Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Archive for the ‘Critical Thinking’ Category

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

with 2 comments

smallgroup5

Leaders are confident that they are capable, through their actions and attitudes, of creating a healthy work environment. They foster open communication that encourages employees to freely ask questions and discuss any concerns.

True leadership requires open and regular interaction between leaders and employees. Leaders understand that they cannot lead from their office or behind a desk: to get a sense of what is actually happening in their organization, they must be actively involved.

It is important to understand that good leadership doesn’t demand leaders directly help employees perform their jobs. Rather, by simply maintaining an active awareness of what is going on in their organization, leaders can anticipate problems and opportunities, and respond accordingly. Furthermore, when leaders communicate and maintain a presence with their employees, they establish great rapport. As a result, employee trust and loyalty deepens and organizational cohesiveness broadens.

Leaders can encourage open communication with their employees by practicing the following techniques.

Encourage Questions

Leaders work with employees who have various levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. They must encourage everyone to regularly ask questions. This kind of interaction makes employees more comfortable with the concept of speaking up, and it also gives them confidence to approach the leader without hesitation or procrastination when the need arises.

Besides vocally encouraging employees, leaders must also support their people with actions. Specifically, leaders should be open and receptive when approached with a question, no matter how trivial the subject. Leaders who simply brush-off the questioner openly convey that questions are not welcome or there is no time to discuss them. Consequently, they undermine the process of open communication.

Look for Opportunities to Ask Questions

Leaders must not passively wait for their employees to come to them with questions. The nature of leadership demands being out among employees, asking questions and soliciting input. In this fashion, leaders can communicate their interests to each employee while keeping tabs on the activities and direction of the organization. Thus, they can anticipate and handle an issue before it explodes into a major problem.

Moreover, when leaders actively solicit questions and answers, they communicate care and concern for their employees and the entire organization.

Ask ‘Personally’

In the age of instant electronic communication, it is important for leaders to ask questions in person. Email doesn’t communicate the tone and nonverbal cues that people often require to fully understand a question. Additionally, face-to-face questions give leaders the opportunity to clearly explain their intentions and get a more comprehensive answer.

While email may be efficient, leaders should understand that not all employees are good writers and, therefore, some may not have the ability to communicate adequately in this medium. Many employees who are uncomfortable with email might not even attempt to reply unless forced to; in which case, responses will tend to be short and/or incomplete.

Respect the Questioner

In the daily workplace routine, it is not uncommon for a leader to hear a range of questions, from trivial to extremely important. In an open communication environment, leaders know they must treat every question and questioner with respect, even if the topic is trivial or lacks urgency. Rather than embarrass or alienate the questioner, good leaders validate the specific question and thank the employee for bringing it to their attention.

Listen Actively

When approached with a question, leaders know that it is important to give the employee their undivided attention. However, if the leader’s attention is necessitated elsewhere, they should ask the employee if the question could be discussed later, at a specific time convenient for both. The time selected must be sufficient for a full discussion, without any urgency to hurry the process along. Once the appointment is set, leaders make a point to keep it.

Again, effective leaders strive to always encourage open communication through their actions and receptivity to questions. However, circumstances and the workplace environment may not always make this practical. In such cases, rather than be short and appear to disregard the employee’s question, leaders need to explain that the timing is simply not right and that they would like to talk when they can provide the needed time and attention both the employee and the question deserves.

When finally discussing a question in-depth, leaders should paraphrase parts of the question or the entire question back to the employee to help clarify and understand the concerns being raised.

Be Cooperative

In most workplace environments, leaders are dealing with daily problems and issues that produce varying degrees of stress. Under these circumstances, it is easy for any individual to appear defensive or adversarial when asked a question, especially an unexpected one.

Effective leaders, however, will maintain a consistent attitude and posture that fosters a cooperative spirit within their organizational unit. They keep a friendly and open demeanor with their employees by paying attention to their own moods, habits, attitudes, body language and tone of voice.

Take Responsibility, But Don’t Solve Every Problem

All people in every organization have limits and responsibilities. When approached with questions, a leader should not respond by doing the employee’s work for him or her. But there are times when the leader is responsible for developing a solution. The key is to understand the appropriate response for the particular question.

Leaders need to set firm and fair limits on what they are willing and able to do so that employees don’t place unreasonable demands on their time and energy. At the same time, it is unrealistic for leaders to expect their employees to solve every problem without guidance. Generally, the appropriate course of action is somewhere in the middle, where the employee and the leader brainstorm to arrive at an acceptable solution.

