveness; the impact of emotional transitions in negotiations; and the relationship between genes, chronotype (morningness–eveningness) and performance. His work has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Journal of Operations Management, International Journal of Forecasting, Creativity Research Journal, Journal of Circadian Rhythms, and Scientific Reports.

Professor Filipowicz teaches Managing and Leading Organizations (recently winning a Best Core Faculty Award), Negotiations, Executive Leadership and Development, Leading Teams, and Critical and Strategic Thinking. He has taught executives across the globe, from Singapore to Europe to the US, with recent clients including Medtronic, Bayer, Google, Pernod Ricard, and Harley-Davidson. Professor Filipowicz received his PhD from Harvard University. He holds an MBA from The Wharton School, an MA in International Affairs from the University of Pennsylvania, and degrees in electrical engineering (MEng, BS) and economics (BA) from Cornell University. His professional experience includes banking (Bankers Trust, New York) and consulting, including running his own boutique consulting firm and four years with The Boston Consulting Group in Paris.

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Critical Thinking Is the Skill Many Leaders Lack

And it might be your most overlooked competitive advantage.

By Shawn Doyle • Aug 7, 2019

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There is an essential skill all successful entrepreneurs need, and should look for in new employees, yet is often missing in organizations. And that skill is critical thinking . I teach leadership programs all over the world, and in my experience, it's a topic most leaders haven't heard of, studied or received any training in, despite the fact that can provide a significant competitive advantage. But why?

First let's look at how critical thinking is defined. According to the Cambridge Dictionary , it's characterized as "the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you." I have a simpler definition: thinking about how you think. A few years ago, one of my clients said their goal was to be an Executive Vice President. When I asked why, their answer was, "It's the next block on the org chart." I followed up with a dozen more questions investigating why it was their goal, not to be overbearing but to get them to think about it on a different level.

Related: How to Broaden Your Critical Thinking Skills

So how can you improve and develop your critical-thinking skills? Here are four simple tips.

1. Learn the basics.

The great advantage of our world is there are so many great resources online and elsewhere.You can visit any business website (like this one) and search for articles on critical thinking; attend TED Talks related to critical thinking or simply stream short video presentations by world-class experts on its website ; find out if any live classes or online programs are available through your company; or check out books like Thinking Fast and Slow by Danial Kahneman or Critical Thinking by Jocko Babib and Ray Manson.

2. Help your team members learn to be critical thinkers.

If you're in a leadership role, teach your team members how to think more critically and objectively. Having a team of critical thinkers will make them more effective and efficient. Teaching others a skill will also make you stronger at that skill yourself. As John Quincy Adams once said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

3. Journal every day.

Albert Einstein, Steve Job, John Adams, Lady Gaga, Ben Franklin and Arianna Huffington have all discussed their habit of journal-keeping and how it was one of the reasons for their success. It allows you write down what you're thinking and then review it with a critical eye, modifying it to adjust your perspective. This technique, coined by a former Disney exeuctive, is called displayed thinking . If ideas are rumbling around in your head, they aren't as clear. When you see them in writing, their clarity is enhanced.

Related: 16 Characteristics of Critical Thinkers

4. Question assumptions.

Part of being a critical thinker is to question assumptions. After all, sometimes, conventional wisdom can be wrong. When Uber first launched, everyone said the government would never allow it to remain in business because ther fleet were effectively unlicensed taxis. Yet now they're a fixture in cities across the world. Always ask critical questions like: What assumptions are we making? Are these assumptions still valid? Have the rules changed? In short, increase your success by thinking about how you think.

President, New Light Learning and Development Inc.

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Leadership and Critical Thinking Specialization

Develops leadership and critical thinking skills. Acquire skills to lead business transformation

Image of instructor, Elliott Kruse

What you will learn

Develop a style of leadership that is suited to your strengths and the needs of the situation.

Design tasks for yourself and others that are motivating and effective.

Communicate your perspective to others in a credible and persuasive way.

Employ a methodology for the application of critical thinking

About this Specialization

Applied learning project.

Thanks to the review of cases, students will achieve:

A sense of critical self-awareness to continue to grow as a leader, communicate your perspective to others in a credible and persuasive way.

Identify emotions and manage an action plan.

Analyze the assumptions and inferences from real situations.

Designed for those already in the industry.

Could your company benefit from training employees on in-demand skills?

See how employees at top companies are mastering in-demand skills

How the Specialization Works

Take courses.

A Coursera Specialization is a series of courses that helps you master a skill. To begin, enroll in the Specialization directly, or review its courses and choose the one you'd like to start with. When you subscribe to a course that is part of a Specialization, you’re automatically subscribed to the full Specialization. It’s okay to complete just one course — you can pause your learning or end your subscription at any time. Visit your learner dashboard to track your course enrollments and your progress.

Hands-on Project

Every Specialization includes a hands-on project. You'll need to successfully finish the project(s) to complete the Specialization and earn your certificate. If the Specialization includes a separate course for the hands-on project, you'll need to finish each of the other courses before you can start it.

