Writing about how to teach and learn abstract cognitive enablers has given me a realization that developing these thinking skills leads to great leadership.
Not just high-powered leadership but truly great leadership. High-powered leadership can be gained by sheer bullying, but great leadership is the kind that means being elevated on the shoulders of those you lift.
The skills underlying critical thinking that form a sure foundation for leadership: planning, cognitive flexibility, persistence, willingness to self-correct, attentiveness, directed and focussed attention, and consensus-seeking. In addition, the other abstract cognitive enablers make a good leader great: reason, (both hypothetico-deductive and complex inductive reasoning), logic, rational thinking, creativity, and the crowning enabler of metacognition. I'm publishing a series of articles outlining how to learn and teach each one of these, one at a time.
In addition to learning abstract cognitive enablers, great leaders know how to work with people. Not just manage people, but work with people. Using the enabler of bringing people to consensus as one of their primary leadership qualities.
In my own personal leadership experience over the years, no one wants to work “for someone”. People are universally motivated to work with others to achieve something great. The great leader shows them how and follows the maxim:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.– Antoine de Saint Exupery.
What a great leader does is work with people to help them see the vision of the sea that will have them following wherever you lead them in order to get to the sea.
When teaching potential leaders abstract cognitive enablers, whether in seminars, conferences, or one-on-one, don’t hide what you are doing. Be upfront and explain that they will already have many of the aspects of these enablers, but you are going to bring them together and put them in a framework of leadership training. It is also good to point out that this kind of training is not accomplished in an afternoon.
To really develop these skills takes years to master. Just like any skill, you just don’t learn it all. There is almost no skill out there that you can learn everything about and do flawlessly every time. We might be able to get close, but we can always do a little bit better if we try just a little bit harder. Abstract cognitive enablers are no different. Gaining competence takes years. Gaining mastery takes a lifetime.
This is why great leaders aren’t 26-year-old, beautiful people. The number of great leaders under 40 could be listed on one hand. Good competent leaders are available when they are young, but they will have to continue to develop their skills if they are to emerge as truly great leaders at some time.
This doesn’t mean that there are no powerful leaders under 40. However, most of these are bully-type leaders. A bully leader’s close followers are sycophants basking in the close association of the top dog. Other followers are usually just believers in whatever the leader espouses. Followers who admire raw power and force. Followers who want some of whatever the leader has for themselves. Followers that the leader rides on.
Truly great leaders have followers who don’t have to want what their leader has because great leaders are willing to give whatever it is that they have to their followers. Great leaders inspire followers to great heights and are buoyed up by those inspired. Gandhi was a great leader by inspiring his followers and was lifted by them to the heights he obtained.
Learning abstract cognitive enablers isn’t just for geeks in the basement. Developing real leadership qualities comes from developing all or some of these enablers.
For years, I have provided an environment for others to learn abstract cognitive enablers, but I have never been explicit about what it is that they need to learn and how I am teaching them how to learn them. This is something that I'm going to change now. Always something to learn and I’m willing to learn whatever I need to in order to keep getting better at what I do.
Watch this space for my next article on learning and teaching cognitive flexibility – a key component of critical thinking.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.