Follow Up

Open communication demands that leaders follow up on their responses to employee questions by making sure the solution is understood, acceptable and implemented. Obviously, the degree of follow-up needs to be proportionate to the question’s impact and importance. That is, small problems probably only need a simple follow-up question to make sure that things are going alright, while bigger problems could necessitate a series of subsequent meetings.

Follow-up keeps communication with employees open because it often triggers additional questions, input and feedback. In this way, the communication process becomes a continuous, effective loop.

If you are seeking proven expertise and best practices on improving communications within the workplace to train or educate your employees to solve problems and improve their performance in this area, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. Click here to learn more.

Related:

Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Your Personal Attitudes Shape Your Environment

Communication Must Be Personalized To Be Effective

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Four Concepts Define Key Leadership Responsibilities

with 2 comments

coaching

Managers learn the rules that define their basic responsibilities by responding to this question: “What’s wrong, and what specific steps do I need to take to fix it?” So, when senior management passes down mandates, timelines and goals, the manager’s job is to work within the prescribed corporate framework to produce results.

Leaders, on the other hand, self-direct, craft a vision, make plans, achieve goals, build cohesiveness and inspire others while holding themselves personally accountable for their area of the company. The question they respond to is: “What’s possible here, and who cares?”

A leader’s responsibilities are defined by a set of concepts and qualities that motivate people to “get on board” with his or her vision. In fact, there are four basic concepts that help leaders develop the creative energy needed to focus on everyone’s efforts, which guides all employees beyond routine thinking and performance.

Unlike a conventional manager, a leader’s responsibilities are not defined by one question. Generally, a leader’s central responsibility is to move his or her unit from a “mission impossible” to a “mission outcome” stance. This shift requires leaders to embrace multiple areas of skill and direction. To constantly move forward, they focus on specific concepts to help define their key leadership responsibilities.

Management and leadership responsibilities often overlap, but leadership is defined in a completely different context. Leaders’ responsibilities lie in four key areas: self-direction, goal achievement, flexibility and inspiring greatness in others. Leaders recognize that these responsibilities are taken care of through the four actions outlined below.

Related: Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Gain the Cooperation of Others

Establishing a cooperative spirit is the primary responsibility of leadership. This spirit drives an organization and its people to higher levels of productivity and accomplishment. For leaders to be effective they must build a cooperative effort by relying on the following techniques:

  • Leaders understand basic human needs and desires and nudge people in the right direction. They know how motivation works to everyone’s benefit.
  • They make emotional connections. An effective leader connects with people under their direction to build an interdependence that fosters more long-term gain than individual efforts would.
  • They acknowledge the need for followers.
  • Leaders understand their people. They take time to converse and ask questions that bring information, concerns, ideas and perspectives to the forefront. Then, they act positively upon them.

Listen and Learn Well

  • Leaders never forget where they have been, and use their experiences to shape where they are going, and why. They place learning and listening at the top of the list in terms of building skills and ability. Learning from past errors in judgment prevents their repetition.
  • They listen to everyone and everything. Leaders have their ears and eyes on every person, process and situation. They listen for ideas, impending concerns, problems, successes and unhappiness in their employees. They absorb everything and act on the knowledge gained to prevent major problems from occurring.
  • Leaders seize all opportunities to make people feel successful, competent and comfortable in the work environment. Excellent leaders are not reactive, but proactive by nature.

Put the Needs of Others First

  • Effective leaders separate themselves from the rest of the pack through self-sacrifice and by setting their egos aside. Good leaders are never afraid to work alongside their people to finish a project or resolve a situation.
  • Leaders are flexible, slowing down or speeding up while assessing their employees’ productivity and efforts.
  • Leaders understand that keeping tasks simple and obvious makes for a committed workforce. Employees desire to know precisely what is expected of them and how to complete their assigned tasks. A leader focuses on ways to make their assignments and projects more direct and clearly defined.

Performing Consistently

  • By understanding that people are different, leaders solidify mutual respect and communication, and maintain openness and fairness with every employee.
  • Leaders build cohesiveness through cooperative efforts by holding employees and themselves accountable. They know this is necessary to achieve their goals and ideals.
  • Effective leaders realize that their actions and words must not send mixed messages. Leaders should stay the course, even under duress or in the midst of adversity. They must remain genuine and use discretion in all judgments they make. Excellent leaders will reinforce their motivation, inspiration and expectations to maintain a strong leadership position.