Earn a Certificate

When you finish every course and complete the hands-on project, you'll earn a Certificate that you can share with prospective employers and your professional network.

critical thinking leadership

There are 3 Courses in this Specialization

Leadership and organizational behavior.

Leadership is everywhere. It is involved in nearly every social action, in some form. Many people who have the potential to be leaders do not realize it. Many who become leaders do not know how to manage those responsibilities.

Great leaders can inspire change; bad leaders can cripple their followers with stress and frustration. What differentiates these two is a clear vision, an effective plan, and knowledge of how people work. In this class, you will learn the foundations of psychology at work, so that you can better understand others and guide them to shared goals. Along the way, you will answer these questions: Why do you want to be a leader? What kind of leader can you be? How can you persuade and influence people? How can you motivate and inspire people? Whether you are a formal or informal leader.

Critical thinking: reasoned decision making

Making decisions in today's world, a world increasing in complexity, with broad changes and uncertainty, creates the need of approaches that allow us to discern the real problems and the causes that create them. Identifying these problems, in most cases, requires challenging the assumptions on which we base our judgments, regarding the world and its realities.

Critical thinking could be defined, as "that way of thinking - on any subject, content or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his thinking by seizing the inherent structures of the act of thinking and by subjecting them to intellectual standards". Critical thinking helps making decisions within a company, selecting the best action for the organization. In this course of critical thinking the students will learn the tendencies, approximations and assumptions on which their reflections are based, and the conditions and the outcomes derived from their ways of thinking. This reflective thought is the active, careful and persistent examination of all beliefs in the light of the fundamentals that support them and their conclusions. The reasoned decisions that the world requires, occur in many different areas, especially in business decisions, related to strategies, in the solution of problems in organizations, in the solution of social problems and in corporations’ social and ethical responsibility. In this online course the approaches will be oriented to analyze the critical thinking required in these areas.

Leadership focused on Human Flourishing

It describes the elements of the Leadership model oriented towards human flourishing, in order to develop leaders who achieve better results.

We are facing a world leadership crisis, due to (among other factors) the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous context we are living in. The world needs self-aware leaders who are also aware of their environment, immersed in a permanent learning process, who are committed, resilient, with a positive vision of the present and the future, who find meaning in their life mission, and who flourish by contributing to the flourishing of others. This course will bring the necessary tools to develop a human-flourishing-oriented-leadership.



Elliott Kruse


Eduardo Pérez Gorostieta


Santiago José Vázquez Blanco


Tecnológico de Monterrey

Tecnológico de Monterrey es una de las instituciones educativas privadas sin fines de lucro más grande en Latinoamérica, con más de 98,000 estudiantes en preparatoria, licenciatura, y posgrado.

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What is the refund policy?

If you subscribed, you get a 7-day free trial during which you can cancel at no penalty. After that, we don’t give refunds, but you can cancel your subscription at any time. See our full refund policy .

Can I just enroll in a single course?

Yes! To get started, click the course card that interests you and enroll. You can enroll and complete the course to earn a shareable certificate, or you can audit it to view the course materials for free. When you subscribe to a course that is part of a Specialization, you’re automatically subscribed to the full Specialization. Visit your learner dashboard to track your progress.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. In select learning programs, you can apply for financial aid or a scholarship if you can’t afford the enrollment fee. If fin aid or scholarship is available for your learning program selection, you’ll find a link to apply on the description page.

Can I take the course for free?

When you enroll in the course, you get access to all of the courses in the Specialization, and you earn a certificate when you complete the work. If you only want to read and view the course content, you can audit the course for free. If you cannot afford the fee, you can apply for financial aid .

Is this course really 100% online? Do I need to attend any classes in person?

This course is completely online, so there’s no need to show up to a classroom in person. You can access your lectures, readings and assignments anytime and anywhere via the web or your mobile device.

Will I earn university credit for completing the Specialization?

This Specialization doesn't carry university credit, but some universities may choose to accept Specialization Certificates for credit. Check with your institution to learn more.

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The time to complete the specialization may vary depending on your planning, but most of the students finish the specialized program in 3-4 months.

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Bachelors degree

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critical thinking leadership

MarchFifteen Consulting

Advancing people & advancing business, leadership – the importance of critical thinking.

Posted September 26th, 2013 by Martine Sanscartier & filed under Leadership Development .

At MarchFifteen, we are passionate about executive assessments and leadership development. When talking about the importance of personality traits and motivating factors on leadership competencies, I often get asked “Do you also measure intelligence?” and my response is usually “Yes, but we don’t just measure intelligence, we measure critical thinking abilities.” Although intelligence might be one of the components of critical thinking, they are very different. Someone can have a great memory, be very good at resolving complex mathematical equations and know a lot of facts, but it does not mean that this person will be good at critical thinking.

According to Robert Ennis, critical thinking is “reflectiv e  reasoning   about beliefs and actions. [Critical thinking] is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.”

In other words, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally; it includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. A leader with critical thinking skills can understand the logical connections between ideas, identify the relevance and importance of arguments, detect inconsistencies or mistakes in reasoning, and make proper decisions.

