The business need for critical thinking

The long-anticipated labor shortage resulting from the mass wave of retiring baby boomers has arrived; although, for some industries (such as technology) the labor and leadership shortage have been critical for several years. The workforce is getting younger and less experienced, and Gen X just isn’t large enough to fill the leadership gap created by outgoing boomers.

The critical challenge facing many organizations is the need to rapidly move high-potential millennials into leadership roles faster than their existing leadership development programs can manage, and in many cases, faster than younger workers may be comfortable with. No one wants to create a situation in which high-potential employees are set up to fail.

To address this issue, 70% of organizations spend more than $1,000 per person per year on leadership development, and 53% of organizations expect to increase their spending on leadership development and executive education in the next year. Also, 43% say their spending on leadership development will remain unchanged and only 4% say their leadership development spending will decrease. Why? What’s driving the aggressive increase in leadership development and executive education in organizations today? The top three answers are:

  1. More than one in three organizations (36%) say that their single most important goal regarding leadership development is growing their succession pipeline.
  2. An additional 18% say they need to retain high-potential employees.
  3. And 12% say their greatest need is fostering innovation and creative thinking among their leaders.

This last point is key. Organizations consistently say that critical thinking is among the top seven skills they’re targeting for their executive leaders. For front-line managers, it’s in the top five. When examining other skills organizations say they want to foster in their leadership, such as business acumen, strategic planning, and communication, there’s a potential case to be made that many of those desired skills are enhanced by critical thinking skills.

So, what is critical thinking? If you ask business leaders to define it, you’ll get a lot of different answers: some will say it’s about problem-solving or being able to understand what’s going on with limited data and information. Some will say it’s about creativity, or thinking outside the box, while others will say it’s about reasoning analytically and being logically consistent.

So, what variables are critical when it comes to critical thinking? And how can these qualities/skills be rapidly acquired and developed in the workforce? These are questions worth asking, and the exploration of these questions will be of keen interest to learning executives and business leaders worldwide.

*Data taken from the 2015 CLO Executive Education Survey