Related:

The Roadmap to Effective Leadership

Do You Have the Talent to Execute Get Things Done?

Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Attaining Results Requires Visionary Thinking and Planning on Multiple Levels

with 3 comments

woman-w-data

Leaders have a responsibility to connect elements of their vision in the context of thinking, planning and actions. Connecting vision to action and then to expected results depends upon effectively applying “visionary thinking” practices and principles. Visionary thinking then provides the means for strategic direction and specific deployment actions.

Leaders need to define the larger picture of who the organization is, which defines its being, and what it does, or its mission. This also includes identifying what values are important to the organization, where it is going or its visional direction, and why it must go in the direction its leaders determine. It takes visionary thinking to develop necessary strategies, procedures and plans capable of linking these elements in a way that moves employees and the organization forward.

It is no accident that visionary leaders generally become an organization’s best teachers and create definite linkages between values, vision and mission. They make communication the cornerstone of the organizational culture, and inspire members to embrace, actively work toward and successfully attain the shared vision.

The need for organizational change and sometimes a new course or direction is often not clear to management and/or the workforce. Visionary thinking works to integrate a strategic direction of an organization to a long-term destination, which then sets into motion various key elements and processes that work together to effect necessary changes. From a visionary standpoint, it is the leader’s primary responsibility to set the context for needed changes and present compelling reasons why management and employees alike should accept the challenges that the changes represent.

If the need for vision-related change is not clearly communicated in an organization’s strategic direction, then the value of planned strategies, goals, objectives, as well as the vision driving the intended changes will ultimately come into question. If the rationale behind particular changes is not thoroughly understood, the changes will be resisted. Then either nothing happens, or employees will only demonstrate superficial compliance.

Leadership is defined by recognizing the need to change, communicating this need, and accomplishing necessary incremental changes through the actions of employees. To align and communicate leadership expectations and responsibilities, terms such as vision, values and mission help get the attention of organizational employees to spark a desire for embracing progress.

Attaining organizational results requires visionary thinking and planning on multiple levels.

Visionary Thinking Places Employees’ Best Interests First

Above everything else, the key to successfully implementing vision-related initiatives is for leaders to create positive environments for employees that allow them to embrace their unique talents and capabilities, feel secure, grow and prosper. Imparting the larger picture to employees in regard to organizational vision is one of the most effective tools for facilitating a solid commitment to new vision, values and mission. With commitment comes positive and enthusiastic action.

If employees “feel” secure about the promise of the vision and the importance of the mission they will begin to take ownership of them. “Feelings” are associated with the organizational values and values, tend to define the culture. Therefore, leaders should consider how well the organizational culture is aligned with their vision, mission and actions.

Visionary Thinking Focuses on Values

Values are what are most important in relationship to attaining leadership and organizational vision. They provide organizational as well as personal parameters and boundaries, and help to guide behavior, prioritize decisions, and justify the rationale for vision-related decisions. With organizational values as a foundation, vision is where the organization needs to go.

One of vision’s main functions is to provide excitement about the mission or destination. Visional communication that is value-based explains to employees how all the various vision-related elements come together and interlink to determine actions that accomplish the desired goals, objectives and changes.

Vision and Positive Workplace Culture

Culture and leadership are often considered two sides of the same coin. This is because leaders tend to first create positive cultures when they establish well-functioning and collaborative groups within their organizations and departments. Once these cultures exist, they determine the best criteria for moving their visional direction forward.

Incorporating cultural understanding into the “visional picture” and directional goals and objectives is essential to leading effectively. If organizational and workplace cultures become dysfunctional, leaders have to think of strategies that can be implemented to successfully manage transformational change in such a way that their employees can survive and cope with it. If leaders are conscious of the cultures in which they operate and function, those cultures will manage the desired changes.

Visionary Thinking Coordinates Resources

Vision, values and mission become the means by which leaders are able to guide, influence and educate their employees. Among these three factors, vision becomes the “magnetic field” that works to align people, efforts and resources, which tends to generate a desire to incorporate positive planning, action steps and motivation to achieve successful outcomes.