I am sure you have met leaders that are clearly intelligent and good at coming up with the right answer, but make questionable decisions. I have met leaders over the years who have had great people skills, could inspire those around them and were good at implementing solutions. However, those same leaders were incapable of thinking through the implications of a potential scenario, could not properly evaluate options they were faced with, or detect a flaw in someone else’s logic, and often made wrong decisions, displaying their lack of critical thinking skills.

To be a good critical thinker, you have to be able to not only gather information but assess the relevance of these options. How critical are they to the situation and which piece of information will have the most impact on the problem at hand. How probable is one consequence over another? Which assumptions can you rely upon and what are the ones you should question? All of these are important questions that help people refine their judgment and make thoughtful decisions.

In today’s fast-changing and highly competitive business environment, the risks of poor decisions are greater than ever. Leaders have to make decisions about their organization’s strategic direction, competitive positioning and proper allocation of resources. In most cases, leaders cannot rely on what has worked in the past, as the business challenges they are facing are new and ever-changing. Therefore, they have to be able to adequately assess options, potential consequences, and promptly adjust to new information in order to ensure they consistently make the right decisions. When poor decisions are made an organization may compromise their reputation and miss critical opportunities.

At MarchFifteen, we strongly believe that critical thinking is paramount to a leader’s success, especially in an always changing and increasingly complex business environment. As Maria was saying in one of our previous blogs on Repeatability , in a world of constant change you need powerful tools for building enduring business.   Having had the experience of resolving an issue in the past, does not guarantee success in the future as too many parameters have changed. This is why our assessments, whether they serve a selection or development purpose, measure a leader’s ability to conceptualize, synthesize, and evaluate information to reach the proper conclusion. By using a combination of tools – including cognitive tests, case studies, management simulations and behavioural interview questions – we are able to assess how someone processes information, selects the most relevant elements and makes the right decision consistently, and throughout different settings. And that is a key quality that can turn a struggling leader into an exceptional one.

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We are pleased to announce that MarchFifteen President, Edyta Pacuk , has been selected to be part of Forbes’ Coaches Council, an invitation-only organization dedicated to the needs of leading business and career coaches. The coach members all share a unifying mission of helping others through their own unique methods. Recently Edyta was featured in the Members Spotlight, where she shared her inspiration to become a coach, the advice that guides her, as well as the hurdles currently facing her clients today.

Training Industry

Critical thinking: an essential skill for 2021.

Critical Thinking

It is a disturbing dilemma: Access to information is becoming easier than ever, but evaluating the reliability of that information is becoming more difficult. Given this situation, one of the most important skills companies need to cultivate is the ability to think critically .

In 2020, a report by the World Economic Forum confirmed that senior executives around the world view “critical thinking and analysis” as the skill group most likely to increase in importance between now and 2025. A 2020 survey conducted by Dale Carnegie Training across 20 countries and territories also confirmed that critical thinking is among the top skills needed to succeed in a complex work environment that relies increasingly on artificial intelligence (AI) . To put it in perspective, critical thinking is tied with teamwork as an essential skill, just behind communication skills and creativity. Without critical thinking, the speed of innovation, and the mitigation of the cost of failures along the way, are at risk.

What Is Critical Thinking?

The Foundation for Critical Thinking describes it as “self-directed, self-disciplined” thinking that attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. Of course, all humans think, but few consciously focus on the process of thinking. Time pressures, social conditioning, overconfidence, distractions, closed-mindedness and the fear of being wrong can work against practicing consistent critical thinking. As a result, thinking is often susceptible to misperception, bias, preconception and distortion.

From an individual perspective, the quality of a person’s thinking impacts the quality of his or her decisions and lives. In business, critical thinking failures can also have serious consequences that result in:

Mistakes in attributing cause and effect or identifying the cause of a problem before moving to solutions: One example of this flaw comes from the infamous Boeing 737 Max disaster. Initial investigations of the first tragic incident in Oct. 2018 wrongfully attributed the crash to a malfunctioning sensor rather than the failure of the new software system — the same system that caused the second crash only months later.

Failure to test assumptions: Research suggests that more than four in 10 startups that fail do so because they are trying to solve a need that doesn’t exist, suggesting they didn’t effectively test the assumption that the market wanted their product or service.

Missing opportunities to use the entire team’s experience to accurately assess the risks of failure associated with a solution: For instance, the leaders of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout initially focused almost exclusively on vaccine production volume rather than recognizing that staffing could also be a limiting factor .

The challenge is that critical thinking is consistently identified as a skill that’s in short supply . So, where can leaders who want to encourage critical thinking begin? Firstly, they can create an atmosphere of psychological safety where people feel safe to acknowledge mistakes, reassess conclusions and explore differences of opinion with respect. Supporting diversity also benefits critical thinking by widening the range of experiences and perspectives that team members bring to a problem, helping to avoid groupthink.

