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A company's success depends not only on its economic fundamentals but on the human factor too. The people who work for the company will make or break it depending on their competence. Managers have some of the most mentally challenging work of all because their responsibility is to ensure that the people below them do the right jobs the right way. If they fail, a lot of other people fail too. To succeed, then, every manager needs to develop and utilize strong critical thinking skills.
Critical Thinking Basics
Critical thinking is a way of doing things, which makes it a method rather than a skill. It bears a close resemblance to the scientific method, in that science has the goal of building a body of evidence to test a hypothesis while critical thinking has the goal of building awareness in order to answer questions and make judgments. Critical thinking requires numerous individual skills to be effective, like asking questions, paying attention, organizing information and verifying answers. In a business setting, the major advantage of critical thinking is that it gets results.
Critical Thinking and Management
Management differs quite a bit from non-managerial roles, because in management, the work is a lot less straightforward. Managers still have tangible goals to meet, like project deadlines and productivity benchmarks, but unlike junior employees -- whose tasks are clearly defined -- managers have to figure out on their own what to do. They need to be able to understand their situation abstractly, communicate successfully with a staff full of different personalities, identify specific problems that stand in the way of meeting their goals, and develop effective solutions for those problems. These are exactly the kinds of tasks that require strong critical thinking.
Training and Exercises
Critical thinking works differently in each setting, which means it isn't the sort of thing you learn once and never have to study again. Larger companies should include specially tailored critical thinking workshops as a part of their management courses. Smaller companies may not have management courses, in which case the best option is to put a new or potential manager under the wing of an experienced, proficient one in the same area of the business.
Evaluation and Feedback
Evaluation and feedback make up a crucial part of developing a manager's critical thinking skills. Without them, managers have no immediate way of gauging their progress. The better and more relevant the feedback is, and the more critical and thorough the evaluation, the better a manager can hone good critical thinking practices.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.