Visionary thinking focuses on the ways and means to coordinate employees and resources that will make necessary changes a reality. It considers interconnections between organizational values, vision, and mission that work to provide a new sense of direction or drive higher levels of performance. This forms the basis for determining where the organization needs to go and the changes that will help get it there. Visionary thinking helps to eliminate management processes, practices and procedures that tend to void or negate positive vision-related efforts, workforce momentum and work-related enthusiasm.

Visionary Thinking Should Not be Confused with Strategic Planning

Leadership is based on change, and change is about thinking differently and being creative. Strategic planning void of visionary thinking is nothing more than a superficial to-do list and may not detail the more in-depth pursuits needed to accomplish the real desired outcomes.

When vision, values, and mission guide an organization’s strategic direction, real change becomes the driving force for the development of specific goals and objectives. In this way, vision and values become more of a strategic plan than the created project plans that are developed to accomplish particular goals and objectives.

Leading vision-related change is typically considered to be a right-brain activity in which getting people to see the reasons why change is necessary and how to go about implementing it is the focus. Managing vision-related change is mostly a left-brain activity concerned with the “what’s and how’s” of action steps, and laying out a strategic course and direction.

Developing visionary thinking requires addressing and designing implementation procedures and practices around eight steps.

  • Establishing an immediate sense of urgency;
  • Creating a vision-oriented “guiding and directing” base of supporters;
  • Developing a separate strategy and vision for each smaller part of the whole;
  • Communicating the vision of change;
  • Empowering broad-based employee actions;
  • Generating short-term wins and successes;
  • Consolidating gains in order to generate further change;
  • Embedding new approaches, philosophies and practices into the organizational culture.

Taken in their entirety, these steps can be viewed from a sequential perspective, which moves from leading visionary change to managing it in order to complete sequential and incremental forward movement. The final four steps may be seen as forming a transition from “where we as a collaborative group need to go” to “how we’re going to get there.”

Visionary Thinking Leads to Action

Once the leader’s vision is defined and communicated, the visionary thinking process becomes officially translated into action. Strategic planning becomes more of a programming activity to support the leader’s visionary thinking. Within this context a leader can expect tension between leading and managing change.

Visionary thinking should provide a means to support the creation of a common focus. This is not to be confused with the development of a vision statement. A formalized vision statement may or may not provide the desired common focus and commitment for needed actions or changes.

When a leader’s vision statement becomes “etched in stone,” it may inhibit refocusing, redefining, and communicating a new sense of direction for achieving a different end result or seeking out new opportunities. Within the visionary thinking process it is more important to develop ways to “etch” the leader’s vision in employees’ minds and hearts, as well as to guide their behaviors and attitudes.

It is just as important to develop criteria that consistently provides for decision-making and prioritization that will accomplish the organization’s vision-related mission. Visionary thinking is about creating new categories for developing or grouping previously developed strategies. It needs to focus on defining functions and processes that take leaders beyond their normal comfort zones and limitations to view things from new perspectives and in new combinations.

Aligning vision with action should be the goal of vision-based thinking and strategic planning. Ultimately, aligning vision and action should move the organization in the desired direction.

Excerpt: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Vision: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

How Well Are You Communicating Your Vision?

Execution: Six Action Steps

Seven Productive Responses to Change

How Well Do You Set the Tone?

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Building Critical Thinking Skills to Enhance Employee Comprehension and Decision Making

leave a comment »

problemsolving1

In employee led groups or in an individual context, individuals can begin to take over the responsibility of using questions to help foster a deeper understanding of material, information, key concepts or issues.

Through the use of questioning, employees engage in a social process that is fundamental to learning. Individual learning and self-development begin on the social plane, through interactions where employees think and respond with others who possess varied levels of knowledge. Employees should take an active role in exploring, finding and researching answers to their own questions.

Through self-inquiry based questioning, individuals develop questions that need to be answered and then research the answers to support their thinking and responses. Inquiry is not always a specific question, but can be simply a contemplation about something that needs to be investigated further. There is usually not one correct answer to meaningful questions of inquiry, but through the process, employees actually gain understanding, generate more questions to ponder, and find further issues to research. This technique helps provide a structure for looking through information and sorting out relevant from irrelevant facts, sources and data.

Within the process, it is important to eliminate incorrect information, confirm reliable information, and ask further questions about the meanings and implications of certain words and phrases. After the discussion, they review and confirm the accuracy of summarizations and understandings.

Questions have the ability to buttress comprehension. Their intended use is to make the sharing of new information a collaborative process, with shared responsibilities for ongoing discussions and conversations as well as problem solving outcomes.