5 Steps of Critical Thinking

Teaching a process for critical thinking can help as well. Here are five steps for managing the process in a more deliberate way:

1. Identify the Real Problem

This first step requires clarifying the problem by visualizing the ideal outcome and then gathering information to determine the root causes for the gap between the current and ideal situations.

2. Think Creatively

Next, use “green light thinking” that suspends judgment to focus exclusively on generating ideas rather than evaluating them and to identify or invent possible solutions to the root causes.

3. Analyze the Logic

This step involves recognizing and testing key assumptions, controlling for biases, and making sure conclusions are not drawn from mistaken beliefs or observations.

4. Make the Decision

Once you’ve clearly spelled out the problem, outlined the possible solutions and determined the underlying logic to be sound, decide on the method and criteria for determining the best path forward. If a team is involved, work toward consensus, and take full advantage of your collective knowledge and experience to assess risks and the solution’s likelihood of success.

5. Coordinate and Implement

When the solution involves others — as it often does — set timelines; clarify roles; establish expectations; and follow Dale Carnegie’s sage advice, which is still relevant decades after he gave it: “Once a decision is carefully reached, act! Get busy carrying out your decision and dismiss all anxiety about the outcome.”

An Investment Worth Making

While no one is perfect at it, just committing to the consistent practice of critical thinking brings valuable advantages. Strong critical thinking skills enable individuals to better understand themselves and their own opinions, enjoy stronger relationships with others, and become better citizens. Critical thinking also helps people recognize and avoid overly simplistic explanations of complex issues and encourages the respectful examination and evaluation of differing perspectives.

Critical thinking is a tool to help people become proactive in the face of problems, whether in their personal life or their career. And, as with anything in short supply for which there is high demand, it is a good bet that an investment in critical thinking will pay off.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development , which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.

Mark Marone, Ph.D.

Mark Marone, Ph.D.

Mark Marone, Ph.D., is the director of research and thought leadership for Dale Carnegie & Associates , where he is responsible for ongoing research into current issues facing leaders, employees and organizations worldwide. He has written frequently on topics related to corporate culture, leadership, sales and customer experience and has co-authored two books on sales strategy. For more information, email Mark .

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Instructor, Critical Thinking and Writing, NYUAD Summer Academy



The NYUAD Summer Academy is a cross-cultural program designed to enhance the academic profile of highly motivated Emirati high school students about to start their 11th year. The program features intensive instruction in Critical Thinking and Writing, Mathematical Reasoning, College Readiness and Success, Standardized Test Preparation, and Leadership Development and Public Speaking over the course of two summers and an intervening academic year. 

Following a competitive admissions process, up to 54 program participants are selected as recipients of the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Scholarships for Outstanding High School Students, which enables them to attend the Summer Academy.

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Job Summary

The Instructor will oversee all academic duties for teaching Critical Thinking and Writing, including instruction, grading, lesson planning, office hours, for up to two sections of Summer Academy students – students in their first summer of the program and students in their second summer of the program (Summer I and Summer II). Each course will comprise of approximately 20 classes, with class hours determined by early Spring 2023. The Instructor will also support programmatic activities on Summer Academy weekends as necessary and participate in selection activities and graduation events, as needed.

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About NYU Abu Dhabi

Established in partnership between New York University (NYU) and the emirate of Abu Dhabi, NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has assembled over the past decade a remarkable community of scholars, students, researchers, artists, inventors, and others who have contributed to the growth of the UAE’s capital as a global hub of knowledge and culture, while establishing a new model of higher education for today’s complex world.

NYUAD is animated by inspiring, diverse faculty, students, and staff working together in an exciting and dynamic city. As an international center of excellence in teaching and research, our goal is to attract outstanding faculty who are leaders in their fields, encouraging them to create programs that draw outstanding students and providing an intellectually rich environment. 

Students are drawn from among the world’s best. They are bright, intellectually passionate, and committed to building a campus environment anchored in mutual respect, understanding, and care. The NYUAD undergraduate student body has garnered an impressive record of scholarships, graduate-school appointments, and many other global honors. Graduate education is an area of growth for the university and the current graduate student population of over 100 students is expected to expand in the next decade.

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The Value of Critical Thinking in Nursing

portrait of Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN

Gayle Morris

Contributing Writer

Learn about our editorial process .

Updated August 29, 2022

Learn what you can do to improve your critical thinking skills as a nurse.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Critical thinking for nurses.

Some experts describe a person's ability to question belief systems, test previously held assumptions, and recognize ambiguity as evidence of critical thinking. Others identify specific skills that demonstrate critical thinking, such as the ability to identify problems and biases, infer and draw conclusions, and determine the relevance of information to a situation.

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, has been a critical care nurse for 10 years in neurological trauma nursing and cardiovascular and surgical intensive care. He defines critical thinking as "necessary for problem-solving and decision-making by healthcare providers. It is a process where people use a logical process to gather information and take purposeful action based on their evaluation."

"This cognitive process is vital for excellent patient outcomes because it requires that nurses make clinical decisions utilizing a variety of different lenses, such as fairness, ethics, and evidence-based practice," he says.

How Do Nurses Use Critical Thinking?

