Leadership on Point

Critical Thinking and Deconstruction of Leadership Assumptions (Part I)

October 18, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Critical Thinking and Deconstruction of Leadership Assumptions + Leadership Development + Executive Coaching + Richard Levin & Associates

As professionals, we embrace creative and critical thinking in a manner to take on exciting initiatives and provide new opportunities for our businesses and personal improvement.  Prior to formal training and exposure to the nuances of critical thinking, we may have found professional socialization and interaction either challenging or cumbersome.  During our professional development, several business situations may have presented small and large problems for us.  These difficulties may have resided in executive leadership’s politics, shadowing role models, and our inability to demonstrate a questioning attitude.  Often, we place ourselves under the assumption that we are effectively exposed to refined relationships and we are properly functioning in our professional world.  Routinely, we may be deceiving ourselves into believing that we are performing well in various business settings.  However, if we truly reflect on our daily professional situations; peer and team dynamics; and our success or failure within our personal interaction; we may discover that our assumptions are actually blind spots.  These blind spots may be a result of our lack of creative and critical thinking.  Ultimately, our goal is to uncover and confront these assumptions and establish corrective measures to deconstruct our leadership suppositions.

Shadowing Role Model

Shadowing Role Model is a corporate practice that should be supported and encouraged.  The shadowing program is essentially a mentoring tool that supports a succession planning endeavor.  The program is meticulously structured to identify future leaders and to nurture these candidates to, someday, advance the business and increase shareholder equity.  There is an opt-in and opt-out relationship between mentor and apprentice; also the program has a two-year sunset.   The models’ assumptions gravitate around the fact that mentors have skills and abilities to position the future executive for success.  While the paring and selection process is formal and structured, the lessons learned in critical thinking provides room for superior selection criteria.  Upon reflecting, some organizations’ shadowing selection criteria centered on matching personal chemistry, an unwarranted assumption, with emphasis on diversity.  The assumption that a personal chemistry matching strategy provides a robust and flawless selection process can become a mistake.  A creative and critical thinking approach may provide insight on the personal barriers within the relationship.  The identification of such barriers may uncover, prior to the start of the program, subtle distortions in relationships.  These distortions may range from entrenched beliefs, egocentric perspectives, and ethnocentric values (Schwarze & Lape, 2001).  In such instances, the leadership shadowing role model practice must be reconstructed to survive in challenging times.


Questioning Attitude

As business experts, we often ask ourselves about the quality of our questioning skills and attitudes; we may have also produced answers and conclusions of supreme or superior performance.  However, our final answers or assumptions may be wrong.  Poor questioning skills and attitudes do have adverse consequences.  As professionals and leaders, we regularly have the responsibility to sign off on huge performance contracts; approve legalistic documents; sanction large capital and operational and maintenance projects; and agree to expensive processing and manufacturing programs.  We cannot be wrong in our decision making processes; the consequences are too high and onerous.  Therefore, our decisions must be based on facts and logic; such that our due diligence and questioning behaviors are well grounded and substantiated.  However, as Kirby and Goodpaster (2002) suggested: “Human beings strive for cognitive consistency, because holding onto thoughts that are inconsistent can create an unpleasant state called cognitive dissonance (discord) when the inconsistency cannot be justified”.  Fortunately, through critical thinking, we are equipped to rationalize in a manner to produce the optimum decisions in our professional settings and business environments.  Further, with the application of enhanced creative and critical thinking skills, leaders are able to question and understand the unworthy agendas and motives of those who solicit significant approvals and large monetary requests.  We must position ourselves to manage our assumptions by understanding the “obstacles to knowledge,” Ruggiero (2004).  That is, “Assuming is taking something for granted-that is, arbitrarily accepted as true something that has not been proved or that may reasonably be disproved”.


Politics are an intricate part of corporate America and as leaders; we must effectively maneuver the political landscape.  Our success depends on political our shrewdness.  As existing and future professionals and leaders, we can use our critical thinking skills to effectively assess and determine prospective role models and leaders to shadow.  We should adopt a polish skills and leadership attributes to enable us to alleviate mistakes and blunders associated with lackluster questioning attitudes.  Professionally, and in personal relationships, we can leverage our new-found talents to improve and advance our place of business and the health and well being of society.  Moreover, applying the wonderful tools of creative and critical thinking, we can set goals and objectives to make the world a better place.



Written by Dr. Johnny D. Magwood, vice president customer experience & chief customer officer, Northeast Utilities Service Company.