Within the questioning process, it is essential for employees to invite questions that effectively probe for understanding. One effective method is to apply “why” types of questions that tend to redirect an individual’s attention. An example is, “Why are you sure that when you say ____ will happen, it will?” It is also important for employees to ask questions that model comprehension monitoring, “Does (this) or (that) make any sense to you?”

POSSE Questioning

POSSE questioning is an effective framework to guide employees to facilitate better comprehension, particularly when solving problems. POSSE stands for:

  • Predict (predict what will happen as a result of the problem);
  • Organize (organize knowledge and ideas into categories and details);
  • Search (read to identify key ideas and details of problem-related parts);
  • Summarize (identifying the main problem rather than its symptoms);
  • Evaluate (ask a question, compare, clarify and predict).

Within the POSSE framework, questioning tends to be embedded in the Predicting, Searching, and Evaluating stages of problem solving and is structured in a “Shared Inquiry Discussion” format that is designed to promote creative, thoughtful and critical thinking. As such, the leader continues to play a key role in the inquiry process. Within this framework, however, he or she avoids asking employees’ questions that tend to cause them to speculate about something that is outside immediate, contextual boundaries. He or she also avoids questions that tend to require making predictions about something.

Applying the POSSE Framework to Make Questioning Visible

How can employees become proficient in using questions effectively in their own problem solving/work-related situations? There are two major challenges associated with this question. First, while widely existing in any workplace, questions are so common that employees tend to simply take the process for granted, rather than analyzing how the process of questioning works. Which is, how questions are formed, the purposes they serve and the information sources they probe. Second, even when the questioning process is discussed and detailed to make it “visible,” employees still need opportunities to engage in active questioning practices themselves. The goal of the questioning process should be to increase and enhance proficiency in seeking out information and to generate higher levels of insight and understanding.

There are specific ways in which to practice the skill of questioning for reaching this goal:

Think Aloud Sessions

A “Think Aloud Session” is one way to make a relatively common or invisible process like questioning to identify important information more visible by allowing employees to share insights, reasoning and perceptions through the art of inquiry and the language of questioning to generate positive results. When a leader applies Think Aloud Sessions, they should model or demonstrate “Questioning Use Strategies,” and the vocabulary of “Question-Answer Relationships” (see below).

Creating Question-Answer Relationships (QAR)

A Question-Answer Relationship is an effective questioning strategy, which emphasizes that a relationship exists between certain questions asked, the material presented, and the background of the responders. In this strategy, employees need to rely on four question/answer relationships or descriptors to find the information they need in order to effectively answer the question(s) being asked.

Question-Answer Relationships help employees and the leader develop a shared, common language for discussing and understanding how particular questions are designed to function. The leader may need to introduce QAR and to explain the four types of question/answer relationships that it encompasses:

Consider and Explore – The answer exists, but employees need to put together different pieces of information to obtain it. This is the most common QAR.

Right Here – The answer resides within the question and is usually easy to comprehend. The information is found without much effort.

Question Asker and Me – The answer is not explicitly stated. Employees need to think about what they already know, what the leader tells them, and how both pieces of information fit together in a meaningful way.

On Your Own – The answer is not physically given or implied. Employees should be able to answer the question without reading or researching information, simply by using their own experiences and background knowledge.

QAR Brings Together Knowledge and Information

This is information and knowledge that employees need to draw upon in order to answer particular questions, through various inquiry strategies. For example, a question asked could require a response that is part of the respondent’s background knowledge, or an “In My Head” response. In contrast, another particular question may require a response that needs to be obtained from past readings about something in particular.

Asking a question such as, “Have you ever been surprised when our production line shuts down?” cannot simply be addressed with information from reading something, even if what was read about tends to describe a situation like the one being asked. Further, a question like, “What might we do if and when the production line breaks down?” requires both an understanding of the dilemma and the ability to draw on one’s own background to solve the problem in a new way. To gain a better understanding for how the QAR relationship works, and why it is important, the process should be focused on question asking and answering within workplace contexts and their activities.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

with one comment

womanoncomputer

Critical thinking and working effectively with others relies on applying appropriate frames. Frames are cognitive shortcuts that individuals use to help make sense out of complex information and to interpret that information in a way that can be meaningfully represented to others. Frames help to organize complex experiences, occurrences and facts into logical and rational as well as understandable groupings and categories. By labeling these complex experiences, occurrences and facts it becomes possible to give meaning to some aspects of what is observed through them, while at the same time discounting other aspects because they appear to be irrelevant or counterintuitive. Frames provide meaning through selective simplification, by filtering people’s perceptions and providing them with a field of vision for a problem.