Successful nurses think beyond their assigned tasks to deliver excellent care for their patients. For example, a nurse might be tasked with changing a wound dressing, delivering medications, and monitoring vital signs during a shift. However, it requires critical thinking skills to understand how a difference in the wound may affect blood pressure and temperature and when those changes may require immediate medical intervention.

Nurses are responsible for the care of many patients during their shifts. Strong critical thinking skills are crucial when juggling various tasks so patient safety and care are not compromised.

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN, is a nurse educator with a clinical background in surgical-trauma adult critical care, where critical thinking and action were essential to the safety of her patients. She talks about examples of critical thinking in a healthcare environment, saying:

"Nurses must also critically think to determine which patient to see first, which medications to pass first, and the order in which to organize their day caring for patients. Patient conditions and environments are continually in flux, therefore nurses must constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating information they gather (assess) to keep their patients safe."

The COVID-19 pandemic created hospital care situations where critical thinking was essential. It was expected of the nurses on the general floor and in intensive care units. Crystal Slaughter is an advanced practice nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) and a nurse educator. She observed critical thinking throughout the pandemic as she watched intensive care nurses test the boundaries of previously held beliefs and master providing excellent care while preserving resources.

"Nurses are at the patient's bedside and are often the first ones to detect issues. Then, the nurse needs to gather the appropriate subjective and objective data from the patient in order to frame a concise problem statement or question for the physician or advanced practice provider," she explains.

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Top 5 ways nurses can improve critical thinking skills.

We asked our experts for the top five strategies nurses can use to purposefully improve their critical thinking skills.

1. Case-Based Approach

Slaughter is a fan of the case-based approach to learning critical thinking skills.

In much the same way a detective would approach a mystery, she mentors her students to ask questions about the situation that help determine the information they have and the information they need. "What is going on? What information am I missing? Can I get that information? What does that information mean for the patient? How quickly do I need to act?"

Consider forming a group and working with a mentor who can guide you through case studies. This provides you with a learner-centered environment in which you can analyze data to reach conclusions and develop communication, analytical, and collaborative skills with your colleagues.

2. Practice Self-Reflection

Rhoads is an advocate for self-reflection. "Nurses should reflect upon what went well or did not go well in their workday, and identify areas of improvement or situations in which they should have reached out for help." Self-reflection is a form of personal analysis to observe and evaluate situations and how you responded.

This gives you the opportunity to discover mistakes you may have made and establish new behavior patterns that may help you make better decisions. You likely already do this. For example, after a disagreement or contentious meeting, you may go over the conversation in your head and think about ways you could have responded.

It's important to go through the decisions you made during your day and determine if you should have gotten more information before acting or if you could have asked better questions.

During self-reflection, you may try thinking about the problem in reverse. This may not give you an immediate answer but often will help you see the situation with fresh eyes and a new perspective. How would the outcome of the day be different if you planned the dressing change in reverse with the assumption you would find a wound infection? How does this information change your plan for the next dressing change?

3. Develop a Questioning Mind

McGowan has learned that "critical thinking is a self-driven process. It isn't something that can simply be taught. Rather, it is something that you practice and cultivate with experience. To develop critical thinking skills, you have to be curious and inquisitive."

In other words, to get critical thinking skills, you must undergo a purposeful process of learning strategies and using them consistently so they become a habit. One of those strategies is developing a questioning mind . Meaningful questions lead to useful answers and are at the core of critical thinking .

However, learning to ask insightful questions is a skill you must develop. Faced with staff and nursing shortages , declining patient conditions, and a rising number of tasks to be completed, it may be difficult to do more than complete the task in front of you. Yet, questions drive active learning and train your brain to see the world differently and take nothing for granted.

It is easier to practice questioning in a nonstressful, quiet environment until it becomes a habit. Then, in the chaos of the moment when your patient's care depends on your ability to ask the right question, you can be ready to rise to the occasion.

4. Practice Self-Awareness in the Moment

Critical thinking in nursing requires self-awareness and being present in the moment. During a hectic shift, it is easy to lose focus as you're struggling to finish every task needed for your patients. Passing medication, changing dressings, and hanging intravenous lines all while trying to assess your patient's mental and emotional status can affect your focus and how you manage stress as nurse .

Staying present helps you to be proactive in your thinking and anticipate what might happen, such as bringing extra lubricant for a catheterization or extra gloves for a dressing change.

By staying present, you are also better able to practice active listening. This raises your assessment skills and gives you more information to base your interventions and decisions.

5. Use a Process

As you are developing critical thinking skills, it can be helpful to use a process. For example:

These are the fundamental steps of the nursing process (assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate). The last step will help you overcome one of the common problems of critical thinking in nursing — personal bias.

Common Critical Thinking Pitfalls in Nursing

Your brain uses a set of processes to make inferences about what's happening around you. In some cases, your unreliable biases can lead you down the wrong path. McGowan places personal biases on the top of his list of common pitfalls to critical thinking in nursing.