Frames significantly impact the critical thinking process. This is because they tend to be built upon personal beliefs, values, and experiences, where individuals often construct unique frames that tend to considerably vary. Frames normally exist prior to the processing of information and they highly affect identifying, assessing, analyzing, and evaluating information, upon which critical thinking is based.

Individuals tend to be separated not only by differences in personal interests, beliefs, and values, but also in how they perceive and understand things, both at a conscious as well as sub-conscious level. Within critical thinking, individuals generally apply framing not only as an aid to interpreting issues and information, but also at times, to generate or promote some form of a strategic advantage.

Framing is often the impetus for rationalizing self-interest, convincing others, building unity, or promoting a preference for a specific outcome. Numerous factors tend to affect how people frame experiences, situations and circumstances, which in turn, influences the path and direction that critical thinking takes.

The Importance of Framing When Thinking Critically

An essential element in critical thinking is understanding how and why frames affect decision making or problem solving development. In the context of critical thinking situations, disagreements often erupt. As a result, individuals tend to create frames to help understand why the disagreement exists, what actions are important to alter or negate it, why different individuals act as they do, and how individuals should act in response to what is occurring.

Within group situations and activities, frames serve as a type of strainer for information that is being gathered, assembled and analyzed. Personal framing tends to determine the development of priorities and ways to address and achieve them, which typically includes generating alternative solutions as well particular action plans for their implementation. Depending on the issue, problem or context of the task or goal at hand, framing may be used to conceptualize and interpret, or to manipulate and convince.

Framing tends to be tied to information processing, message patterns, linguistic cues, and socially constructed meanings. Knowing what the various types of frames are, and how they are constructed, allows individuals to draw conclusions about how they affect the development of critical thinking and its outcomes, as well as how they can be used to influence both. It is important to analyze existing frames from a personal perspective, as well as ones others use. Doing this offers fresh insight into the dynamics and development of group interaction, problem solving, conflict resolution as well as decision making.

The Sources and Forms of Frames

Many factors work to influence frames as well as their formation. Disagreements and opposite viewpoints are usually associated with a complex and reinforcing set of frames in oneself, and others, as well as associated elements of risk, what types of information should be applied to a given situation, and how decisions should be made. The frames that most highly influence disagreements and opposing viewpoints among individuals include ones of: identity, characterization, power, risk/information, and loss versus gain.

Identity Frames

Individuals tend to view themselves as having particular identities in the context of specific circumstances and situations. These identities spring from an individual’s self-conception and group affiliation. The more central the challenge to one’s sense of self, the more oppositional one is likely to act. Typical responses to threats to identity include ignoring information and perspectives that tend to threaten one’s core identity, reinforcing connections with like-minded individuals or groups, and negatively characterizing problems, issues or situations.

Characterization Frames

Closely related to stereotyping, characterization frames may be either positive or negative. Individuals view others as having particular characteristics and when they find themselves in disagreement or at odds with others often tend to construct characterization frames for them that significantly differ from how the other parties view themselves. Such characterizations often undermine others’ legitimacy, and cast doubt on their motivations, or exploit their sensitivity.

Characterization frames often tend to be linked to identity frames, which serve to strengthen one’s personal identity while justifying individual actions toward another, thinking for example, “I am a free thinker, but my opponent is closed-minded and because of it needs to be subdued or chastised.”

Power Frames

Because disagreement is often imbedded into critical thinking activities like decision making, individual conceptions of power and group control tend to play a significant role in them. Power frames help a disagreer determine which forms of power are justifiable, such as in the form of existing organizational structure. At the same time, power frames also help to determine certain forms of power that are likely to advance one’s own agenda or positioning, like authority, resources, expertise, or unity-building.

Risk and Information Frames

Disagreements that often erupt during critical thinking projects or activities often involve personal expectations about future events, where these events may either be risky, or where the likelihood of them occurring is quite uncertain. Within these types of situations, certain group members will often begin to construct risk and information frames that produce highly variable assessments about the level and extent of a particular risk.

From a positive viewpoint, risk and information frames work to indicate which sources of information tend to be reliable, and which ones are not. Risk and information frames depend not just on an individual’s points of interest, but also on the person’s level of training, expertise, personal exposure to the risk, familiarity with the risk, and the potential for disastrous or negative impacts due to it. Because of the ability to deeply analyze various risk factors and their potential consequences these critical thinkers tend to act and think in terms of the degree in which the risk is dreaded or feared.

Loss Versus Gain Frames

It is common for most individuals who work as a collective group in problem solving or decision making to focus on “threats of potential loss,” rather than on “opportunities for gain.” People tend to react differently to a proposed course of action when its expected consequences are framed in terms of “losses” as opposed to “gains.” Most times there will be individuals who hold firm to believing that preventing a perceived loss is much more relevant, significant, and high in value than securing an equal gain. This works to reinforce a psychological barrier in regard to taking a particular course of action or accepting a specific problem’s solution.

Reframing

Reframing is the process of purposefully managing one’s personal frames. With the help of reframing, individuals are more likely to find new ways to reach an agreement. Within critical thinking activities such as decision making or problem solving, the ability to effectively manage frames and the framing process can lead to important shifts not only in the frames themselves, but also in the impact that they have on group dynamics.

Reframing is intended to:

  • Clarify various viewpoints in order to bring about a more productive exchange of information by listening to ideas that were not previously considered. This includes expanding discussions to explore different courses of action or solutions that had not been previously addressed.
  • Enhance individuals’ understanding of their interests and how the forms of action they take are used to serve these interests, which is accomplished by examining potential processes for managing frames more productively and to reconsider patterns of interaction among other group members.
  • Identify concepts, issues, or informational areas that individuals tend to view differently, which is used to determine opportunities for compromise, negotiation or trade-offs, which can be based on these specific differences.
  • Identify differences to determine which ones cannot be bridged. As an essential part of reframing it becomes important to identify ways to reduce or eliminate areas of disagreement in a manner that does not violate these types of differences, which includes determining the degree of importance that is awarded to them.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

“Dissent, Even Conflict, is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

leave a comment »

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald's

Ray Kroc- Founder of McDonald’s

In addition to allowing themselves to have their own thinking challenged, the great leaders also challenged the thinking of others, to help them to consider all possibilities and options. Consider the example of Ray Kroc (McDonald’s). “Suppose someone comes up with a proposal that McDonald’s should serve turkey sandwiches… Everyone on the board of directors can think of nine good reasons why turkey sandwiches would be a bad thing for us. They would blow the idea out of the water immediately. But Ray would say, ‘Wait a minute; let’s examine what this might do for us. Maybe we could make it work. If not turkey sandwiches, maybe we should try turkey hash.’ He wouldn’t let go of it until all possibilities had been considered.” 1

Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) illustrated this point of challenging the thought process, when he remarked, “One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints is well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored. Further, important issues should be presented in writing. Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.” 2

Peter Drucker commented, “Dissent, even conflict, is necessary, indeed desirable. Without dissent and conflict there is no understanding. And without understanding, there are only wrong decisions. To me the most fascinating parts of [Alfred] Sloan’s [General Motors] book [My Years With General Motors] are the memoranda in which he first elicits dissent and then synthesizes dissenting views into an understanding, and in the end, into consensus and commitment. Sloan implies that leadership is not charisma, not public relations, not showmanship. It is performance, consistent behavior, trustworthiness.” 3

James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) was “never one to fill his staff with employees who were afraid to state their minds, Burke enjoyed having different viewpoints on board. ‘My style is to encourage controversy and encourage people to say what they think,’ he told Fortune (October 24, 1988). He always wanted his employees to fight for what they believed in, without fear of repercussions.” 4

Henry Luce (Time Magazine) was known to challenge other’s thinking. It was reported, “‘Far from being pained by new ideas,’ Mr. [Hedley] Donovan [Editor in Chief – Time Magazine] said, ‘Harry Luce rejoices in them. He welcomes argument so ardently that it takes a certain amount of intellectual courage to agree with him when he is right, as is bound to happen from time to time.’ This was also the impression of Gilbert Cant, a Time editor for many years, who said: ‘His decisions may have been unidirectional but, by God, he thought a hell of a lot. Conversation with him was utterly maddening because he was always aware of the other side of any proposition he was stating, and he frequently tried to express both sides at once.’” 5