"We all form biases based on our own experiences. However, nurses have to learn to separate their own biases from each patient encounter to avoid making false assumptions that may interfere with their care," he says. Successful critical thinkers accept they have personal biases and learn to look out for them. Awareness of your biases is the first step to understanding if your personal bias is contributing to the wrong decision.

New nurses may be overwhelmed by the transition from academics to clinical practice, leading to a task-oriented mindset and a common new nurse mistake ; this conflicts with critical thinking skills.

"Consider a patient whose blood pressure is low but who also needs to take a blood pressure medication at a scheduled time. A task-oriented nurse may provide the medication without regard for the patient's blood pressure because medication administration is a task that must be completed," Slaughter says. "A nurse employing critical thinking skills would address the low blood pressure, review the patient's blood pressure history and trends, and potentially call the physician to discuss whether medication should be withheld."

Fear and pride may also stand in the way of developing critical thinking skills. Your belief system and worldview provide comfort and guidance, but this can impede your judgement when you're faced with an individual whose belief system or cultural practices are not the same as yours. Fear or pride may prevent you from pursuing a line of questioning that would benefit the patient. Nurses with strong critical thinking skills exhibit cultural competence skills as a nurse and the following:

An Essential Skill for All Nurses

Critical thinking in nursing protects patient health and contributes to professional development and career advancement. Administrative and clinical nursing leaders are required to have strong critical thinking skills to be successful in their positions.

By using the strategies in this guide during your daily life and in your nursing role, you can intentionally improve your critical thinking abilities and be rewarded with better patient outcomes and potential career advancement.

Meet Our Contributors

Portrait of Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter, DNP, APRN, ACNS-BC, CNE

Crystal Slaughter is a core faculty member in Walden University's RN-to-BSN program. She has worked as an advanced practice registered nurse with an intensivist/pulmonary service to provide care to hospitalized ICU patients and in inpatient palliative care. Slaughter's clinical interests lie in nursing education and evidence-based practice initiatives to promote improving patient care.

Portrait of Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN

Jenna Liphart Rhoads is a nurse educator and freelance author and editor. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Rhoads earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students. Her clinical background includes surgical-trauma adult critical care, interventional radiology procedures, and conscious sedation in adult and pediatric populations.

Portrait of Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN

Nicholas McGowan is a critical care nurse with 10 years of experience in cardiovascular, surgical intensive care, and neurological trauma nursing. McGowan also has a background in education, leadership, and public speaking. He is an online learner who builds on his foundation of critical care nursing, which he uses directly at the bedside where he still practices. In addition, McGowan hosts an online course at Critical Care Academy where he helps nurses achieve critical care (CCRN) certification.

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With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected] Read more from this blog.

Eight Instructional Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom?

This three-part series will explore what critical thinking is, if it can be specifically taught and, if so, how can teachers do so in their classrooms.

Today’s guests are Dara Laws Savage, Patrick Brown, Meg Riordan, Ph.D., and Dr. PJ Caposey. Dara, Patrick, and Meg were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show . You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking In The Classroom .

Current Events

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher at the Early College High School at Delaware State University, where she serves as a teacher and instructional coach and lead mentor. Dara has been teaching for 25 years (career preparation, English, photography, yearbook, newspaper, and graphic design) and has presented nationally on project-based learning and technology integration:

There is so much going on right now and there is an overload of information for us to process. Did you ever stop to think how our students are processing current events? They see news feeds, hear news reports, and scan photos and posts, but are they truly thinking about what they are hearing and seeing?

I tell my students that my job is not to give them answers but to teach them how to think about what they read and hear. So what is critical thinking and how can we integrate it into the classroom? There are just as many definitions of critical thinking as there are people trying to define it. However, the Critical Think Consortium focuses on the tools to create a thinking-based classroom rather than a definition: “Shape the climate to support thinking, create opportunities for thinking, build capacity to think, provide guidance to inform thinking.” Using these four criteria and pairing them with current events, teachers easily create learning spaces that thrive on thinking and keep students engaged.

One successful technique I use is the FIRE Write. Students are given a quote, a paragraph, an excerpt, or a photo from the headlines. Students are asked to F ocus and respond to the selection for three minutes. Next, students are asked to I dentify a phrase or section of the photo and write for two minutes. Third, students are asked to R eframe their response around a specific word, phrase, or section within their previous selection. Finally, students E xchange their thoughts with a classmate. Within the exchange, students also talk about how the selection connects to what we are covering in class.

There was a controversial Pepsi ad in 2017 involving Kylie Jenner and a protest with a police presence. The imagery in the photo was strikingly similar to a photo that went viral with a young lady standing opposite a police line. Using that image from a current event engaged my students and gave them the opportunity to critically think about events of the time.

Here are the two photos and a student response:

F - Focus on both photos and respond for three minutes

In the first picture, you see a strong and courageous black female, bravely standing in front of two officers in protest. She is risking her life to do so. Iesha Evans is simply proving to the world she does NOT mean less because she is black … and yet officers are there to stop her. She did not step down. In the picture below, you see Kendall Jenner handing a police officer a Pepsi. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal, except this was Pepsi’s weak, pathetic, and outrageous excuse of a commercial that belittles the whole movement of people fighting for their lives.

I - Identify a word or phrase, underline it, then write about it for two minutes

A white, privileged female in place of a fighting black woman was asking for trouble. A struggle we are continuously fighting every day, and they make a mockery of it. “I know what will work! Here Mr. Police Officer! Drink some Pepsi!” As if. Pepsi made a fool of themselves, and now their already dwindling fan base continues to ever shrink smaller.

R - Reframe your thoughts by choosing a different word, then write about that for one minute

You don’t know privilege until it’s gone. You don’t know privilege while it’s there—but you can and will be made accountable and aware. Don’t use it for evil. You are not stupid. Use it to do something. Kendall could’ve NOT done the commercial. Kendall could’ve released another commercial standing behind a black woman. Anything!

Exchange - Remember to discuss how this connects to our school song project and our previous discussions?

This connects two ways - 1) We want to convey a strong message. Be powerful. Show who we are. And Pepsi definitely tried. … Which leads to the second connection. 2) Not mess up and offend anyone, as had the one alma mater had been linked to black minstrels. We want to be amazing, but we have to be smart and careful and make sure we include everyone who goes to our school and everyone who may go to our school.

As a final step, students read and annotate the full article and compare it to their initial response.

Using current events and critical-thinking strategies like FIRE writing helps create a learning space where thinking is the goal rather than a score on a multiple-choice assessment. Critical-thinking skills can cross over to any of students’ other courses and into life outside the classroom. After all, we as teachers want to help the whole student be successful, and critical thinking is an important part of navigating life after they leave our classrooms.



Patrick Brown is the executive director of STEM and CTE for the Fort Zumwalt school district in Missouri and an experienced educator and author :

Planning for critical thinking focuses on teaching the most crucial science concepts, practices, and logical-thinking skills as well as the best use of instructional time. One way to ensure that lessons maintain a focus on critical thinking is to focus on the instructional sequence used to teach.

Explore-before-explain teaching is all about promoting critical thinking for learners to better prepare students for the reality of their world. What having an explore-before-explain mindset means is that in our planning, we prioritize giving students firsthand experiences with data, allow students to construct evidence-based claims that focus on conceptual understanding, and challenge students to discuss and think about the why behind phenomena.

Just think of the critical thinking that has to occur for students to construct a scientific claim. 1) They need the opportunity to collect data, analyze it, and determine how to make sense of what the data may mean. 2) With data in hand, students can begin thinking about the validity and reliability of their experience and information collected. 3) They can consider what differences, if any, they might have if they completed the investigation again. 4) They can scrutinize outlying data points for they may be an artifact of a true difference that merits further exploration of a misstep in the procedure, measuring device, or measurement. All of these intellectual activities help them form more robust understanding and are evidence of their critical thinking.

In explore-before-explain teaching, all of these hard critical-thinking tasks come before teacher explanations of content. Whether we use discovery experiences, problem-based learning, and or inquiry-based activities, strategies that are geared toward helping students construct understanding promote critical thinking because students learn content by doing the practices valued in the field to generate knowledge.


An Issue of Equity

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at The Possible Project, an out-of-school program that collaborates with youth to build entrepreneurial skills and mindsets and provides pathways to careers and long-term economic prosperity. She has been in the field of education for over 25 years as a middle and high school teacher, school coach, college professor, regional director of N.Y.C. Outward Bound Schools, and director of external research with EL Education:

Although critical thinking often defies straightforward definition, most in the education field agree it consists of several components: reasoning, problem-solving, and decisionmaking, plus analysis and evaluation of information, such that multiple sides of an issue can be explored. It also includes dispositions and “the willingness to apply critical-thinking principles, rather than fall back on existing unexamined beliefs, or simply believe what you’re told by authority figures.”

Despite variation in definitions, critical thinking is nonetheless promoted as an essential outcome of students’ learning—we want to see students and adults demonstrate it across all fields, professions, and in their personal lives. Yet there is simultaneously a rationing of opportunities in schools for students of color, students from under-resourced communities, and other historically marginalized groups to deeply learn and practice critical thinking.

For example, many of our most underserved students often spend class time filling out worksheets, promoting high compliance but low engagement, inquiry, critical thinking, or creation of new ideas. At a time in our world when college and careers are critical for participation in society and the global, knowledge-based economy, far too many students struggle within classrooms and schools that reinforce low-expectations and inequity.

If educators aim to prepare all students for an ever-evolving marketplace and develop skills that will be valued no matter what tomorrow’s jobs are, then we must move critical thinking to the forefront of classroom experiences. And educators must design learning to cultivate it.

So, what does that really look like?

Unpack and define critical thinking

To understand critical thinking, educators need to first unpack and define its components. What exactly are we looking for when we speak about reasoning or exploring multiple perspectives on an issue? How does problem-solving show up in English, math, science, art, or other disciplines—and how is it assessed? At Two Rivers, an EL Education school, the faculty identified five constructs of critical thinking, defined each, and created rubrics to generate a shared picture of quality for teachers and students. The rubrics were then adapted across grade levels to indicate students’ learning progressions.

At Avenues World School, critical thinking is one of the Avenues World Elements and is an enduring outcome embedded in students’ early experiences through 12th grade. For instance, a kindergarten student may be expected to “identify cause and effect in familiar contexts,” while an 8th grader should demonstrate the ability to “seek out sufficient evidence before accepting a claim as true,” “identify bias in claims and evidence,” and “reconsider strongly held points of view in light of new evidence.”

When faculty and students embrace a common vision of what critical thinking looks and sounds like and how it is assessed, educators can then explicitly design learning experiences that call for students to employ critical-thinking skills. This kind of work must occur across all schools and programs, especially those serving large numbers of students of color. As Linda Darling-Hammond asserts , “Schools that serve large numbers of students of color are least likely to offer the kind of curriculum needed to ... help students attain the [critical-thinking] skills needed in a knowledge work economy. ”

So, what can it look like to create those kinds of learning experiences?

Designing experiences for critical thinking

After defining a shared understanding of “what” critical thinking is and “how” it shows up across multiple disciplines and grade levels, it is essential to create learning experiences that impel students to cultivate, practice, and apply these skills. There are several levers that offer pathways for teachers to promote critical thinking in lessons:

1.Choose Compelling Topics: Keep it relevant

A key Common Core State Standard asks for students to “write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” That might not sound exciting or culturally relevant. But a learning experience designed for a 12th grade humanities class engaged learners in a compelling topic— policing in America —to analyze and evaluate multiple texts (including primary sources) and share the reasoning for their perspectives through discussion and writing. Students grappled with ideas and their beliefs and employed deep critical-thinking skills to develop arguments for their claims. Embedding critical-thinking skills in curriculum that students care about and connect with can ignite powerful learning experiences.

2. Make Local Connections: Keep it real

At The Possible Project , an out-of-school-time program designed to promote entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, students in a recent summer online program (modified from in-person due to COVID-19) explored the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and local BIPOC-owned businesses. They learned interviewing skills through a partnership with Everyday Boston , conducted virtual interviews with entrepreneurs, evaluated information from their interviews and local data, and examined their previously held beliefs. They created blog posts and videos to reflect on their learning and consider how their mindsets had changed as a result of the experience. In this way, we can design powerful community-based learning and invite students into productive struggle with multiple perspectives.

3. Create Authentic Projects: Keep it rigorous

At Big Picture Learning schools, students engage in internship-based learning experiences as a central part of their schooling. Their school-based adviser and internship-based mentor support them in developing real-world projects that promote deeper learning and critical-thinking skills. Such authentic experiences teach “young people to be thinkers, to be curious, to get from curiosity to creation … and it helps students design a learning experience that answers their questions, [providing an] opportunity to communicate it to a larger audience—a major indicator of postsecondary success.” Even in a remote environment, we can design projects that ask more of students than rote memorization and that spark critical thinking.

Our call to action is this: As educators, we need to make opportunities for critical thinking available not only to the affluent or those fortunate enough to be placed in advanced courses. The tools are available, let’s use them. Let’s interrogate our current curriculum and design learning experiences that engage all students in real, relevant, and rigorous experiences that require critical thinking and prepare them for promising postsecondary pathways.


Critical Thinking & Student Engagement

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and author of seven books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for the award-winning Meridian CUSD 223 in northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

When I start my keynote on student engagement, I invite two people up on stage and give them each five paper balls to shoot at a garbage can also conveniently placed on stage. Contestant One shoots their shot, and the audience gives approval. Four out of 5 is a heckuva score. Then just before Contestant Two shoots, I blindfold them and start moving the garbage can back and forth. I usually try to ensure that they can at least make one of their shots. Nobody is successful in this unfair environment.

I thank them and send them back to their seats and then explain that this little activity was akin to student engagement. While we all know we want student engagement, we are shooting at different targets. More importantly, for teachers, it is near impossible for them to hit a target that is moving and that they cannot see.

Within the world of education and particularly as educational leaders, we have failed to simplify what student engagement looks like, and it is impossible to define or articulate what student engagement looks like if we cannot clearly articulate what critical thinking is and looks like in a classroom. Because, simply, without critical thought, there is no engagement.

The good news here is that critical thought has been defined and placed into taxonomies for decades already. This is not something new and not something that needs to be redefined. I am a Bloom’s person, but there is nothing wrong with DOK or some of the other taxonomies, either. To be precise, I am a huge fan of Daggett’s Rigor and Relevance Framework. I have used that as a core element of my practice for years, and it has shaped who I am as an instructional leader.

So, in order to explain critical thought, a teacher or a leader must familiarize themselves with these tried and true taxonomies. Easy, right? Yes, sort of. The issue is not understanding what critical thought is; it is the ability to integrate it into the classrooms. In order to do so, there are a four key steps every educator must take.




Thanks to Dara, Patrick, Meg, and PJ for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching .

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones won’t be available until February). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first nine years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

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