  1. How He Made McDonald’s Sizzle (Success Magazine, March 1, 2009)
  2. Admiral Rickover H.C., Doing a Job (management philosophy speech at Columbia University School of Engineering, 1981; CoEvolution Quarterly, 1982)
  3. Drucker Peter, The Best Book on Management Ever (Fortune Magazine, April 23, 1990)
  4. Watson Stephanie, Business Biographies: James Burke (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/A-E/Burke-James-1925.html)
  5. Whitman Alden, Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Magazine Empire, Dies in Phoenix at 68 (The New York Times, March 1, 1967)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Need To Test Opinions Against the Facts

leave a comment »

womanonscreen

In addition to investigating new possibilities, effective leaders tend to possess an investigative mindset. Admiral Hyman Rickover (U.S. Navy) stated, “Sit down before the facts with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you learn nothing. Don’t push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.”

Peter Drucker described Alfred Sloan (General Motors) in The Effective Executive. Sloan, was anything but an ‘intuitive’ decision-maker. He always emphasized the need to test opinions against facts and the need to make absolutely sure that one did not start out with the conclusion and then look for the facts that would support it. But he knew that the right decision demands adequate disagreement.” [i]

Meg Whitman (eBay) noted, “My job was to uncover what was going well. I think sometimes when a new senior executive comes into a company, the instinctive thing to do is to find out what’s wrong and fix it. That doesn’t actually work very well. People are very proud of what they’ve created, and it just feels like you are second-guessing them all the time. You are much more successful coming in and finding out what’s going right and nurturing that. Along the way, you’ll find out what’s going wrong and fix that.” [ii]

Other effective leaders used other specific techniques that were extremely beneficial and fruitful, including probing for answers. Irwin Miller (Cummins) was noted for this attribute. “He was a teacher, not by providing answers, but by asking tough questions. On many occasions his question ‘Ten years from now, what will you wish you had done differently today?’ caused business colleagues, community leaders, friends, and family members to reassess their points of view and reach for higher goals. If you came to tell him what you had already done, he always simply asked, ‘Did you do the right thing?’ [iii]

Andy Grove (Intel) was also a tough questioner, with an equally strong purpose behind it. “Andy will test his staff endlessly… If someone makes a suggestion, he’ll ask, ‘How would you do that?’ Andy wants answers that are well thought out. Gut feel doesn’t cut it with him. His test is: ‘How would you implement it?’ . . . And he challenges his staff to convince him that a particular direction is the right way to go.’

In some organizations, taking such a rigorous approach and insisting that people be prepared to thoroughly defend their ideas might discourage timid subordinates from offering suggestions – and thus stifle creative thinking. But Grove insists that isn’t really an issue.

‘If it discourages you,’ he says, ‘then you probably had a poor idea that you didn’t have much confidence in – or you are the kind of person who wouldn’t execute the idea anyway. If you can’t be expected to fill out the details of your concept, how can you be expected to execute it? It is almost a test: Do you really believe in your idea well enough to defend it? And, if you are given a go-ahead, will you have enough devotion to it – a serious enough commitment to it – to make it happen?’

Clearly, Andy Grove understands how to make things happen, which helps to explain why Intel has played such a major role in shaping the digital world of the future.’ [iv]

William Blackie (Caterpillar) used his own power of observation to investigate the facts prior to making key decisions. During the post-Second World War years, replete with growth opportunities for Caterpillar, Blackie didn’t make his decisions in some comfortable office. He went out in the field to see for himself and advised others to do the same – even though doing so in the postwar years wasn’t comfortable.

‘Seeing the changes and their effects creates more conviction than being told about it or reading about it,’ he told Iron Age. ‘Therefore, one of the first things I urge any interested or skeptical U.S. businessman to do is to go abroad himself to see what’s going on.’”[v]


[i]  Wartzman Rick, GM: Lessons from the Alfred Sloan Era (Business Week, June 12, 2009)

[ii]  Fisherman Charles, Face Time with Meg Whitman (Fast Company, April 30, 201)

[iii]  Miller Will, Joseph Irwin Miller. 26 May 1909 – 16 August 2004 (The American Philosophical Society, Vol. 150, No. 3, September 2006)

[iv]  Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)

[v]  Schleier Curt, William Blackie Put Caterpillar On An Upward Path Expand Your Horizons: The CEO Steered The Machinery Company’s Business All Over The Globe And Dug Up Massive Sale (Investor’s Business Daily, February 2, 2002)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

%d bloggers like this: